December 2005, I travelled to France to visit a Malaysian friend, Victor.
It was New Year’s Eve 2005. We travelled to Les Menuires, a modern ski resort consisting mainly of purpose built apartments. It was no-frills and only much later did I realise that I learnt how to ski at one of the largest ski domain in the world.
How hard can it be? Kids can do it gracefully, so can I! WRONG.
It was a baptism of fire (or more appropriately, ice).
I arrived at the slopes without the right kit. I had no knowledge of thermal socks, and was wearing a ‘Manchester United’ track bottom and could not look more out of place in that resort. I didn’t speak French at that time, therefore I could not understand any snarky remarks (if any) were directed at me. With one glance, I’m sure anyone who has skied before would envisage disaster for me.
“Right, the skis might be too long for you, but try them on. You can wear my spare ski boots.” said my friend. We stopped the car just 20metres from the ski lifts. I reluctantly put the ski equipment on. I wasn’t keen on sharing things, especially where ski boots are concerned. In fairness to me, they felt at least 2 size too small.
“Now try to glide down this 20 metres to the ski lift so you will get used to the sensation of being on skis’ continued Victor. I am a keen roller blader as a teenager so I didn’t think it should faze me. Wrong again.
I remember the first time I got out of the car in my ski boots, they felt as heavy as lead! I could hardly walk without looking like an injured penguin. As I slide into those pair of skis at the parking lot and tried to glide 15 metres onto the actual snow. I felt twice and hurt my knee on both occasions.
As I picked myself up and regain my bruised ego, and knee. I moved towards the dreaded chairlift. I should dedicate my hate-hate relationship with the chairlift on another blog, but here’s the gist:
‘I could not stop falling over’
It was humiliating to keep buckling like a baby giraffe with 50 people behind me waiting for me to get up every time. I find it is impossible to get up on flat ground with skis attached. The worse thing is that the lift operator has to stop the entire chairlift operation until I get to safety (or back on my feet). Those stranded on the chair lift 20m above ground in the cold must be cursing my incompetence on the snow.
With proper guidance, I would have found it easy.
But then again, I’m not so sure.
My horror does not end there, there is the other part of getting off the chairlift. Let’s just say it can be 1000x scarier when your confidence is completely shattered.
Getting off the chairlift is not a solo act, when the first person on the lift removes the safety barrier, you are committed to get off the chairlift, one way or another. I likened it to landing a plane on water. Balance is everything. I can say this now because there are no video evidence of any of my failed attempts from the chairlift to be found anywhere, to my best knowledge.
So now, after the trials and trepidation of:
- wearing my ski boots
- attaching my ski boots to my skis
- falling over N-th time while getting on the chairlift
- falling over , gracefully if I may add, while exiting the chairlift
I might actually face the prospect of doing some skiing, but by this time, I was wet (snow gets everywhere as I didn’t have a proper ski jacket). I was cold and low in confidence.
I stared down the nursery slope. I remember at that time it looked like the ‘valley of death’ to me.
Victor and his daughter joined me at the top of the slope, casually remarked :’How are you finding it so far?’ while attending to her daughter’s glove and ski goggles. They seem to have survived the chairlift unscathed.
I replied defiantly: ‘It’s easier than I imagined, I’m glad I didn’t hire a ski instructor’. With hindsight, I feel that was probably said to make me feel better by highlighting the fact that I DID not sign up for any lessons. I bloody wished I had about 10 minutes after I uttered those words.
As I take a deep breath, Victor and her 4 year old daughter disappeared in a glimpse. Before taking off, he gave me the one advice which I have been passing on to all of my friends. He said: ‘Just go zigzag down the slope, and keep turning when you feel you are going too fast.’
I nodded, with no expression. I had no clue what he meant. They were just words.
Now here I was, about to tackle my first nursery slope. All on my own.
