Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lows and Highs

After practising the turns down the gentle slope, bending the outside leg, I was feeling that skiing wasn't so difficult after all. When Phil and I came down and did two turns together in perfect harmony I knew we'd cracked it. No longer a wimp, merely a fool.

Dave's lesson was short and we three retired to have our coffee and then a trip to the spa! Skiing was fun.

Day two Mandy appeared. She too was from Yorkshire. I suppose being closer to the Arctic Circle predisposes them to cold-weather sports unlike we southerners. She checked out our turns and suggested we could move to another slope. This entailed being dragged along a rope lift, which made my shoulders hurt--delicate petal. And there was one kid who managed to fall half way up each time he got on this lift and there would always be a pile up as we crashed headlong into him. I came to hate this kid and looked for precipices that I could nudge him over, but no luck there.

Nevertheless when we arrived at this new slope, we were appalled. Not only three times as long as the first, but it was steep! It was suicidal. And it had a "button lift", which involved perching one's bum delicately on a button and gliding up and on reaching the top one threw away the button and swept down to the start of the hill. Mandy assured us the slope was a mixture of nursery and "green". Yeah, which rhymes with mean.

Mandy stood us at the top of the great slope and suggested we stick our arms out like wings and as we turned we would lean down and touch our boot leaning away from the hill. She demonstrated and it looked ridiculously simple. Gliding so gracefully, Mandy's arms twirled in the sunlight as she turned and turned. "Your turn, " she commanded. Our little crocodile with its arms extended began to twist down the hill. It felt elegant. What it looked like, I'd rather not say.

The key to this turning business which we hadn't got yet was to make sure that on each turn one skied across the hill from side to side. This doesn't allow for the notorious impatience of the tyro who instead of going from side to side develops a variant that speeds up the process, unintentionally. We were executing our turns halfway across the hill then pointing our skis down which meant instead of moving horizontally we were moving diagonally down the hill. After a few turns speed naturally increases as one is going down rather than across. Great, you may say, speed is thrilling. Yes, I would reply, but being killed ain't.

It takes about three minutes by my reckoning to realise that one is out of control and that those elegant airplane turns--remember the arms sticking out--are transforming into a runaway sluice down the hill. There are fundamentally two choices although choice is overstating the point. One can either go helter-skelter down the hill screaming, as one of my friends did, "Get out of the ***** way!" Which has a certain bravado about it. Or one can rely on the trusty faithful and fall over, so I did.

On one of these exercises, and were on this hill for two days, my turning capabilities deserted me completely. I just couldn't turn and right in front of me was Mandy. She was convinced I was going to turn, as I had been earlier. She bravely took the brunt of me and softened my landing.

On day three Mandy thought it was time for us to migrate to another hill. "A little more difficult," but well within our capabilities. It had another button lift. We were now old hands with button lifts until I fell off. It went in one direction while I chose to go another. I don't know who was the more contrary, probably the lift.

Standing at the top of the new hill, we pondered on the meaning and value of life. Negligible on both counts it seemed. Although the new hill was narrower and shorter than our last, it was steep! Mandy was quite poetic about it, "It's got elements of blue in it." Elements of blue...reminded me of a little book, "On Being Blue: A Philosophical Enquiry" by William H Gass. I commend this one as it is about all aspects of blue: feeling blue, blue grass, blue movies, blue stockings and more. It's an unusual book, even weird at times that takes you in many directions.

Blue slopes are one such direction and they do have an unusual feature--they are awfully steep. We three, Eleni, Phil and I, pondered the meaning of life as it flashed past our eyes while we gazed wistfully down this slope with its elements of blue. Mandy wanted us to use our ski poles like gear levers in a car. As we pushed one forward, our knee would bend and we would lean the right way. Theoretically that was.

Pushing and bending we honed our 45 degree descents until Phil was once again racing down the hill shouting, "Get out of the ***** way!" I suppose his language was blue too. Eleni managed to cross her skis over Mandy's and brought both down. I kept pushing my gear levers.

I was also developing a curious relationship with our button lift. About a third of the way up its ascent, it would falter, hiccup, and continue. Act cool and one could ride over it. Be absent minded and it would throw one off. Not one, but me. What I liked the button lift for was at the end of the ride, one threw away the button to the side and skied off. On one ascent, just as I was about to throw my button away I saw a figure crumpled on the snow. Quickly I threw my button, smartly I skied out of the figure's way to avoid colliding. Theoretically that was. As I hurled the button, the figure's head popped up just in time to meet the button on its return journey. The sound of head meeting button was indubitably loud. The head returned to its prone position. I shouted, "Stay there; there are more buttons coming!" Of course there were, they were in a continuous chain. The figure crawled away from the relentless buttons. "Are you all right?" "Oh yes," she answered, "It sounds much worse than it feels." And so she skied away.

I would see her from time to time and she would regale me with tales of knocks, broken bones and so forth on her previous skiing ventures. Rather than feeling sorry for injuring her, I felt as though I had made a positive contribution to her wellbeing. Another story, another crack in the wall. I crack, therefore I am. (Yet more....and I find that Elvis is alive and skiing in Andorra.)
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