“Posh git” said the Facebook message.
I’d just announced I was going skiing and thepost was from a mate in Britain. 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 not for us common folk.
But that’s one of the things I love about Australia: it’s an egalitarian society, where (almost) all are equal.
In my five years Down Under I’ve tried pretty much every activity, except skiing. It was theposh tag that had put me off.
But with the snowfields freshly blessed with a coating of icing sugar, it was time to see what I was missing.
However, swapping my usual Friday night drinks for a seat on a six-hour bus journey from Sydney, I was 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.
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, Herbie said we were ready for the main slope.
Actually, he said the small intermediate-style slope. 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.
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 brake pedal, as 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 somersault, 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 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 PISTE
On the much friendlier incline, at a slower pace, is was far easier to turn, slow down, speed up and generally retain control of my wantaway skis. Time to play in the Premier League again.
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. I was my own man, taking things at my own pace. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I neared the bottom.
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, 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. Each time it got easier and 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.
The peak season is roughly late June to early September. If you visit the slopes a few weeks either side, you’ll save a heap of money on the peak season prices below, but will be gambling on how much (if any) snow you get. Check individual resorts for snow and price updates. Hasta la piste, baby (sorry).
What: This famous slope is also one of the busiest, with high-speed chairs pumping skiers to the top. The resort claims to have the longest runs and largest snow-making system in Oz, plus the thriving town has lively nightlife.
Where: About halfway between Sydney and Melbourne – about 500km, or 5-7 hours drive, from each.
How much: Lift pass daily $103, five-day pass $444. www.thredbo.com.au
PERISHER BLUE (NSW)
What: This massive chunk of glorious white terrain is Australia’s answer to European mega resorts. Despite being smaller than Thredbo, the slopes are spread over 1,250 hectares of land and seven mountain peaks. Its downhill incline is regarded as one of the most vicious in NSW.
Where: Down the road from Thredbo.
How much: Lift pass daily $105, five-day pass $462. www.perisher.com.au
MT HOTHAM (VIC)
Boasting the highest average snowfall of any Aussie resort and reputedly the best powder, head here for excellent free-ride facilities and some of the most challenging runs in Oz.
Where: About 350km from Melbourne.
How much: Lift pass daily $102, five-day pass $464. www.hotham.com.au
MT BULLER (VIC)
With the second-largest lift system
in the Southern Hemisphere, you’re sure to get more runs for your dollar. It’s where Aussie Olympic skiers train.
Where: Under 240km from Melbourne.
How much: Lift pass daily $99, five-day pass $423. www.mtbuller.com.au
FALLS CREEK (VIC)
Home to some of Victoria’s best back-country terrain, this mountain also has a huge snow-making capacity and is one of the first resorts to open. It prides itself on its 120m super-pipe and rail park, not to mention more than 92 ski runs.
Where: About 375km from Melbourne.
How much: Lift pass daily $102, five-day pass $464. www.fallscreek.com.au