Tales from a Motorcycle Saddle.

"Too much slope"


Skiing? SKIING? N'owt to do with bikes, but this is the second story about a snow ploughing novice. Perhaps he should give up while he is still behind.

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Betmeralp, Switzerland, 1999

(Originally penned for part of a church social evening)

My legs had passed the point of being "just" painful and were now refusing to obey my commands. Iím sure I heard the thigh muscles screaming at me on the way up. "Stop this now or Iíll never work for you again!" Perhaps my imagination was playing tricks on me. The others were waiting for me: Audrey from N. Ireland, Miriam from the North of England, Soji, a big black cheerful chap from Nigeria and Janyen, a young lady with a beautiful soft and precise accent from Sarth Afreeka.

I felt a right woos, (pronounced similar to woosh) a new word I had learnt a few days before, meaning a wimp, or to wimp out. "Go on without me", I called, "my legs are killing me so Iím going down from here". I felt encouraged and cheered by their friendly remarks and I watched rather enviously as they disappeared from sight.

The scenery was absolutely outstanding here, at around 8000 feet. I was surrounded by snow covered mountains, blue sky and crisp clear air. It was many times more magnificent than the best calendar page, more exciting than the biggest Imax cinema screen and more life like than any dream. Why? Because I was part of it. The same snow below my skis was the same snow at the peak and in the valley with no break in the page, no camera movement necessary to gain the whole picture. I was part of the picture.

Below me I could see the snow covered roofs of a Swiss village, not too far away, but far enough to realise this was not going to be easy. The place was Betmeralp and it represented security and rest. My head was burning from the hot sun, my thigh muscles were still protesting and I was soaked in perspiration from the neck down to my fingers and toes, but you didnít really wish to know that, did you? "Right," I thought, "Here we go".

I turned the skis downhill and slid slowly forward, keeping a careful check on my speed by doing slow, beginner like, snow plough turns, not feeling confident enough to attempt anything like a parallel turn. I was aware of other skiers flying by and with more than a little concern welling up inside, I watched them disappear from my sight as they dropped down a much steeper slope to the village.

I managed to stop at the top of this incline and surveyed it. It was a uniform steepness all the way down to the little houses and chalets. For a second I had a vision of myself spread-eagled flat out, face down, on one of these roofs. I had only one option, to traverse the slope gently, do a quick precise turn and traverse again, the way a yacht tacks against the wind. Hopefully I would lose sufficient height in each traverse to reach the gap between the two chalets that gave access to the road. A quick ski down the road to the gondola, and Iím safe.

Like a diver on a high board, or a bungee jumper before a fall, I stood at this point until I realised that I really had to bite the bullet and go. I moved off, the slushy snow feeling soft but also hard work below the skis. I initiated the first turn but never completed it as both skis slid sideways and I fell backwards onto the soft snow. Fall no. 1. This was a rather uncomfortable position as skis angle the lower legs forward but standing up was easy as the slope was so steep. Deep breath, and Fall no. 2, as skis and legs instantly shot away. I even had to remove a ski to extricate myself from the undignified position I ended up in.

Supporting myself on one leg I attempted to fit the boot back onto the other ski. One good push andÖ.. Fall no. 3, this time with my head as the lowest point. I managed to shuffle my legs (with skis attached) round until they were below me, where I rested for a moment. An experienced skier sideslipped to a halt beside me. "Ok?" I just about managed a thumbs up. Alone once again, I stood up, and gingerly moved forward across the slope.

Time to turn left, so 1, 2, 3, weight on the right ski, bend, push and hello to Fall no. 4, this time tasting snow as I rolled twice, and then slid on my left side, skis still attached. The slowness of the fall had not caused the ski bindings to release, which made my knees a trifle sore from being twisted.

"Ok?" "Yes thank you". Helpful people, around here. By now, I was half way down the steeper incline, very tired, very fed up and wanting this little adventure to be over. Back upright and somehow facing the right way, I tentatively pushed forward again, my right leg demanding this punishment to end. When I didnít obey its request it went on strike, or perhaps I did, but suddenly I was in intimate contact with the snow again. Fall no. 5. I allowed myself to slide downwards on my side watching my skis smooth out a six foot swathe in the snow.

Somehow I managed the next two turns without losing the plot, and then snow ploughed the final few metres to the road, dodging the walkers, other skiers and a caterpillar tracked vehicle until I reached the place where we had left our bootbags. Releasing the boot clamps was a blissful experience, removing the boots even better.

I took the next day off.

Recalling the incident later on, I realised that at the top of the steeper incline that I encountered halfway down to the village, a thought had crossed my mind (not a long journey!) I really did consider I was incapable of getting down this slope. It looked far too daunting for a new skier in such a tired state but it had to be done Ė there was no alternative. Did I ask God for His help? No! Did I ask for His physical strength, His protection should I take a tumble, His support, His wisdom in choosing a route down? No!

Lesson learnt!

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