Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Learning to ski in the Alps: Part II

This is the Part II to this post. 

With one ski precariously placed in an ice-crusted track from an earlier skier and my leg shaking so badly that I couldn’t get my other ski on, I was as certain as I have ever been that I was moments away from falling to my death—or at least something similarly painful.

It was the second day of my first backcountry ski trip, and things had been going moderately well up to this point.

This was taken in the very beginning. I can tell because I'm still smiling.
Poor naive little soul

Well, that’s not entirely true.

British guy had already had to come back and rescue me at least once, but as I looked across at the slope we now needed to traverse and then down at the rocky drop-off below, my stomach churned and my legs were shaking so violently that it seemed physically impossible to take even one step forward. I didn’t see how British guy could get me out of this.

Seeing as how I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown,
I didn't take any photos of what we went down. This is the side we went up.

I looked over my shoulder at the mountain hut we had just left. I could just go back there, I thought. I can stay there until the snow melts in approximately 4 months and then I can hike safely down.

At the mountain hut

It sounded like a fantastic plan to me.

British guy didn’t think so, but then British guy thinks being on a drop-off and about to fall to your death is something akin to fun so I seriously question his judgment.

Turning around with a graceful kick-turn, he skied back down to me.

I was crying, shaking, and I only had one ski on.

He leaned down and pushed the front of my boot down, snapping it easily into the binding.

Now I had two skis on. But I was still shaking. And crying.

Any degree of dignity I had left was shrinking as rapidly as my courage.

I didn’t care.

I just wanted my mom.

Who, thankfully, had no idea that I was halfway down a slope in the middle of the French Alps. Otherwise a minimum of five search and rescue helicopters would have already been circling around.

Still standing next to me, British guy tried to offer some words of comfort. If British guy is any indication, the British aren’t very good at this sort of thing.

British guy: You’re not going to die if you fall. You might badly injure yourself, but you’ll live.

Me: How badly do you think I would hurt myself? Like on a scale of 1-10. 10 being death and 1 being a blister.

British guy: Look, I’ll ski right alongside you. If you fall, I’ll stop you.

Me: No, you won’t. I’ll fall and then knock you over and then we’ll both fall to our deaths.

British guy: We’re not going to fall to our deaths.

Me: We might. Anything is possible.

British guy: Yes, I suppose --in theory-- anything is possible.

Me: So you do admit that it’s possible?

He evaded this question by suggesting that we continue skiing down, as the snow conditions were only getting worse.

If you’ve ever watched a child wobbling alongside its parent, taking small uneven steps and occasionally toppling to the ground, then you know exactly what I looked like trying to ski alongside British guy.

I shuffled my skis, sliding one carefully in front of the other, and then repeating this motion. Utilizing this technique I found that I was moving, and not falling. This was good. Very good.

But then I started going faster.

Muscles I didn’t even know I had tensed as my skis teetered over bumps and contours in the snowpack, launching my body weight anywhere but over my skis.

British guy suggested that I bend my knees a little bit more and relax my body.

I told him to shut-up.

As the slope evened out and I began to breathe again, I felt guilty for telling British guy to shut-up. Promising God, the Universe, Buddha, Zeus, and anyone else with any kind of influence up there that I would apologize for my actions if I made it down alive, I slowly skidded across the slope in a series of awkward and uneven turns.

Approaching British guy with all the grace of a giraffe wearing roller-skates on ice, I noticed the camera in his hand.

He had been filming the last half of my descent while waiting for me at the bottom. 

As I crash-landed at his feet, he slipped the camera into his pocket and smiled.

I told him to shut-up. Again.

(For the record, I’m rude and irrational when in danger of falling to my death.  I also break promises to deities.)

Helping me to my feet, British guy scowled at the snow.

“It’s just getting heavier, and it’s a pretty gentle slope from here on out,” he commented. “The rest of the descent is going to be quite slow.”

My spirits lifted. Slow? I like slow. I tried to appear disappointed for British guy’s sake, but joy radiated from me.  

We spent the next hour pushing ourselves through sticky snow. My arms ached from the exertion, but I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. I had survived. There was no way I could fall now, and my skis stuck so well to the snow I might as well have had my skins on.

As we rounded a corner, I caught a glimpse of the road below us. With the car now in sight, the relief I felt was palpable. The terror of a few hours before was now simply a memory to fold neatly in the recesses of my box of “terrifying life experiences.” I’m running out of room in that box.

As we pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road home, I turned to British guy.

“That was really fun. We should do it again.”

British guy


Starlight said...

That was a fun reading. I'm glad that you've made it and that you're ok. British guy really wasn't comforting. I suggest that you buy him a book about "how to comfort your girlfriend when she thinks she's going to die" for Christmas :)

Shopgirl said...

First, I love the pictures. It's a beautiful place. Ah I see it's the Alps, no wonder.

Second, I highly recommend taking a class. That's how I learned, it takes away the need to :

"British guy suggested that I bend my knees a little bit more and relax my body.

I told him to shut-up."

Which made a really fun post and great writing at that though.

I am going skiing/snowboarding around Christmas.

Great post.

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