Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006, 17:31,

ski hell

I went skiing yesterday, for the first and probably the last time. We got the bus from campus at 7 a.m. which meant leaving here around half past six. That was the first painful incident of the day.

When we arrived, it turned out that if you wanted to do the beginner's course, you should have hired your skis in advance and brought them with you. Nobody bothered to tell me that, of course (partly my own fault - I got Sascha to sign me up, as I'm rarely on campus, so I didn't actually ask anybody). So I had a bit of a frantic dash to hire skis - still only half awake, as I'd slept on the bus, and not really sure quite what I needed. Also, I'd been told that the course wouldn't wait, and it seemed to take forever, so I was convinced I'd missed the course, and that my friends (who all already know how to ski, of course) would have already gone off to the scary downhill bits by the time I'd got my skis. Walking in ski boots turned out to be quite challenging enough without carrying skis as well, but I managed and in the end that the course did wait - there weren't that many beginners and there were plenty of instructors. Spent the morning shuffling sideways up a very gentle slope, skiing down it, and trying to stop at the bottom by turning, rather than by sitting down. It was ok, I could stop reasonably well and only fell over when I was standing still (no, I don't know how I managed that either). At that point my sentiments were along the lines of take-it-or-leave-it; I wasn't too cold (4 t-shirts, 2 jumpers, 1 fleece, 1 cagoule, 2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of tights and socks!) or wet, but my knees did hurt quite a lot, and I was tired. It wasn't especially unpleasant, but it did seem like a lot of effort to go to for very little reward.

We broke for lunch shortly after twelve, but I'd left my lunch with Florian - didn't fancy trying to balance on skis with a heavy bag on my back. So I took the cable cars up to 3200 metres, which is where he said he was, but it took me over an hour to find him. An hour is a long time to be walking around in ski boots, which hurt just when you stand in them. I would have sat on the ground, but it was a bit snowy. I had at least found a handy wall to stand my skis against. Class was supposed to start again at 2, but I decided not to go - they were talking about pistes, and that sounded a little bit too scary. Plus I was tired, hadn't found Florian til quarter past one, so I hadn't finished my lunch in time, and my feet and knees hurt, and I didn't really want to ski any more. Florian rejoined us at 2 - he had gone off skiing with his friend who had come up for the morning while I ate lunch with Sascha and Julia. He reappeared just after 2, and we sat in the restaurant while I finished off my hot chocolate, and we tidied up some of Sascha's paternoters** that she'd kindly left with us.

We wandered back to the cable car at about 3, and since it was snowing and cloudy at 3200m we went down to 2600m. I had it in mind that perhaps Florian would ski a bit and I'd sit in the restaurant there and have another hot chocolate while I waited for him. However, he persuaded me to ski down a gentleish slope (actually he skied and I held onto his shoulders and concentrated on staying upright) - and then informed me there was no way back up. I had two choices - get on a telesiege (the kind of cable car where your legs dangle in the air) and ski back down to the cable car, or ski down to the next cable car station. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, I rejected the telesiege out of hand - and then looked over the edge of the only other choice. I was already tired and achey and a bit shakey. This was also the point at which I realised I may have mastered my fear of heights sufficiently to enjoy a cable car ride, but actually, I still don't like them much. I also don't like slopes at 45 degree angles. At all. At this point, I was ready to crawl on hands and knees back up the slope we'd just come down, but Florian wouldn't let me. So we went downwards. Mostly we skied together, which is to say, I clung like death to his shoulders and tried to keep my skis straight, turn at the right times, and not fall over. I didn't always succeed. Some of the slope I went down on my stomach, getting more and more panicky as I gathered speed (and snow under my jumpers), frantically clutching at snow which just came away in my hands, and wondering how fast I'd be going when I hit the bottom and how much of me they'd find. Then I figured out how to stop. Some of the slope I went down on my arse, because standing up was just too terrifying - I could see how fast the people skiing past me were going, and I wasn't that confident in my ability to stop. We spent a lot of time sitting in the snow, because my legs were trembling too much to let me ski (or stand). I spent a lot of time trying not to cry with fear, or whimpering in Florian's ear to ralentir un peu, s'il te plait!. I think I may have actually been more scared of what Mum would say to me if I broke something and couldn't go home for Christmas. Finally we arrived at a bit that was less steep, and I managed to stand up again. The bit leading up to the cable car station was almost flat, and thus almost enjoyable, although I wasn't too impressed with the sheer drop to the right hand side that Florian insisted on skiing right up to (ok, maybe not right up to - he was probably a good two metres away from the edge by the time I panicked each time). I even skied on my own for a bit of it.

Ski slopes are graded according to difficulty. Green slopes are the easiest, then blue, then red, then black. The bit where I managed to ski on my own was a green slope. Most of the afternoon was spent sitting on a red slope.

We arrived back at the base bit at 1748; I still had to return my skis and Gaetano his snowboard. We were supposed to meet the bus at 1745 to drive away at 1800. However, we made it and weren't left behind - although some people apparently were!

I think I prefer my ground flat and my feet in normal footwear which is designed for walking. My original assessment of skiing seems to have been an accurate one - cold, wet, scary and painful. And a good way to get a fracture, although I didn't manage that one yesterday. I don't intend to try any more; I can have more fun and less pain for a lot less money, for example by swimming 50 lengths twice a week. Or if I really want to break my legs, I'm sure I can find a first storey balcony to jump off somewhere; it would be a warmer experience! I can go frighteningly fast on a roller coaster with considerably less chance of hypothermia. I'll forgive Florian - this time - because he let me sleep on his shoulder all the way home, then he cooked for me. And he didn't abandon me on the side of the mountain, though he did call me the French equivalent of a big girl's blouse when we finally made it to the cable car.

**Paternoters - I don't know how to spell it, but they are Dutch biscuits popular at Christmas time, cinnamon flavoured, kind of like Spekulaas but only the size of a 20p piece. I can eat an almost unlimited number of them, and Sascha knows it, so she keeps me well supplied!

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- - Monday, Jul. 30, 2007
- - Wednesday, May. 16, 2007
Lyon photo entry - Saturday, May. 12, 2007
more advice for future students (health) - Wednesday, May. 02, 2007
frogs legs - Monday, Mar. 26, 2007

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