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Travel Flashback: Debacle on Skis

I went to Wengen partly because I wanted to explore another part of Switzerland; I was particularly eager to visit the Alps again – and to experience some snow. I had also, in my infinite wisdom, proclaimed to more than one person that I was going to try skiing while I was in Switzerland. As my hiatus from school was drawing quickly to a close, it was time for me to make good on my word.

As an Alpine village, Wengen didn’t disappoint. During the day, the snow-capped mountains were the star of the show; and at night, the stars themselves took center stage. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many stars. But in one respect Wengen was a bit of a let-down: there were only some sludgy remnants of snow on the shady sides of the streets. It was in the upper 40s, in fact; too warm even to make artificial snow. The locals said it’d been nearly a month since their last snowfall; one person joked that they were hoping for some of the snow that the US had been having. Ah, climate change.

There was still enough snow – real or otherwise – on the beginner slopes, though, so there was no escaping my commitment to take two private lessons. Unlike ice-skating, I had never – not once – put on skis before. I was in completely unfamiliar territory here. I dutifully rented the equipment and spent the next half hour trying to figure out how to juggle the skis and poles while walking in moon boots. This was not boding well.

Day 1: Clearly, I am not a natural.

  • It takes about 5 minutes of attempting to learn how to walk in skis before I’m dripping sweat. It reminds me of the first time I worked with a personal trainer, but at least with the trainer there was the promise of muscle tone to make it worthwhile. In this case the only visible results I can hope for are bruises.

  • My knees do not like the snowplow. Actually, no part of my body likes the snowplow. I alternate between having my skis crossed like chop sticks and coming dangerously close to doing a gymnastic split, which, incidentally, my body also would not like.

  • Not having a great grasp of the snowplow, I also do not have a great grasp on stopping. Falling down is easier.

  • Getting up from falling down is hard.

  • Apparently all this physical exertion is making me tense. When we stop for a break, my uber-patient Swiss instructor jokes that I should have a beer to relax a little, only I’m pretty sure she’s not joking.

  • By the end of the two-hour lesson, I can actually stay upright, in motion, for several minutes at a time, provided the “slope” is basically flat. I can also turn, but only to the left. To go back to the right, more falling is required.

Day 2: Still not a natural.

  • My instructor tells me, with a mixture of praise and bafflement, that I start out with really good form, with nothing for her to correct…and then, in an instant, it all falls apart.

  • She takes me on slightly steeper (relatively speaking) slopes, and I’m getting (relatively) better both at turning and at staying upright. I can even convince my subconscious to go a little faster without freaking out.

  • Despite my “progress,” bigger inclines and higher speeds mean that I fall down with greater frequency.

  • Getting up from falling down on an incline is really really hard. My instructor has to help; once I nearly take her down with me.

  • I am a wee bit shamed by the 5-year-olds whizzing past me in perfect formation, but comforted by the 40-something man, by appearances a former football player, who is also clearly new at this. Then again, he’s wearing short sleeves and jeans, so maybe he’s just drunk.

  • By my last run, specifically by my second fall on my last run, I know I’m done. I can’t wait to ditch these ridiculous boots and treacherous poles, go back to my hotel and sit by the fire in the lounge with a book.

But, I did it: I tried skiing, and I didn’t sustain any injuries. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll try it again. Perhaps with the passage of time and some short-term memory loss, I’ll be tempted to have another go at it. In the meantime, I’ll stick to the après-ski.

Post-Script: To date, I have not returned to the ski slopes. I have, however, perfected the sport of après-skiing.

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