Looking Out To Sea

I keep trying to not fall over and it's mostly a success

That’s me completed Day 4 of skiing classes morning and afternoon. Yesterday I felt a significant amount of thigh pain. My hands and wrists are generally quite stressed from gripping on to ropes and pulling mechanisms as well as hefting skis. I’m definitely putting too much effort and muscle into these manoeuvres but I’m still scared it will all go wrong and I’ll tumble. I think I’d rather be the person with sore arms at the end of the day than the person who gets detached from the button lift and has to return to the bottom while the rest of the group wait patiently at the top. (My French small-talk hasn’t improved a great deal.)

Apart from pain in a number of interesting places I will try to list what I have discovered about myself, the learning process, skill lessons and so on.

  • Being able to do something and being able to teach it are two different things. The two instructors I have had, Jean-Luc and Phillipe, have been great. They can spot whether you’re leaning wrong, twisting your body funny or occasionally doing something different unconsciously then explain why you’re doing it. The instructor in the level one class that I took once was not nearly as helpful but just gave orders — « ski parallèle ! » “Aye, but how?”

  • And by the same token both instructors have been really friendly. I’m the only English-speaker in one of my classes and I try to follow along as much as possible. But they’re very friendly and Jean-Luc in particular will try to translate any jokes and talk to me.

  • I’m really glad I’ve been cycling and doing capoeira for long enough to get reasonable control of my body. Sometimes this results in what we might euphemistically call “dynamic balance” (ie, I’m totally all over the shop but if I keep flailing I can stay on my feet). This is much better than just losing it! But not quite the picture of poise and elegance that my instructors exhibit.

  • There are plenty of really shallow runs that have steep lips that put me off but once I’m over them it’s all fine. That initial push over the lip is still very scary! Another scary thing is routes that have drop-off edges — one in particular is a snow-covered mountain road that is used during the summer time for the Tour de France. And like any winding mountain path there’s a sheer wall on one side and a sheer drop on the other. On any other route down I’d be perfectly capable of using the full width of the piste but somehow the idea that I might just fly off the edge is too much.

  • The colour markings on the routes seem pretty much invisible to me. All I can see are the red padding around the chairlift pylons and I can tell you that not every route is a red! The actual routes are marked with thin bits of painted wood that all basically look alike. Seriously, get your nonsense together. Combined with the non-obvious piste maps and the possibility that you find yourself at the top of a hill that you’re incapable of skiing down can be pretty paralysing. Every time I board a lift I have to ask myself “have I been this way before with an instructor?” and then the follow-up “did we have to take a special (non-obvious) route down to avoid the scary bits?”. It can really take the enjoyment out of it.

  • Did I mention the awful piste maps? Thankfully Open Piste Map comes to the rescue, but that shouldn’t be necessary. The others tell me that it’s not just Les Gets but all piste maps that have this ropey relation to actual geography while pretending to represent it. If it was either entirely symbolic (like the London Underground map) or entirely topological (like an OS map) it would be fine but they’re the worst of both. The distances aren’t accurate and the directions of lines don’t match up but the whole thing is overlaid on a fake isometric landscape that looks like it should relate to the landscape.

  • I’m not great at pushing myself to the front of the queue but frankly being at the end can be dangerous to one’s health. It’s much easier to follow the line of the instructor from just behind them than several people back with a timid skiier immediately in front. Lately we’ve been doing things which require more speed and being trapped behind a nervous person makes it much harder to pull them off without injury or loss of dignity.