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Published: January 27th 2008
This is a diary of a two-day experience of my first ever attempt at full-fledged skiing. Let me first state that I am on the wrong side of the thirties without any prior experience of balancing myself on anything but my own God-gifted legs. For such a person to take a dab at skiing was an experience right out of the comic strips. I was mentally prepared for it, but I believe my self-appointed coach, Peter Buser (dad of my friend Maya) did not have the slightest idea what a challenge he is throwing at himself. Day 1
It was late evening when we arrived at Praz, a little hilltop village near the town of Thusis in the Kanton of Graubünden in the north-east corner of Switzerland bordering Germany. Our train ride from Lausanne took us almost 6 hrs, the longest ever a single journey has taken me in this country. The final stretch through this Kanton, which I would rate as one of the most picturesque with its snow-draped slopes and small rivulets, was quite visually thrilling. Maya had been pointing all the way to the possible ski slopes with little idea how scary it was making things for
me. But I kept on my brave face.
If you have ever felt excitement mixed with fear, then that was my feeling next day morning at the breakfast table. I was being taught the basics of skiing in theory by Peter. It would have sounded as simple as walking to me, only if I were unaware of my skills having tried it once on the baby slopes, and having failed at it miserably. But I listened attentively like a good student while sipping hot coffee, and looking out in silent prayer for a snowstorm to save me. It did start snowing. Everyone was excited with the prospect of fresh snow on the slopes; I was happy that my prayer has probably been answered. But it was not to be because in these parts the flurries come and disappear as quickly. Before I could get done with my photo-shoot of the scene, the sky cleared. It was time to get ready.
An important aspect of this adventure sports is to get your gear right. First, put on as many layers as you can so that it barely leaves any part of your skin exposed except for the eyes. Not
that I had much use of keeping it unexposed because most of the time when I was hurtling down the slopes I had preferred to keep it shut tight. I believe nobody noticed because of the sunglasses. The final piece of equipment you have to put on is the ski boots. This is heavier than what you can imagine. Even more challenging is walking on the ground with these shoes on. Getting down the stairs to get to the car itself posed enough difficulties and I was apprehensive that I will have my first fall of the day right there. But I have always been taught to watch my steps. Once settled in the car everything again was nice and peaceful.
The skiing site was not very far from the house. Once we got down I was handed my pair of skis, which I promptly put on my shoulders and started walking. Not for long though. We reached the point where you put on your skiis, and slide down to get on to the cable car that takes you up the slope. The cable car doesn’t stop on its track, and one has to skillfully place the bottom on
prayers are answered !!
the seat, with the skiis on, at the right moment - a task way beyond the skills of a novice like me. It was with some help from helpful attendant there and Maya that I managed to perch myself into the seat. Next 15 minutes was sheer bliss - watching the slopes rising in front of me, the clear blue sky, quite a few people skiing down the slopes, and most of all, a faint hope in my heart that I might be able to do the same. All the pleasant feeling vaporized like camphor the moment I saw the technique of climbing down from this bogey. It was twice as hard as getting on it because now you got to ski out of the seat as it reaches the top. I prepared for the worst embarrassment but miraculously I was out of the cable car, and still managed to stand on my feet.
The lessons begin now. Usually it is very simple. Make a “V” with the ski to stop yourself from going down the slope; try to face towards uphill, and adjust your weight on the ski deftly to steer direction. The last one is most crucial
to skiing. This is the trick that enables you to make the beautiful “S” on the slopes, and more importantly prevents you from attaining escape velocity. As it turned out, I was a like a biker who knows where his accelerator is with absolutely no clue where the brake is. The only form of brake I could apply was using my bottoms, ensuring that I spend more of the time looking up to the sky rather than bending forward and speeding down. After few initial falls, I was quick in learning how to stand back on my feet quickly - and trust me, it is no way a mean feat to get back on to your feet (rather the skiis) after a fall, and then gathering enough courage to hurtle yourself down with a cent percent guarantee of the next fall. But, despite my futile attempts, Peter was patient with the worst student on ski he probably ever encountered. But after the rise-n-fall caricature for about half an hour, and half way down the 4-km stretch, I really needed a breather. So I insisted that Peter should carry on, and by the time he is back on the same portion
of the slope, I will not be far away.
I was left with Maya. Incidentally, she does not ski because it is too boring. She does snow-boarding!! It was her turn to try and convince me that it is much better to take a dab at snowboarding. Just that I evaluated that I have a better chance of getting out with all my bones intact in skiing than in snow-boarding. Please don’t ask me how I figured that out; I guess it’s a gut feeling when you are faced with an imminent threat to your existence. I stuck to the skis. And, I stuck to the skis literally because I was not moving anywhere since Peter left. There was a hut along the slope, and one guy sitting on the porch was watching my plight. He guessed rightly that I am in need of a stimulant to get me going. What better way than to have a beer. At his slightest invitation, I was off my skis, and wading through the soft snow to reach my newfound friend. There was big group of about a dozen people inside the hut. The speed at which I gulped down the first
beer convinced them that this patient needs a stronger medicine. Out came the “Lutz”, a cocktail I haven’t tried before; mix 42% alcohol with a few coffee beans, hot water and loads of sugar. Just enough to get me kick-started for my next trip down the slope. Despite our language barrier, I guess I rekindled their memories of learning how to ski; all of them were out on the porch to bid me goodbye, and expressed vociferously their concern for my wellbeing.
Well, I didn’t have to “ski” much longer. Soon we reached the portion where the ski slope crosses the bob-cart trail. Peter was waiting there with a bob-cart. I guess he figured that it will take me till eternity to reach the end of the slope. Next began my ride on the bob-cart, a sledge going down the slope without brakes, and you can scream your hurt out to ensure your safety. Piggybacked with Peter on a bob-sledge it was a blink of an eye before I reached the end of the slope; or is it that I never opened my eyes. All this was followed by a heavy lunch to replenish all the energy I have
expended in the slopes.
This evening was phenomenal because I had to struggle to keep myself awake. I crashed really early, though my spirit was high, and the resolve to go back next day to conquer the slopes in my mind, and of course, to meet my friends at the hut. Day 2
My antics with the ski on the first day had convinced everyone else but me that I will fit in best with the kids in the beginners slope. I did not quite mind that except that I will miss visiting the hut. Although you call it beginners slope it doesn’t make things much easier, just that the distance is shorter. With my iron-cast resolve I kept going up and down the beginner’s slope, with Maya supervising from below, and photographing my deft moves. There were quite a few bad falls, interspersed with rare moments of glory when I successfully came down the slope and stopped in style. It was not long before that I was satisfied with my training, and preferred to go on the bob-cart with Maya, where I need to do less of the work. Today time went by much faster -
I guess once you have smelt the snow, the anxiety vanishes Summary
I was extremely happy with my efforts. I am not sure about my coach. Well, opinions are there to differ. But if there is anyone willing to risk his fame in trying to teach me skiing, I will be there to put up the challenge for him. A parting note for the hapless beginners like me - there is a dummies book for learning skiing, “Skiing for Dummies” (http://www.amazon.com/Skiing-Dummies-Allen-St-John/dp/0764551612). Read it before you go, although my dummy’s lesson is that nothing works like a “Lutz”.
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