A seemingly athletic 20 year old, weighing 140 lbs on a pair of skis, with no idea how to manouvre them. D.I.S.A.S.T.E.R
I composed myself, as much as I can under those circumstance. As I watched other experienced skier whizzed past me, some of them as young as 3 years old. I keep telling myself that I shall move, once the person behind moving at great speed (in my opinion) passes me so I won’t get in their way. I waited for perhaps 20394 skiers to ski past me before I see Victor and hid daughter at the bottom of the slope waving frantically at me. Urging me to take the plunge, quite literally.
There was a moment of ‘heck it, let’s do this!’, I pushed my ski poles clumsily backwards to gain a bit of traction. It was now snowing heavily and the visibility was poor. As I gathered a little pace, I felt like I was going too fast (for a snail) and losing control, before I could make my first turn, I fell over.
Fear paralysed me.
And I couldn’t get up, my skis and legs were intertwined and I just couldn’t get up, no matter what position I fold my body into.
I’m not going to lie, I was almost induced to tears.
I was a grown man on top of the nursery slope, and couldn’t get back up on my skis. I wanted admit defeat and take off my skis to walk down the slope. But just before I did that, my friend showed up behind me. He had taken the chairlift up again to ‘rescue’ me.
I remember thinking to myself, have I sat there rolling around in the snow trying to get up for the last 4 hours?
My friend then gave me the second best advice on what to do when you fall on the snow:’ ‘Align your skis together, and place them perpendicularly to the slope. Use your hand closest to the slope and push yourself up’
I tried that.
He then skied in front of me and pulled me up. By this time, I became grumpy, the competitive nature in me was throwing a tantrum. I’m not proud of it but with hindsight, I must have acted like a brat.
Now, with a bit of help, I am back on my skis, halfway down the slope. This time my friend suggested that he skis in front of me and I shall just follow his tracks behind.
Except I couldn’t keep up! I was falling at every turn and it must have felt like groundhog day: I Got up, skied 2 metres until I had to turn, fall over, throw a a tantrum. Repeat until exhaustion.
I was cold, bitter and unhappy by now.
I just wanted to be away from the ski slopes and remove the darn skis from my feet.
Anyway, long story short, I was prepared to give up.
I felt like my first ever attempt at skiing was an utter failure.
Eventually, I got down to the bottom of the slope and took off my skis, sat in the corner and observed for 1 hour.
I was watching:
How people got on the chairlift. how people complete a turn on the slope. I was making a mental note on everything.
Because physically, I was too tired (& scared) to try anymore.
My friend was having a field day and genuinely enjoyed going up and down the slope with his daughter, so much so they have advanced to the more challenging slopes together.
He asked me if i was okay to stay at the nursery slope or should he start the car for me to wait in the car?
I politely rejected his offer, I was wet and freezing, but I didn’t want to end my trip in the car, sulking. I found a relatively windproof spot and continued observing the beginners tackling the slope.
After about 40 minutes,My gloves were getting cold and I knew I need to keep moving to stay warm. It was out of survival that I approached the ‘Baby Chairlift of Death’ once more, this time less crowded. The lift operator had a smirk on his face when he saw me again. I looked at him and gave him a wink. That didn’t help, I slipped and fell at the lift and he had to stop all the lifts. I used every ounce of energy to pick myself up.
I finally got on the chairlift successfully. With some dignity intact.
I got back up the slope. And fell over 10 times before making it down to the bottom of the slope once more. My friend and his daughter have both returned back from the other side of the mountain and had their skis removed and enjoyed witnessing my demise.
‘Well Done Nicolas’ His daughter said in a cute french accent, the little word of encouragement from this 4 year old girl made all the difference to me on that day.
I saw them as I was approaching the bottom, and then something miraculous happened.
I made my first perfect turn (yes it was perfect, and you just have to take my word for it). I glided triumphantly and stop precisely within 2 feet from them.
That was my proud moment. But the fatigue did not allow me to savour it for long. I fell over one last time and this fall caused a sharp pain on my thighs.
With mixed emotions. I removed my skis and begin what I felt like a ‘walk of shame’ back to the car.
That was my first experience on the ski slope.
It broke me, but the two golden advice my friend gave me were useful up till this day.
We all know the theory, but can we align our body to do what our mind wants?
It just didn’t happen for me the first time.