It was eerily quiet and still. The chairlift had shuddered to a halt and I was suspended high above the pure white slopes and dark forest. My skis stuck out beneath me, pulling down on my feet. I took a deep breath and tried to steady my nerves. Just a few minutes ago, I had been on the nursery slopes with the five-year-olds, trying to learn how to manouevre on these ridiculous things while avoiding a Bridget Jones-style moment. Some of my friends had already gone on ahead, while others were very happy to spend longer on the baby routes. So here I was, by myself, on a stationary chairlift, halfway up a mountainside in the middle of the Alps. I had a total of about 3 hours of skiing practice under my belt and brief tuition from my kind and long-suffering host. For some crazy reason, I had decided to try a proper run.
After what seemed like an eternity, but which was in reality a couple of minutes, the chairlift jolted back to life and we continued our ascent. Just as the panic began to really overwhelm me, the chairlift pushed me off. I just about had the presence of mind to get out of the way of the following skiers and avoid the oncoming pros before I found space to catch my breath and steel myself for what I was about to do. Then, with rather shaky legs, I rounded the corner and pushed off down the first slope. And promptly fell over. Getting up with skis on has to be one of the hardest things ever, but once I had removed one ski, I managed it and set off again.
What I didn’t realise about skiing before I went is the way the snow insulates sound, so that even with quite a number of skiers, sound is muffled and the swishing and scraping of skis is about all that can be heard. I was in a fairly quiet spot and it felt very isolated. I fell over a quite few more times, earning a few pitying, superior glances from other skiers and I wondered how the hell I was ever going to make it. However, I finally got a feel for it and made it triumphantly, if somewhat clumsily, to the bottom. There was a comforting cacophony of noise here; swarms of people and the promise of the cafe. I deserved a hot chocolate, maybe something stronger, but I had the strangest feeling. I wasn’t ready to sit down with a drink just yet. I spotted one of my friends and skied over to her. She had the same ecstatic expression on her face that I was sure I must have on mine.
Before I knew it, I was back on the chairlift, making the long ascent. This time though, all I felt was excitement and a rush of adrenaline. I suddenly understood why people get so addicted to this crazy sport and realised that I too, was hooked.
The second time, I didn’t fall over.