“Posh git” said the Facebook message. The wall post was from a mate in Britain – I’d just announced I was going skiing. Back in social class-paralysed Blighty, skiing is a top toff past-time, up there with polo, pheasant shooting and shagging the butler.
It’s something Prince Charles, William, Harry and their upper class mates called Ralph and Tarquin do. Not us common folk. We’re too busy drinking and fighting in our shellsuits.
But that’s one of the things I love about Australia: it’s an egalitarian society, where (almost) all are equal and an inherently unfair class system is gloriously absent.
Unlike Britain (nowadays), there’s also snow in Australia. In my five years Down Under I’ve tried pretty much every activity, except skiing.
It was the posh tag that had put me off. But with the snowfields freshly blessed with a coating of icing sugar, it seemed like a good time to see what – if anything – I was missing.
However, swapping my usual Friday night drinks for a seat on a six-hour bus journey from Sydney, I was soon wondering if I was doing the right thing. But my reservations were quickly eased as the first stop was a bottle-o.
It seemed like no time at all before it was morning and I was at [Perisher Blue], my belly warmed with a fry-up and swaddled in ski gear.
How hard could this skiing lark be? I am after all from Gloucestershire, the heartland of famously rubbish British Olympic ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards.
An Austrian guy called Herbie (“Like Herbie Goes Bananas, yah”) was attempting to explain to a group of us snow virgins how best to stay upright for more than three seconds.
We took it in turns to do small manoeuvres, in which I usually became immediately intimate with the hard stuff beneath me or occasionally glided helplessly into other learner groups (“twenty points if you hit a child”, joked Herbie).
The tricky bit with skiing is, you have to move left to go right and right to go left. That’s not right, that.
In fairness, Herbie was something of an Arsène Wenger-esque genius. He could tell whether or not I had clenched my toes – and, yes, relaxing them helped.
After much trial and much error, I was slowly starting to get the hang of it; well, I could stop (when going at a snails pace) and turn (sometimes even in the direction I wanted).
After a couple of hours of sloshing around in the practice bowl, Herbie said we were ready for the main slope.
Actually, he said we should try the small intermediate-style slope, before we got onto the real thing. But I wasn’t really listening (I wish I had).
No. It was the big steep slope for big macho me. It was snow time!
Getting the Runs
I was an instant expert. That is, expert at flipping up in the air, performing previously unseen involuntary gymnastic manoeuvres and crash-landing in a heap of wrongly-shaped limbs.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be dragged along by a herd of wild horses; to hurtle along at unimaginable speed, without an ounce of control? I’m pretty certain I now know what that’s like.
I edged onto the snow… and just took off. Every instruction ejected itself from my bonce – every instruction apart from “panic!”. Which seemed to sort of paralyse me. I couldn’t turn, I couldn’t slow and I certainly couldn’t find the
Unlike the training slope, the big boys’ slope was much much steeper and much much faster. And they didn’t take it in turns here – snowboarders and skiiers zip past like bullets.
I cut directly across the slope, miraculously missing everyone, but heading towards a big tree – I needed to stop. So, with Chaplin-esque comic drama I enacted a sort of backwards summersault, arms and legs flailing in every direction, not unlike a windmill in a hurricane, and crashed to the ground in a messy heap.
As I brushed myself down and counted my bruises a 10-year-old girl glided gracefully over with one of my skis she’d collected from the other side of the run.
Yeah, thanks. Perhaps I’ll try that intermediate slope.
On the much friendlier incline, at a slower pace, is was far easier to turn, slow down, speed up and generally retain control of the petulant, wantaway skis.
Time to play in the Premier League again.
On the Piste
This time, with the deep wounds inflicted on my confidence mostly patched up, it was a different matter.
I managed to stay at a moderate pace, do long zig-zags across the slope as I descended and generally remain in control. Sure, a few more kids zipped past me going backwards, without skis, doing cartwheels, but I ignored them.
I was my own man, taking things at my own pace and style. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I neared
I was as at least as good as Eddie the Eagle. I was king of the slopes.
Spying a cute girl from my morning lesson in the lift queue, I gave a, “it’s fun this, isn’t it” wave.
“Looks like you’ve got the hang of it”, she shouted (clearly sizing up my chiselled good looks as she did).
“Yeah, it’s easy when you…” I started to say. Then – and again here you really would marvel at the comic timing (I’m not making this up)… I smacked straight into a snowboarder and we both crashed to the floor.
Owch. Sorry. Drinking alone tonight then.
Despite the inflated sense of my own brilliance being punctured yet again,
I stuck at it for the rest of the afternoon.
Each time it got easier and as long as I didn’t try and show off and didn’t let my ego feel too stung when 10-year-olds sped past, or did figures of eight around me, I began to really really enjoy it.
From the combination of speed, the excitement of dodging others, and sheer exalted relief of not hurting myself, it was a really big buzz. Skiing is my new favourite thing.
It’s all right this posh lark, ain’t it.
Now hand me a shotgun, saddle me up the horse and show me the way to the butler’s quarters.