Everybody’s a klutz on the first day,” our ski instructor Tony Fosch reminds us as we make individual and collective fools of ourselves coming to grips with our equipment on day one of ski school. I’ve just joined a beginners’ class to receive instruction on the Alpine slopes of the Zell am See ski resort in Austria’s south-western province of Tirol and, although I’m new to skiing, some of the group have never even seen snow before.

In addition to being in a new country and surrounded by unknown people speaking different languages, I find myself with an alien surface underfoot, two awkwardly long skis and an aluminium walking stick in each hand. What’s more, the lady at the ski rental outlet insisted I wear these enormous plastic boots that look and feel like reject prototypes from the Nasa moon project. But I take comfort from the fact that I’m not alone.”

There are 10 of us in the class and right now we feel like totally maladroit novices performing an amusing but decidedly inelegant circus act – clowns, basically. For the first quarter of an hour we slip and fall about while trying not to look too uncool in front of the myriad experienced skiers whizzing past us. I can’t help but wonder how we’re going to look when we actually get to putting the skis on.

Nevertheless, much to our own surprise, by the second day we have grasped the basics and Tony has us riding the beginners’ T-bar and doing reasonably accomplished snowplough turns. Within no time, in spite of any lingering self-doubt, he has us confidently skiing downhill, arms held up triumphantly, chanting I am a ski god”. Somewhat prematurely, it turns out, as a couple from our group lose control in their turns and promptly trigger a domino effect among the remaining line of newly initiated ski gods.

And so endeth the class for that day, but not the learning: for when it comes to skiing, après-ski is another integral part of the learning experience. After all, if you’re going to learn to ski like a pro, you may as well learn to drink like one, too. Following a day on the slopes, skiers and snowboarders descend en masse to various little bars and cafés dotted around the ski resorts to indulge in a bit of après-ski, quite simply the alpine equivalent of a quick one down at the local. Only instead of drinking pints and recounting tales about your day at the office, you get to drink hot chocolate with rum and trade stories (some taller than others) about your adventures. With the telltale signs of snow still dripping out of my ears, I mostly listened.

By the afternoon of the third day a few of us have the confidence (or is that stupidity?) to ride the gondola to the 2000m summit of the Schmittenhöhe mountain and test out our new-found skills, unsupervised on some of the 130km of pistes. Brimming with false bravado, everything seems so easy and before long I find myself happily racing along wondering what the red circle on the post that just flashed past me means. The answer soon presents itself in the form of a sudden, unexpected and rather alarming increase in the gradient of the slope. This is in turn followed by a sudden and equally alarming increase in the speed of my descent, followed all too soon by that bewildering sensation of imbalance experienced when I put my skis on for the first time. Before long, this leads, not altogether unexpectedly, to a disturbingly similar result: skis no longer parallel, body no longer upright and snow very definitely jammed deeply into all uncovered orifices.

I stand and brush myself off, my ego soon recovering with the recollection of some words of wisdom I overheard another ski instructor utter: “If you don’t fall down, you’re not pushing yourself enough.” And so it is that I come to learn about the colour designations for the pistes: blue (easy), red (medium) and black (difficult). The next day we’re taught parallel turns and practise continuously, thankfully finding ourselves spending more time on our skis than on our bums. By now we have also come to learn that fresh Alpine air is a surprisingly good panacea for hangovers, though a remedy for red-eyes is still being sought.

The morning of day five brings a surprise slalom competition for all beginners, an event which I find as easy as falling down. Literally. Twice, to be precise. I’ve obviously not had enough fresh Alpine air. However, by the afternoon I’ve regained all my faculties and become amateurishly proficient on the red slopes. Yet my ego remains bruised from my morning tumbles and I find myself seeking redemption in the black slopes that I shall have to confront if I choose to ski all the way from the summit to the base of the mountain.

Ski school has ended and I’m joined by the rest of my group, who are all experienced skiers. Together we take on the blue and red slopes that lead almost to the foot of the mountain. And, under their guidance, I find myself successfully conquering first one, and then a second, black slope. Once safely at the base I turn to look at the summit. My sense of achievement is somewhat overwhelming, so much so that it’s not even dented when, later that evening at the ski school awards ceremony, I’m awarded a special medal for being the only one to fall twice during the slalom event.

On my last day, before leaving for the airport, I take a stroll over to the ski school to take some pictures. Against the spectacular backdrop of high-speed skiers skilfully flying down the slopes, I find myself watching a few beginners falling about. “Everybody’s a klutz on the first day,” I mutter, as I turn to leave.”