My palms were sweating, my sunglasses steaming up. Clutching my ski poles tightly with both hands, I pushed myself off from my starting point…
…and stopped at the bottom of the slope, two metres later.
Checking my feet, my arms and, for some unknown reason, the position of my bum, I looked up at my instructor, Peter, with renewed optimism. He smiled. Tilted his head. “Again!” he enthusiastically called out, signalling to join him over by the rope tow.
Oh God, I am a massive ski failure.
It was my second morning of ski lessons with Schischule Seefeld in Austria and I was struggling. My initial enthusiasm had worn off, replaced by sheer frustration. If it wasn’t bad enough that my boyfriend seemed to be getting all the praise, all the little kids who had been on the nursery slope with me the day before had now progressed onto the slightly larger hill, twisting and turning as they came to a neat little snowplough at the bottom of the slope. They all made me sick.
But I’m not one to be deterred. If it takes me five times as long to master something than the average person, then so be it – much to my poor old instructor’s despair as he leads me back to the top of the nursery slope for yet another attempt at stopping before I crash into someone.
My first morning started off with more enthusiasm than you could shake a stick at. Dressed to the nines in my full ski outfit, I’d been kitted out with a helmet, skis, boots and ski poles from the lovely folk at the Ski Set Shop, just around the corner from the nursery slopes.
I was more than relieved when I realised that the beginners had their own dedicated section of snow for practising on. I’d been terrified that we would just be dropped in at the deep end at the top of a mountain via helicopter and made to ski down all the way to the bottom.
Nope, none of that here.
Instead, we had three slopes of varying heights, three types of ski lifts, and a wooden shed in the middle of it all serving cold drinks. Just what you need as a beginner.
My boyfriend and I were paired with an expert ski instructor called Peter who had 16 years’ of experience under his belt. After showing us how to move in skis (by sliding along rather than picking up each ski), he took us over to a flat area with a slight gradient.
It’s here that it almost went terribly wrong.
As we practised sliding along in the snow, I suddenly realised I hadn’t yet been taught how to stop. And that a very icy stream was coming up ahead of me rather quickly. Luckily, with just a few metres to spare, Peter swooped in to stop me from making a tumble.
I think it was probably at this point he realised what he had got himself into as my instructor…
The next step – fortunately for me – was to learn how to stop using a snowplough technique. This pretty much involves bringing the front of your skis together while keeping the back ends apart. It sounds easy (and it actually is quite simple) but I just couldn’t do it. My default position was to clasp my thighs together, roll my knees inward and put all the pressure on the inside of my feet. And with each passing attempt I kept my mind so focused on getting into the correct position, that I practically ended up like a starched pair of trousers, unable to move through fear of falling flat on my face.
As our confidence progressed, so did the height of the slope. Using the rope tow to pull us up, we glided down time and time again in an attempt to perfect the technique. After a 10-minute juice break, we returned to the slopes to learn what really pushed me over the edge (emotionally, not physically. Thankfully.) – how to turn.
In addition to the snowplough stopping technique, turning relies on you being able to lean and adjust your weight between each foot. Before starting to learn how to ski, I thought I had pretty much got this down after 24 years on the earth. It was at some point between falling on my backside and skiing off vertically in the opposite direction that I realised that this was actually a lot harder in skies.
It was around this point that I had my mini toddler tantrum. And I’m not proud. I was just so annoyed at my own stupid legs for not going in the right stupid position and that my stupid body wasn’t turning in the right stupid places.
My instructor was the loveliest man and so patient with me as I forced myself to go up and down the baby slope again and again. By the time our 1pm finish time rolled round, his furrowed brow had been replaced with a resigned look of acceptance.
Yep, I was hardly Eddie “The Eagle” (more like Emily the Emu), but at least I hadn’t fallen into that stream.
Skiing on the second day started off feeling a little alien. The snow felt a lot harder and icier after a cold night before, and even Peter said that it wasn’t ideal for beginners.
Nevertheless, I was determined to soldier on. Also, I had convinced myself over the previous 20 hours or so that my inability to keep my skis flat on the ground was actually because my legs are just in the wrong position. Seems legit, right?
After an hour or so of repeating short runs down the baby slope, my instructor called out: “OK, let’s try the next slope up.”
The next slope up?!
I had only just about managed to work out how to stop!
Slightly reluctantly, I followed Peter over to the escalator-style ski lift which brought us up to the next platform. It must have been at least three times higher than the baby slope I was on before, but by the time I’d got to the top, I tried to remain calm. Afterall, there was only one way down and I couldn’t afford to freeze up with fright.
I thought we would be going straight down the slope, but instead my instructor took us down a winding path with tight turns, which was actually quite good as it made me think about applying all the “technique” I had learnt over the lessons. And I only fell over once, albeit on the straight bit of slope. My boyfriend, on the other hand, went careering off into a barrier to stop himself flying off a steep ledge. Such pros.
In the grand scheme of things, the lessons didn’t go too badly. For one, I didn’t break anything (apart from my ski trousers which, uh, brought the second round of lessons to a premature end). And I also semi-learnt how to stop, turn and…walk in skis. Which is far more than I could do just a few days before.
By the time we called the ski lesson a day, I could sense the relief in my instructor’s eyes. Although I absolutely loved every single minute of skiing, it’s something that I now know takes a lot of practise – especially if you’re someone like me who’s always on the look-out for perfection.
So would I go skiing again?
Absolutely, 100% YES.
I really couldn’t have asked for anywhere better to start my (hopefully long and illustrious) skiing career. Schischule Seefeld were patient with me throughout, and gave me the right mix of encouragement and a little kick up the backside to try my hand at things that looked absolutely terrifying.
In fact, I loved it all so much, I’m already searching for another resort that’s good for beginners. I’ve spoken to a few mates of mine who are keen skiers and they said they usually advise around three weeks of skiing before you’re feeling confident in your technique, and then another three weeks of practise before you’re eager to just throw yourself down the side of any old mountain.
Although I doubt I’ll really have that much time to dedicate to it, I’ve now been well and truly bitten with the skiing bug. The satisfaction of seeing yourself gradually improve is well worth the tears, the frustration and, yes, the mini tantrums.
Ski instructors of the world watch out – I might be coming to a resort near you soon.
How was your first time skiing?
Many thanks to Schischule Seefeld for providing me with complimentary lessons on my Austrian trip with Inghams. All opinions and pictures are my very own.
Inghams offer 29 resorts in Austria, including the resort of Seefeld. Stay at the 4* Hotel Seepitz from £829 per person, for 7 nights, on a half-board basis including return flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and resort transfers. A 6 day learn to ski package including ski and boot hire and ski lessons starts from £210 per person. For more information visit www.inghams.co.uk or contact 01483 791 114. For more information on the Austrian Tirol visit www.visittirol.co.uk.