Occasional postings about Maz and Si's big adventures

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Marian Learns to Ski


Earlier this year, Simon and I secured work on the skifields in Queenstown.  With the minimum wage came a free season pass and lessons - a perfect opportunity to become a world class skier.  My aim was SMART: Specific - learn to ski well enough to take it back country; Measured - I had a Spike the Kiwi Ski School report card to gauge my progress; Achievable - Why Aye, Man; Realistic - maybe not so much; Timed - yes 12 - 14 weeks if the snow ever arrives!

Here's how I went from ATGANI to ATGASNI (All the gear and no idea to all the gear and still no idea) in a matter of mere weeks.

Level 0: I have never thought about skiing before.
En route to Queenstown, Simon and I stop in Christchurch to visit our good friends, Sven and Suesanne, and amass our secondhand ski equipment.
Simon tries to persuade me to purchase a brown leather Rossignol helmet.  It has black lace on the side panels, metal studs on the chin straps and fake fur ear pads.  Suesanne looks horrified.  I express my concern that RWC fans will mistake this helmet for an S&M rugby ball and will try to engage my head in some sort of kinky ruck whenever I appear on the slopes.  This could seriously hinder my ski ambitions, not to mention make me look like a tit!  Several hours later, I'm fully kitted out with skis, boots, poles, (tasteful) helmet and goggles.  Si and I practice skiing around Sven and Suesanne's living room.  Then we all wear our ski helmets to watch Masterchef.  It looks like an Evel Knievel convention.


Level 1: I have never skied before.
This is it: my first lesson.  I hit the bunny slopes with a motley crew of Aussies and a couple of Brits.  They are mostly kitted out in bright colours and massive Oakley goggles.  I'm the only one wearing a helmet!  We slide around the snow on one ski then two, before practicing our snowploughs and mastering easy turns.  Simon, our ski instructor, tells us to just turn uphill if we start to go too fast or get into trouble.  Easy stuff this.  I'm pleased that I chose to ski and not snowboard - I'd still be stuck on my arse at this stage.

Level 2: I can stop in a wedge and make basic wedge turns.
I persuade Si to take me up the novice ski lift and onto the green run.  Dismount the lift without mishap (legend), then whimper in horror as the slope drops steeply away before me. I'm a BOOTLE (see Maz's Winter Sports Glossary below) and rapidly develop into a SPOOC.  The run gets narrower and there's nowhere to turn - I rocket down to the base-building with someone else's snowboard attached to my heel.  Simon cringes in embarrassment.  Hmm - need to refer back to Spike's Snow Responsibility Code: thou shalt stay in control at all times!

Level 3a: I can make linked wedge turns with comfortable speed.
I try to join a level 2 lesson, but am persuaded to join level 3a because of numbers.  We arrive at the green run, and I'm relieved that it doesn't look so bad this time.  The lesson, in fact, goes really well.  I'm not the one who constantly falls over and crashes into the line of learners.  We finish at 4pm and I race to the bottom to catch the last lift back up.  Good fun this skiing lark!

Level 3b: I can match my skis to parallel from the middle of my turns.  I can ski with confidence on all green and some blue trails.
I rope Si in to escort me onto the bottom section of the blue run.  This area of the ski field is known by Ski Patrol as Manuka Gorge - a notorious black spot on the road to Dunedin.  Crashes and casualties are common here.  I dismount the ski lift (legend) then whimper in horror as the slope drops steeply away before me.  I'm never going to make it to the bottom alive.  I tack gingerly from one side of the run to the other, too petrified to point my skis downhill.  Simon waits patiently at the end then answers a radio call in relief and hurries off to First Aid.  It's 2pm, so I join in a 3b lesson.

Level 4: I ski blue trails with confidence and ski parallel very early in and throughout the turn.
I ask the instructor whether I should repeat level 3b, but she smiles encouragingly and tells me that I'm ready for level 4!  I join the group and head to the lift which will take us to the top of the mountain.  I couldn't cajole Simon to take me on a dummy run so tell the instructor that I've never been on this trail before.  There's a first time for everything, he laughs.  Perhaps this isn't the time.  The weather has closed in and the lift chair is rocking wildly from side to side.  When we get off the lift, I don't whimper in horror, I've no idea whether the slope drops away steeply - I don't know where it is. It's snowing so heavily I can't even see my skis!

Mike the instructor gathers us together and suggests that we get down as quickly as possible.  He and the rest of the group bomb off into the blizzard. I attempt to follow but instantly drop off the edge of the piste and disappear head first into a powder drift.  No time to faff, I kick my skis back on, spit the snow out of my mouth, shake it off my jacket and hurry to catch up with the waiting group.  On the way, I dimly make out crouched figures miserably huddled in their hoodies.  I'm so scared.  At one point I stop to hyperventilate, but then realise I'm at the top of Manuka Gorge.  Yeay, I can do this bit!!  With relief, I join the rest of the group.  They look a bit cold and bored, while I have the appearance of a crazed yeti: I'm covered in snow, my hair is sticking out in frozen spikes from under my helmet, I have big goggly eyes and there's snot streaming from my nose.  The lifts have shut and the lesson is abandoned.  Riding my adrenaline high, I go off to tell Simon about my amazing survival.

After this experience I realise that most people probably practice a bit in between lessons. So I spend the next few days consolidating my linked parallel turns (whatever they are), and attacking the blue runs.  In the queues I smirk at the TOTS and on the chair-lifts I try and make space for all the TROTSKIs.  I'm concerned that my skis need re-sharpening and that's why I can't edge properly, but then I fall over and my ski slices through the bottom of my trousers.  Hmm, I guess they're OK then!

