The second skiing lesson went a little bit better than the first and by the end of it I was able to ski down a gentle slope whilst turning right and then turning left and then right again. Most of the time. Apparently my left leg is stronger than my right (though I don't know why, I'd always thought I used them equally, but maybe unbeknownst to me I actually am hopping a lot more than I realised), which meant I found it a lot harder to go to the right. But as long as I didn't actually think about anything I was doing I found I was able to mainly overcome this. It's an important life lesson. I am not going to think about anything any more. Slightly humiliatingly we were sharing this training slope with some tiny children who were maybe 5 years old and who were nearly all better (or at least less fearless) than me. Except one of them, called Alex, who spent the whole hour that he was on the slope crying with utter misery. I wanted to go over to him and say, "Don't worry mate, that's exactly how I felt yesterday, except I was too repressed to let it all out like this." Charmingly he still took part in the lesson, just sobbing all the time. Skiing is not for everyone. I am not convinced it's really for me. But I know that at 5 years old I was an excessively cautious and fearful child and I would not only have cried, but probably lay face down in the snow, kicking my feet and pummelling my fists. I had come fairly close to this yesterday to be honest. It was reassuring to me that someone else could be finding it as frustrating, even if I had had four more decades than him to harden myself to the world's toughness. And whatever else it now meant I could tell my wife that I had been much braver about my ordeal than a five year old. Alex is a crybaby. I wouldn't like to be him when this blog comes out.
But the pain in my ankles was less bad and the second hour of the session was more satisfactory. I don't yet feel ready to go out on the proper slopes with the real skiers or anyone over 6 years old. We ended the lesson by skiing down the hill to the car and I got freaked out by being on the proper slope and started thinking about what I was doing and so inevitably started heading in the wrong direction and then fell over.
I then headed across town to another much more serious piste where my wife and most of the others had spent the morning. Getting up to them involved a cable car ride up a sheer mountain and then a trudging walk up the hill to a little restaurant. Proper skiers whizzed passed us and I noticed that to our left was an off-piste section which dropped away very quickly. I was worried enough walking beside it, thinking I might somehow barrel down it, so God knows how I'd have felt if I was skiing. There was no chance that I would be skiing down though. I knew if I did that I'd be drawn off piste as if there was a twat-magnet down there (and looking at the people who were down there, maybe there was!)
Just before the restaurant there was a very steep incline and walking up it with my skis on my shoulder, wearing ski boots was the most difficult thing I've had to do so far this holiday. I was making very slow progress and felt like throwing my things down the slope and crying like Alex. And then lying down and dying. But somehow I finally made it up there, not even wanting to think about how I'd get down again.
I ate pizza and drank beer and then read my book whilst the proper skiers headed up to the top of the mountain to head down a black run. I was content to look across the valley at the peaks opposite and marvel at the fact that anyone could get down any of these whilst balancing on a couple of sticks.
Everything here is brilliantly organised and efficient and I marvelled at the technology and money that must have gone into creating this resort. At what point did skiing become so popular that it was worth people setting all of this up? Just the cable car up the mountain is an amazing (and multi-million pound) piece of technology. But before that was there how many people were climbing these mountains to ski down on their wooden skis in their damp woollen clothing? And at what point were enough people doing that to make it financially viable to engineer and build this cable car (and everything else)? And sitting in this restaurant 2000 feet up a mountain I wondered about the people who had built it and how they'd got all their equipment and materials up this high. How difficult must have it been to just connect this up to the electricity grid? The human race is as baffling as it is magnificent as it is ridiculous. All this so people can hurtle down a mountain on skis or boards or (in my case) on their arses.
There was no way I was going to ski down any of this today, though I did (deliberately) slide down the steep slope on my bottom which was fun (though of course I feared I wouldn't be able to stop and would fly over through the barriers and down to the bottom of the mountain. We got back to the cable car and I found myself facing the valley (I had been looking up the mountain as we ascended) and as the cable car flew off the edge of the cliff I felt my stomach turn. I got a real feeling of the height we were at and the steepness of the mountain and how we were suspended above it all by a single (if rather thick) wire. The vertiginous feelings reminded me of how cowardly I am and I was actually quite impressed with myself that I had overcome my naturally cautious nature to attempt skiing at all. Albeit on a slope that compared to where I was now was essentially level.
Most of the people I am with are of a very different mindset to me, though not outwardly judgemental of my wimpiness. They crave thrills and adventure and revel in the dangers they face. And I respect them for that. They're not twats or show-offy about it and their bravery is admirable. It's just a totally different mindset to my own. It has been said that it's better to live one day as a lion than a lifetime as a lamb, but I am not sure we get to choose. I am happy enough being a lamb, if I do slightly regret my cowardice and reticence to take chances. But me and Alex are made of different stuff. Soft, pudgy, easily hurtable, whiny stuff. And we know it. But evenso I am much braver than Alex. I haven't cried once on this holiday. Well, not in public.