Tales from a Motorcycle Saddle.

  "Where’s the Slope?"

 

Skiing? SKIING? N'owt to do with bikes, but I did write this for our bike club magazine. See how a snow ploughing novice faired.

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It’s Christmas Day 1998 and I’m 1750 metres up Hochzillertal in Austria, the sun is shining bright and warm and reflecting off pure white snow.

Note walkers

Cocooned in thermals, roll neck, salopettes, jacket, hat, gloves and glasses I support myself on two ski poles, place the front of the left boot into the ski binding and with a firm satisfying click snap the heel into place. I repeat with the right boot, turn the skis facing down hill and gently slide forward. Controlling my speed by snowploughing shows other skiers I am a beginner, but so what? Moving my weight over the left ski turns me right and I am faced with a beautiful view of a wide, not too daunting piste with snow covered mountains in the background. After only two days here I felt confident, at peace and keen to advance. Great stuff!

O.K., hands up all who go skiing. Wow, that many! Never, ever, did I think I would have the desire to give it a go, but suddenly, as if from nowhere a thought entered my head, "You want to go skiing." Unfortunately I had to deal with a couple of problems first.

(1) Wellyphobia. You won’t find it in any dictionary because I coined the word myself. It is a condition as real and distressing as it is funny. Ever since primary school days certain footwear from wellingtons to trainers has brought on a state similar to a panic attack. Pains in the shoulders, rapid breathing caused by breathlessness, plus nausea and weakness leaves me totally debilitated. Answer? I borrowed a pair of ski boots and tried them on at home over a period of three weeks until I was able to cope with them. It sounds easy but an almighty amount of will power and perseverance was required. Now I even enjoy the warm security as the clamps snap to around my calves.

(2) Age. At 45 it occurred to me it might be a younger man’s sport. It isn’t. A poster on the back of a local bus shouted at me: "You’re never too old to learn to ski. Phone Harlow Ski School now!"

(3) Cost. Skiing doesn’t have to be exorbitant. I’m fortunate as I work in my spare time for an organisation that takes people on summer holidays and ski trips. I was given an old pair of salopettes and a ski jacket which only left thermals, glasses, hat and gloves to buy.

..complete with Webasto, chains, ASR, ABS.....

I drove the coach from Sevenoaks, overnight to Strasbourg where two other drivers took over for the rest of the journey to Austria. I chose to go to the Zillertal valley in the Austrian Tyrol, mainly as I discovered that some friends were also on that trip. One was Michelle who had shown me around Western Australia a few months earlier and was here with her younger sister Heather. Another friend was Bernie who I met on the ’96 Norway trip that I drove. Bernie and Heather were absolute beginners whereas I had had a couple of lessons on a dry ski slope before the holiday. Similarities to motor cycling are few; warm clothing must be worn and practice is needed to do it well. For me there is another similarity and that is the desire simply to get on the skis and go, which is how I feel about the Vulgar Velo or Neoplan coaches after a period a way from them.

The most surprising aspect was that skiing is not logical. In other words it did not come naturally as cycling or swimming. Every movement had to be learnt from scratch, often opposite to what felt right. One example was traversing a slope. To avoid sliding sideways down the slope the Austrian instructor would call out; "Ass toward hill, ass toward hill!" This was a summary of his previous instruction when we had to curve our bodies into a C shape with our upper body leaning towards the valley, i.e. against our natural desire to lean towards the hill for security. This was quite a significant step once mastered as the ski edges bit into the snow and we traversed safely across what looked like an impossibly steep slope.

Two novices!

I know what you are longing to ask! "What about the wipe-outs?" May be I was not trying hard enough or my natural timidity made me cautious, but not once did I do anything dramatic. Of course I fell over a few times (getting up is a science in itself) but the nearest to dramatic was when I put all my weight on the wrong ski and ploughed straight into a soft snow bank and had to dig myself out. T bars were something else though. They are not coffee shops but inverted T shape bars that pull you up the mountain. The worst part was getting off. Twice I was not assertive enough at the top and failed to push it away from me completely. It caught me behind my knee, pulling me over onto my back then dragging me along the ground. The thought of being suspended upside down by one leg as it continued up the mountain was sufficient incentive for me to extricate myself from it. No one took any notice - spills are common place.

One evening I nominated Bernie for a Beginner’s Wipe-out Award. She is a rather petite young lady in her mid thirties and was a little cautious on this her first ski holiday. Several of us encouraged her to leave the baby slope and try the next one. All went well until I advised her to steer left slightly near the end of the run to counteract the camber. She must have missed the word ‘slightly’ as there was a muffled yell and when I turned I saw she had swung hard left, off the piste and had buried her lower body in soft virgin snow! It was amazing that someone so small could cause such a large area of destruction. The person who won the doubtful accolade that evening was the leader of the holiday. He was taking a ski class and demonstrated a particular movement. Unfortunately he lost the plot completely, taking out several skiers in the process. When peace returned, from his position on the ground, he simply said, "Do you want to me to show you it again?"!

One day I had to hire a Transit and move ski equipment from our hotel to another, the far side of Saltzburg. By now a cold and cough had set in (it was actually a chest infection as I found out when I returned home) so this was a rest day from skiing. Unfortunately, on the previous day I had coughed so violently I managed to pull a muscle at the base of my spine which was making almost any movement difficult. Driving was challenging due to this vehicle being the first ‘left hooker’ I have ever driven and coughing whilst driving was extremely uncomfortable. This was a long but enjoyable day as I passed snow covered mountains with blue sky behind and met friends briefly at Haus, near Schladmin.

Hochzillertal

Regarding health, I was one of the lucky ones. Flu ran rampant through the hotel and may people succumbed, including Michelle who spent five days in her room. This was particularly frustrating as this was her last chance to ski before she returns home to Oz. After the evening meals the speaker took us through 1 Peter looking at suffering in God’s name. He was also a G.P. and kept an eye on the poorly ones amongst us, thus taking care of our physical well being as well as our spiritual health!

Would I go again? Definitely! I loved the company, the scenery, the excitement, in fact there was nothing I did dislike – apart from the health problems! As I learnt to relax on the easier runs I was able to look around at the beautiful scenery around me. The only sound would be a shushing from the skis and a little wind noise around the sunglasses. It can be compared to the times when we ride our LEs with the sun and wind behind us, the engine smooth and quiet below us as we cruise along at a heady 50 mph.

And the significance of the title? Bernie was keen to show me where the true novices were learning. She stopped at the start of what I thought was a gentle track and without thinking I said, "Where’s the slope?" How to undermine a beginner’s confidence! I think she forgave me – eventually. She returned home with bronchitis and little desire to get back on skis. I returned with flu symptoms and a bad chest infection but with an urge to try again as soon as possible. It looks like the Vulgar Velo’s face lift will have to wait, yet again.

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