The perils of skiing

There can be few sports to rival skiing when it comes to people putting their necks on the line and risking huge embarrassment. But it’s not only nervous beginners capable of making total fools of themselves. Skiers of all abilities endeavour to get into positions where a red face can be the only outcome. Here below are some of the classic cases:

1 – The Barnes Wallace

The first morning of the holiday and you’ve an aura of confidence. With last year’s lessons in the bank, you’ve achieved the breakthrough. This over exuberance can be costly. Carrying too much speed in towards a busy chair lift queue you lose control. With a last ditch effort to stop, you throw yourself to the ground. Resembling a famous scene from The Dambusters, you plough headfirst, straight into a group of 10 Swedish ski team members. Sticks and goggles go flying and the sound of clothing ripping and metal crashing reverberates through the valley. Lying in a tangle of Salomons, Gore-Tex and blonde hair, you vow to go back to lessons that afternoon.

2 – The Leap of Faith

Skiing past the snow park you boast to your companions that, “By the end of the week I’ll be going off those jumps.” A bold proclamation, made only more so by the gaggle of 50 talented skiers and boarders permanently congregated at the top of the park. They ooh, ahh and applaud their friends while laughing callously at any inexperienced soul who is foolhardy enough to give it a go.

Friday afternoon arrives and you pull into the park. You stand out fairly obviously in a bright green Rodeo suit circa 1987 while your rear-entry boots and 190cm slalom skis look a touch out of place. Ignoring the giggles and at least one friendly warning you throw yourself towards the main kicker.

Feeling poised it’s not until about 15 feet before the lip you remember you have no idea how to jump. Leaning back you fly straight into the air, legs apart and arms waving like a windmill. With too much vertical and not enough horizontal progress, you’re destined to land on the plateau. Thudding down on your back, you lie looking skyward with the wind knocked out of you. To add to the embarrassment you now have to scrabble about trying to reclaim your antiquated gear as jeers from above urge you to, “get out of the way, you stupid English!”

3 – The Axeman Cometh

A novice skier is easy to spot by their total inability to manage their equipment when not on the slopes. We all aim to look like the suave local instructor as he saunters through the main street carrying four sets of skis and a bag of baguettes.

Unfortunately the majority of us look more like we’re re-enacting a scene from the Chuckle Brothers as we clumsily stumble along the pavement. This is fine as people can gauge your ineptitude and grant you a wide berth.

The most dangerous time though is the intermediate stage when you think you’ve grasped it. On a busy road at 4.30pm you swing your skis onto your shoulder, just as you’ve seen the instructors do. With a confident swagger you enthusiastically regale your companion about the day’s triumphs. Whilst describing a particularly well carved turn you gesticulate wildly, forgetting the 6 foot planks on your shoulder. Swinging them round you clobber the top dog from the ski patrol on the side of the head. Monsieur is in no mood to accept apologies and now you’re less high-spirited as your lift pass has been confiscated. You suffer the ignominy of spending the last days of the holiday sledging and looking at ice sculptures.

4 – The Chairlift Coward

When starting out, ski lifts can be just as terrifying as the runs themselves. The Poma is treacherous, the T-Bar a trial, but maybe the most dangerous of all is the chairlift. For the experienced skier these are a relaxing way up the mountain granting a welcome break for the legs. But, for the complete novice they are terrifying and confusing beasts.

Luckily when you board at the bottom there’s a friendly looking chap with a leathered face to help you on. But, as you approach the summit nerves begin to set in. The guy beside you throws open the protective barrier exposing you to the sheer drop. Losing the plot you cling onto the side. Unfortunately the lift op hasn’t spotted your plight as he’s carving a Mickey Mouse in the snow beside his little hut. Staying rigid in your seat, you swing round the end and start to head back down. After some shouting the lifty spots the predicament and stops the mechanism just as you’re above the protective net at the edge of the lift station. 45 minutes later you’ve been winched down and the lift can finally re-open.

5 – The Child Catcher

On a busy slope you’re feeling pretty positive about your ability. As you cruise down the edge of the piste you scoff at the snow-ploughers struggling in the centre. Gaining self-belief you pick up a touch more speed.

But, at the very moment the slope begins to narrow, a tribe of twenty, bibbed and helmeted 5-year-olds are winding along behind a wizened instructor. At first you’re confident that you’ll squeeze past so you keep up the quick pace. But disaster looms as you realise the first of the little tykes just isn’t going to turn where you expected. You’re on an unavoidable collision course. Little Thierry piles into you as you frantically try and stop. He tumbles to the ground with a shrill “Sacre bleu!” You also fall, rag-dolling down to where the old instructor has halted to survey what has occurred.

As you look up you witness the end of the carnage. Rather than changing direction every single one of the nippers has piled straight on into the fallen Thierry. The happy little troop has transformed into a giant, bawling haystack of pre-schoolers. The instructor takes his hands from his eyes and turns to deal with you. After being scolded like a toddler for five minutes you timidly skulk away.

Fergus Bisset


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