People say to do one thing a day that scares you. I did it for 6 days straight.
At the start of the new year, we went skiing in Les 3 Vallees in the Alps, basing ourselves at Saint Martin de Belleville in south eastern France.
For someone who hates the cold, has a fear of heights and is terrified of speed, it defies logic as to why I wanted to go skiing. Maybe I just wanted to look cool.
There are a couple of things that will always remind me of skiing: Mars bars, Boy George and deep heat rub.
I had 3 hrs of morning lessons for six days. Each morning, before I endure the painful ritual of pulling on my ski boots and trying to make my way to the ski lift, carrying my skis and poles over my shoulder, without falling over, I stuff about five mini Mars bars down my trouser pockets.
Almost each time I get in a bubble lift/chair lift/deadly dangle-over-vast-empty-whiteness, I eat one or hand some out to my fellow classmates. I don’t know why but we always looked famished. Skiing does that to you.
Boy George came into use esp. during the first two to three days of skiing. I was initially terrified of this what they call the “magic carpet”. Think airport moving sidewalks, but uphill, and on snow. I constantly had visions of myself falling over, but for some reason, singing Boy George’s Karma Cameleon took my mind off it and helped me get on and off it without being tangled in my skis.
If you don’t know the song, the first few lines go like this: Karma karma karma karma cameleon… I figure it’s the concentration and brain power needed to count the number of times I should repeat karma to sing the song correctly, that took my mind off my fear of the magic carpet.
I fell and crashed more than a few times on the slopes. Here, just as we’ve given a guy my camera to take a photo of us, my skis decided to slide backwards down hill, I fumbled, lost control and fell over backwards. Tada, the guy decided to snap away.
At first, I wasn’t afraid of falling on the slopes. The snow was soft, and at best, it was actually fun. But once, instead of falling to either of my sides, my skis decided to go in opposite directions, I twisted my knee and my legs did the splits. It was so painful I was in tears. I already have bad knees, I didn’t want another injury to hamper my holiday.
Hence, from then on, I smothered my legs in deep heat rub every night, swallowed tablets of ibuprofen, and bought a knee brace to keep me going. I limped around every evening and prayed that when I wake up the next morning, my legs would still be working.
I never realised how heavy ski boots and skis are, and how difficult skiing is. It’s like learning a whole new way of moving while strapped to boots that confine your feet to uncomfortable, restrictive angles.
The boots are designed for the motions of skiing, the skis are made to be sliding around in. But more often than not, I had to walk in those boots from the chalet to the ski lift, to the restaurant for lunch, up and down flights of stairs to use the toilets, plus carry the surprising heavy skis on my shoulders. I didn’t realise how important the flex in my ankles were until I couldn’t use them.
The various types of ski lifts terrified me.
The bubble lifts were fine, since they’re enclosed and you’re safe from the elements.
I dreaded the chair lifts.
You’re dangling 20 ft in the air and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s freezing cold and on one of the bad days, you’d have a blizzard blowing in your face.
It doesn’t help as well when someone tells you that one year, when they closed down the lifts for the day, the workers failed to check thoroughly and a girl/woman was left dangling in mid-air throughout the night.
The next morning, the wheeled a dead body in.
On the better chair lifts, your skis will still be dangling over space, but at least you can pull a plastic bubble hub over you and keep the elements at bay.
Being as cool as the ski instructors was probably more of what I had in mind when I first decided to go skiing. Seriously, I wouldn’t mind being the as cool as the one on the left.
My ski instructor was great. She gave me confidence and kept yelling various things at me in her French accent: “Dora! Stand up!” “Dora! Relax!” “Dora! Why you fall down again!”
We later found out that she teaches seven days a week for four months, and during the off-season, sells vegetables at a market on the south coast. You won’t get rich, but that sounds like a really good satisfying life to me.
During a break in lessons on the slopes, while I munched on yet another Mars bars, I lobbed snowballs at those kids, and also managed to get one on the instructor’s back too.
The weather varied on the slopes. On a good day, we had bright clear blue skies.
On a bad day, you struggle to see through falling snow. Or you struggle to see through mist coz you’re right in the middle of a cloud. Or “flat light” happens and you can’t tell the definition of the slopes and would have no idea how fast you’re skiing, whether there are bumps ahead of you, or whether you’re flying down a slope.
That’s the cloud below us. If you’ve seen the film, The Mist, you’d understand my horror in skiing through it.
However, interestingly, during flat light, I somehow skied better, in the sense that I was faster and more confident. Most probably because I couldn’t exactly see where I was going and esp. how steep the slopes were. The things that normally scared me, height and speed – I couldn’t see, I couldn’t gauge, and so off I went. Later, Nasty smartly suggested that maybe I should ski without my glasses. Ha.
We stayed in a great location. Instead of a purpose-built resort, we stayed in a real village, right opposite this church. Access to the slopes, as the photo shows, is just a short stroll (or a tedious slog with ski boots and skis) up the road.
The only peeve was that bloody church bell rang every single morning at 7am, and then on the hour and half hour for the rest of the day. I don’t care about it ringing during the day, but I needed all the extra recovery time I could get and being woken up an hour early everyday wasn’t funny.
Thing is, it didn’t ring just seven times. It rang seven times once, then seven times twice, then (I counted coz I was wide awake) at least fifty times for no apparent reason, like some old French monk got bored and decided to amuse himself and irritate the rest of the village.
Skiing was at the most part very frustrating the first three days. I was scared for the most part of it. But the sense of achievement and the excitement, once you get it, is huge.
Ski routes are categorised green, blue, red and black. Beginners supposedly learn on greens, as they’re the easiest. But they were lacking in my area and I learned on the next level up, the blues.
While my instructor was cautious, emphasised safety and gave me lots and lots of confidence, Nasty spent afternoons with me giving me pointers on stance and style and egging me down slopes I was too scared to ski through.
One afternoon, I skiied from one valley to the next entirely on my own. On the last day, after much egging, I skied down my first red route, the Pramint. After both sessions, I was over the top with excitement and an overwhelming sense of achievement. While I was scared, nothing feels as great as over-coming your fears.
Skiing was a great experience. Great as well in terms of monetary expense. So great that I’m struggling to make rent this month.
But I miss it and I’ll definitely do it again.