With snow goddess, Suesanne at Coronet Peak

Sven and Suesanne come to visit, and we have an awesome time exploring the local skifields.  At Coronet Peak, we head to Rocky Gully, an area serviced by a small T-bar.  You hold onto a cable and it tows you up the hill.  It's important to keep your skis parallel especially as there's two people to a T-bar.  Suesanne insists on riding up with me and Sven struggles to contain his schadenfreude.  We manage to catch the bar and wedge it under our backsides, then, with a jerk, we're off.  As I begin to wonder what happens when we get to the top, Suesanne starts shrieking.  I look down and realise with dismay that she has one ski crossed over the other.  She tumbles, fails to let go of the bar, and I fall with her.  We're spread-eagled on the snow and I'm trying to stop myself and one of Suesanne's skis from slipping down the slope with my pole.  The lifty hasn't noticed and the lift continues to run.  There isn't time to get out of the way, and there's soon two or three pissed off people piled on top of us.  I manage to get to the side with my gear and one of Suesanne's skis.  She's on the other side of the lift run with her remaining ski.  She attempts to swim across to me, her arms and legs are moving everywhere but she's floundering. The next people coming up on the lift are staring in horror at this squawking Palestinian making snow angels right in their path.  She gets across in the nick of time,  but then realises that she's left a ski behind.  I start pulling myself together, while Suesanne commando rolls between t-bars trying to collect all her equipment.

Level 5: I make strong parallel turns on all steep blue trails with confidence and speed control and use a pole plant.
Things improve dramatically when I realise that the edge of the piste is not (in most cases) a sudden precipice leading to imminent death.  I gain confidence and feel ready for another lesson.  Michel, my instructor, is a tanned, glamourous Swiss who's been skiing for 40 years - probably since birth!  He attempts to teach me to ski "like a laydee . . . to dance down ze slope, light, heavee, light, heavee . . ."  It doesn't work.  I fall on my face, accelerate past Michel's feet and punch my cheekbone with the handle of my ski pole.  I rise, looking less like a laydee and more like Mike Tyson.

Off, by myself, I attempt to learn to pole plant - to flick the point of my pole into snow and use it for balance and position as I swish from side to side.  Unfortunately, I keep skiing into my pole (how is this possible?!) and ending up in the now familiar position of sliding headfirst down the mountain.  I think my helmet has saved quite a few braincells this season.  I abandon all aspirations of incorporating pole plants into my skiing and revert to using the poles in defence against SPOOCs and BOOTLEs.

Homeward Bound, The Remarkables

Level 6: I make dynamic carving turns on black trails: I ski with control off-piste and in easy bumps.
One of the lifts runs above a mogul field, an area of once-soft snow sculpted into round hard bumps by hundreds of skiers.  I assess it from the lift, it looks like enormous bubblewrap and difficult to ski, but I'm ready!  I get there to find a large pack of skiers has assembled at the head of the field.  I wont let this deter me.  One by one, they ski down through the moguls.  Each one does it with ease, whipping their skis in a tight zigzag between the bumps.  They regroup at the bottom, so I wait for the last skier to finish before I start.  I expect them to head off to their next challenge, but they don't.  They stay and watch as I struggle to control my legs.  Sometimes they go either side of a bump, or one goes over a bump as the other slides through the dip.  I'm often just on one leg as each mogul flicks me up in the air and into the next bump or ditch.  I'm all over the place and I look like an hyperactive child on an over-inflated bouncy castle - I bounce and skid down the slope, waving my arms and legs wildly and Iisting badly as I desperately try and retain my balance.  I reach the group in one piece and they just stare at me in stunned silence, I shrug my shoulders and ski off with as much dignity as I can muster!

I don't think I ever truly reached Level 6.  But I did get it together enough for Si and I to head back country.  We tackled sheet ice, deep powder, steep narrow gullies and spring slush.  When I next go skiing, however, I'll probably have forgotten everything and I'll be back on the green runs with my skis in a firm wedge.  But as my ski instructor mate, Martin told me, I just need to remember that "speed is my friend".  Which means that next time you're on the slopes and you see a BOOTLE SPOOC hurtle past, it'll probably be me!

Heading back to Remarkables after Skiing in the Wye Valley

Maz's Winter Sports Glossary
(developed from close observation of ski resort patrons)

BOOTLE - Blatantly Out Of Their LEague
Anyone on a run graded above their ability.  They may think it's within their ability, but their stance and/or trajectory will disprove this.

SPOOC - SnowPlough Out Of Control
Learner skier, unable to turn and therefore straight-lining full speed down the slope.  Kids are often SPOOCs, but seem to enjoy it.

TOTS - Too Old To Snowboard
Middle aged man dressed in trendy baggy SB pants, lurid jacket hiding his beer belly and florescent beanie on his grey, middle-management, head.  Snowboarders out there, know that once you've passed thirty you should start acting your age and take up skiing (that goes for skateboarders and dirt-jumpers too)!

TROTSKI - Too ROund To SKI
You never see that many really overweight skiers, but there's plenty of fat snow-boarders - further proof that it isn't a 'proper' sport!

FOMO - Fear of Missing Out
Are you in the right place at the right time?  Is someone else in a better place having a better time?  FOMO is what propels you out of bed and up the hill in all weather conditions!