Monday, July 13, 2009

The Problem with Mountains.

So, I spent last week up in the snow with my family. 3 Days skiing for me, 3 days of not skiing for Min. (She’s not all that into skiing and with good reason – it’s a long and horrible story involving a French chairlift…) She played in the snow with Toby, instead.

I’ve been addicted to snow skiing for about 22 years now, since my first trip to the Victorian snow fields as a 15-year-old on a school trip. Not a good addiction to have when you live in Perth, which is flat, at sea level, and really not at all cold.

It’s damn expensive, for one thing. Particularly in Australia, where the number of ski fields are few and far between, and thus there’s a virtual monopoly situation. Lift passes are ludicrously expensive (I worked out that, even on the days where I skied from the first to last lifts, it still cost me something in the order of $4.80 every time I planted my bum on a chairlift or T-bar.) then there’s the price of ski clothing, hire gear, petrol to and from the snow, national park entry fees, ski tube tickets, food and drink (at Blue Cow Mountain, where we spent the week, the cost of 270mls of bottled water is also, co-incidently, something in the order of $4.80).

It’s also hard work, lugging awkward gear up large mountains while breathing the thin air. My skis are 170cm long. This means that they are the perfect size for snagging in doorways, hitting innocent passers-by in the head, snagging in low hanging branches and not fitting into ski-racks. All this has to be done in boots which, while comfortable when attached to said skis, are something akin to medieval torture devices when not.

It’s dangerous. This week I had my most spectacular crash ever. I hit a patch of ice at full speed on a black run and proceeded to slide something in the order of 150 metres, losing one ski in the process. Luckily I was able to get up and walk away from that one, to a round of applause from the people on a nearby chairlift. Much luckier than the poor guy I once watched getting stretchered down from the very same mountain after coming off second best in an altercation with a concrete lift pylon.

And yet, I love it. Despite the cost, despite the danger and inconvenience. There’s nothing like the feeling of acceleration as you launch yourself straight down the fall line of a slope, of carving down a hard run with the inside edge of your downhill ski biting into the packed snow, the smooth transfer of your weight through your legs in the turns, the bite of cold air on your cheeks at speed, the exhilaration of slipping into the air off the small hummocks and flying for seconds at a time, the way that a minute adjustment of your body position – the tiniest shifting of weight – can send you flicking off in a completely different direction, the jelly feeling in your legs as you slide to a stop at the bottom of a run and look back uphill at the looming mountain which you’ve just tested yourself against.

I blame Kingsley. He was the guy who really taught me to ski. I’d had other instructors, of course, on lessons and such like, but Kingsley was a fellow teacher who I worked with back when I started teaching. He also taught physics and the man could ski. Not just ski, but fly. We took a group of students to the snow back in about 1994, and every morning, while they were in their lessons, Kingsley took me out and down runs I had no right to be anywhere near. He showed me not just how to move my body, but taught me why to move my body in certain ways. He explained the physics, the forces and resistances and bio-mechanics of the whole exercise, and in the process turned skiing for me from a sport into a dance – into a delicate balance of weight and rhythm. And so now it’s an addiction I can’t get away from.

All I need to do now is write a book about it, so I can claim my lift tickets as a tax deduction…

Actually, that’s not as stupid an idea as it sounds.


  1. Hmm, fun, I'd agree, but I'm sure the head cold you're wrangling came straight off the mountain, too. Then again, I lost a week of my holidays into soggy tissues. At least you get to share your rhinovirus with your colleagues! I'll get addicted when they make it a summer sport and bogans can get there in their lowered Leyland P76s. Will you sign my petition to the government to import some snowfields (and a glacier ... oh and three decent rivers) from New Zealand? All travel is a tax deduction!

  2. Oh, the cold was definitely a result of the mountains. Worth it though. Send me a copy of your petition. You know the add from Gruen Transfer - New Zealand: 100% there for the taking...



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