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A trip to Seattle to spend time my brother and his family provided the perfect opportunity for me to have my first ever skiing experience. After picking up a jacket and trousers for $50 at the local thrift store, we headed off to ‘Mini Mountain’ for a ski lesson. I didn’t know what Mini Mountain was until we got there – but it was an indoor facility in a warehouse type building, with what looked like a few mini carpeted slopes. Great, I thought, they’re not too big – that will be easy. What I didn’t realise until my 4 year old niece jumped on first for her lesson, was that the carpet moved – like a giant conveyor belt. My niece did fine and it wasn’t long before it was my turn, and there I was, stood in front of the instructor, pointing downhill, when I was taught the technical terms for the two key ski positions, the ‘hot dog’ and the ‘pizza’. (I’m sure they have slightly more grown up names, like the snow plough and parallel where I come from!)

The conveyor belt carpet started up, and I instantly grabbed hold of the instructor’s arms as I started moving. His kind encouragement, spoken in the same voice he used with my 4 year old niece: ‘make a pizza, make a pizza’ sounded quite frankly ridiculous as I tried to get the hang of sliding forwards on a moving carpet. My legs at an angle wide enough that I was afraid of sliding into the ‘splits’, and knees bent and angled inwards, and I’m thinking I can’t hold this position for more than 5 minutes let alone long enough to ski anywhere. I got through unscathed however – without falling over or crashing onto the barrier at the bottom, and I was deemed ready to face the real thing.

The next day we headed off to Crystal Mountain (in the Cascade range of Washington, SE of Seattle). Walking around with my boots strapped on and no ankle movement whatsoever I felt like Robocop. My brother jumped on the ski lift with his son leaving me to tackle the ski lift with Erin (10 years) as my guide. At this point I could not control my skis very well and attempted to stop by clinging onto the stop sign which I found wasn’t fixed to the ground…

The chair came round and I sat back ok and started to enjoy the view, but once I saw the end looming I realised I would have to ‘ski’ off the lift down a steep bank – I got off ok but then attempted to ‘make a pizza’ but the icy covering meant I slid gracefully to the floor. And then couldn’t get up. At all. The guy from the ski lift hut took pity on me after about 5 minutes and pulled me to my feet. He first suggested that if I sit/squat over my skis I can use my leg muscles to push/pull myself into a standing position. ‘Yeah right,’- I thought – ‘as if I have that kind of muscle strength….’

Now standing, I could see the only way down was a long steep slope which I would have no choice but to ski down. My 10 year old niece launched herself off effortlessly and glided down. I knew this was one of those mind over matter moments. If you think you can do it, you can. Eventually I had the confidence to let myself go – and go I did, fast. The ‘pizza’ I was making did not seem to slow me down on this icy snow so I thought I’d just go with it and attempt to stay upright. At least the slope evened and had a long stretch ahead. Great, I thought, considering I don’t know how to stop I’ll just keep going. When I did stop I could see Erin back on the other side probably wondering where in the heck was her aunt off to.

So what I learnt about skiing very quickly was – sliding over snow on two sticks attached to your feet is not difficult. Controlling them, however, is.

I fell a few times and had to be rescued by my brother. Standing up when you have zero ankle mobility and two lengthy skis attached to your feet is not easy. And skiing is definitely NOT something you can just turn up and ‘do’ on your own. The funniest thing is when you

want to stop as you’re going too fast – so you fall over – but find you’re still going, and you actually have to ‘lie down’ on your side to stop completely hurtling down the hill.

Later when the snow was slushy on top I found when falling that my skis would bury themselves in the snow while my body kept moving, so I would have to be careful my knees weren’t twisted into some odd position. The other trick, when attempting to stand up, is to make sure you turn your skis sideways or otherwise one leg will be skiing off down the hill…

I did however master the nursery slope, and our next visit, to a steeper slope left me as flummoxed as if I was starting all over. Too steep to ski straight down, I was being challenged to ‘turn’ my way down the slope. Constantly falling and having to clamber up left me hot with exertion. I was happy to struggle on my own, as I had learnt the trick of releasing my boots so I could clamber up each time I fell, but my patient brother stayed close so he could haul me up. At times when I reached for his extended hand I felt perhaps there was a lesson for life here – it’s less effort to accept the help of others than to struggle on by ourselves, and at times, we all need a helping hand, especially on a ski slope

Pics: at the top with nephew Harrison and niece Erin; at the end of my first day with brother Dan; Niece Kate having a lesson at Mini Mountain

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