Richard Herring’s struggle with skiing takes on Biblical proportions
Friday 14 Feb 2014
Earlier this month I went skiing for the first time in my life. I wasn’t trying to get a late wild card to the Sochi Olympics or even a spot on the much-anticipated (and imaginary) second series of The Jump.
I didn’t particularly want to even go but when you’re married you have to make compromises for your partner. Not out of love for them, just so you will have leverage to make them do something for you in the future. My wife is going to be playing an awful lot of Scrabble to make up for this.
I was not relishing having to slide down an Alp on two curly sticks. The prospect of injury and death does not thrill me one bit. I am not brave or sporty or coordinated and I correctly imagined I was going to be spending a week falling on my arse. What I hadn’t foreseen was how much it would hurt me before I’d even got to the slopes.
We arrived in Chamonix and my friends dragged me to a hire shop, where I got skis, ski boots and those little pole things that seem to be there mainly for show. The clunky robot shoes crushed my feet but I thought maybe they had to be painfully tight or they would fly off at any moment.
The nursery slopes were a mile away and so we had to totter up the road, balancing on our boots, with our skis and poles over our shoulders. I felt like Jesus (not for the first time in my life), as he carried his cross to Calvary.
Like Christ, I was aware that the suffering I was going through now was nothing compared to what was going to happen once I was up that hill. I didn’t even have the reassurance that what I was doing was going to save mankind.
Even before I’d done a second of skiing my ankles ached and I was exhausted and I wanted to lie down in the snow and die. I thought I was meant to be on holiday. Holidays involve drinking cocktails by the sea, not being tortured in a massive freezer.
This was worse than torture because most torturers don’t expect you to pay to use the hot irons and racks.
To add to my humiliation, nobody else on the newbie slope was over six years old. These fearless sprogs were gliding down the mountain like they’d been able to do this since birth. I imagined they had shot out of their mothers like greased Eddie the Eagles, balancing on a couple of ribs.
A week of skiing did not numb the pain, though I was surprised to find that in the end I could tentatively descend a minor incline. I had hated every minute of it but now I had a skill. However, as I was never going near snow again in my life it was of limited use.
Yet the relief I felt on returning the equipment and getting out of the boots was so intense that I became almost euphoric. I realised that it was worth the days of discomfort in order to experience the perfect happiness of not being lumbered with that torturous paraphernalia any more. The pleasure was so overwhelming that it actually made all that pain worthwhile.
I realised that no one actually likes skiing, obviously. They go skiing so they can enjoy it when the skiing stops. To truly get pleasure from our lives we must first suffer. Only then can we appreciate what it is not to suffer and achieve true enlightenment.