Friday, January 27, 2006

Part II of the Ski Experience

Snowstorm Calling

7:30AM, Wednesday. My 3rd day of my ski class.

I hurriedly looked out of the bedroom window to check if the weather man from last night’s news was right and indeed, I saw white drops coming down from the dark grey heavens. I also saw the spruce tree I have been eyeing outside since we arrived [the thing could have been a perfect Christmas tree], was already half to its waist buried under the snow.

Knowing the forecast for the day, I took no chances and clothed myself really warm. I even armed my hands with an extra thin pair under my thermal ski gloves. I also decided to wear the Eskimo muts [beanies] my sister in law loaned me for the holiday. We’ve had splendid weather the last days, so it was steaming hot to wear the thing, instead, Dutchman used the Eskimo muts as one of his photography props.

Here is a lethargic looking Eskimo girl standing by a large alpine tree heavily decked in snow. I think this is one of my funniest and ugliest foto. Next is the ride up in the cable car.

As a result of my no chances act, I was sweating on my forehead a little bit inside the car, on the way to Zillertal Arena.

When I reached our usual meeting place, I noticed that it was only me and this Belgian girl. The Dutch couple, who were really doing well, has finished their 1 week training and the German lady gave up too soon.

The Germany lady, I think she’s my age or older, was having a hard time with skiing. On the first day when I joined them, the ski instructor’s attention was heavily focused on her. I have no clue how long she was with the group but she once told me during a lift ride, in broken Deutsch-English, that everything was too much for her. True enough, the next day she backed out, that is, when she realized that we are going up again on the red slopes with plans of taking some black routes [yes we did! woohoo!]. And today, my third day with them, she was gone nowhere to be seen.

The ski instructor thought German lady is not coming anymore and announced that it’s just the 3 of us, me, Belgian girl and him, and well, the bleak weather too.

Before we proceed, I’d like to give a quick summary of my newborn skiing abilities:

Nieuwegein Ski Piste of course gave me the basics in skiing, that for sure, however, skiing in a plastic brush hill, with only a 300 meter slope runway, tilted up a few meters high, is definitely not enough. Therefore, I must further with the training but this time, in real snow, in a real mountain, with real action. Yeah, go baby go!

This is me training at Nieuwegein Ski Piste in Holland, 4+ months ago.

Within 3 days of non-stop skiing, I have improved tremendously. We have mostly tackled 80% red slopes and 20% are a mixture of the unavoidable black slopes and the warm up blue slopes. I have faired well I think, well my ski instructor says so too, unless he is just feeding my ego.

Adapting the right techniques such as good parallel skiing, carving when doing turns, shoulder down to the valley and the constant force on the knee has become a little bit automatic and civilized in my system. Though, I honestly think I could use some more improvements. Who wouldn’t?

My real big problem is SPEED. When Dutchman and I had a rundown together, he was complaining that I am too damn slow. I told him that speed comes in due time. Eh, I mean hello? I am not a kamikaze skier like Don Pedro our friend!

So going back on the ski class track…

It was a quarter over 10 in the morning. Weather conditions in the arena plateau seemed nothing alarming despite of the snowstorm forecast, though we had no idea what it is like up in the mountains.

We skied to the lift and went up. I love sitting in these lifts and watching the magnificent panorama of the Alps. Its one of the by side activities of skiing that I learned to enjoy. As we approached the summit, the wind grew a little bit stronger and the snow, thicker by the buckets.

On top, visibility was approximately 30 meters, not really that bad. But I loathed the wind because it came with really thick biting snow. Swoosh! Wham! It slapped me on the face.

On a snowstorm category, I would rate this as a light Siberian one, challenging but manageable. Or perhaps I have become such a pompous little tramp who thinks that after 3 days, everything is magic easy?

Let’s just say that we survived this light Siberian snowstorm gracefully. BUT… this was not the end of the story.

Surviving the Siberian-like Snowstorm Nightmare

After the 1 hour break, I was back in the afternoon for my last 2 hours of ski lesson. The agreed plan was again to scale a series of red slopes and a few blacks.

Austrian ski instructor emerged from the corner of the meeting place, snaking stealthily with his skis towards my direction. “It’s just the two of us now.” He said with a wide grin landing in front of me. “Where is the Belgian girl?” I asked. Pointing to a terrace he said, “She’s in there and she doesn’t want to go up anymore.” “Well maybe we can try convincing her?” I queried. “Yeah, maybe, let’s try to do that.” And off we went to the terrace.

A few minutes of encouragement, she acquiesced and joined us. Good.

This is the proud me in action, but taken the day after the snowstorm. We didn’t have foto’s during the snowstorm because the battery of the camera was again having dementia attack.

On the way up in the lift, we noticed that the snowstorm became harsher by the second. I kind of have this strange feeling, looming deep inside me, that this tempest has ruptured into a full blown monster, ready to devour anyone that comes along his path. Bad news, what we experienced in the morning was really nothing compared to this. Part of me started to feel a little bit scared…

When we arrived at the top and slid out of the lift, strong currents of snowstorm winds knifed through us. My spine hairs stood up, I think. We were torn apart, squished and squashed, literally left scrambling to our feet as we tried to balance ourselves with our skis and sticks. Man, what a struggle! I couldn’t even lift my face up as doing it requires a lot of physical resistance against the potent wind, and when I was able to, my brain cells screamed: OH MY GOD? WTF!!! A giant evil BLIZZARD!

Scenes of the Siberian snowstorm I have seen on Discovery Channel TV and Reader’s Digest magazines [my parents subscribed to them when I was a kid], flashed randomly inside my dazed mind, like I was watching a picture slide show presentation. My god, I have never, ever, such a thing like this, seen in my entire life! Which makes me think, why did I ever end up here anyway?

The surreal world swept me again in slow motion swirls. This can’t be... This is all but a dream...

I was groping. Everything is hazy, it is so freaking white, just like the early morning mist but savaged by an angry snowstorm god. Snow invaded and flooded the Alps and it must be around... what... -20C to -30C??? The wind, yeah the wind, is so u-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-y harsh! Worse of all, visibility was not more than 5 meters away!!!

I just could not believe I am standing up there in the middle of a real Siberian-like snowstorm! Help!

I woke up from the brief daydream and realized that the ski instructor was actually calling my attention. He wants me to get moving. I wanted to yell back [have to yell otherwise he couldn’t hear me even if he is just a foot away], “How the fcking way are we going to get down and even survive in a weather like this!!!???”

Many lifts were stopped and several slopes were closed. It spelled and smelled D-A-N-G-E-R. However, there is NO WAY OUT, BUT TO GLIDE DOWN.

As I followed ski instructor to the edge, I saw along the way groups of skiers and snowboarders, all of them feeling lost too, their confidence tapered with bouts of reluctance, seen obviously in their every move. What was favorable for me and Belgian girl was the ski suit of the ski instructor. He was wearing a bright blue outfit, thus making him quite visible within the 5 meters range.

A tip learned during a snowstorm: If you are alone up in the Alps, it is always best to have presence of mind, to go real slow and join or follow a group, just in case something terrible happens.

The Dutchman on the other hand, which I only heard from later, was on the other side of the mountain. He was on his own and struggling frantically to come down. The almost impossible visibility and the ruthless snowstorm made him decide to follow a family and use them as a reference point. He recounted to me that the kid of the couple, a little boy, was crying hysterically. The little boy was frightened and didn’t want to move his legs.

This is the Dutchman, on two ocassions, both about to plunge into the steep valleys with his new winter GF, the white snowboard. These were taken the day before and after the snowstorm.

We however had some advantage. The ski instructor knew the slopes and even if visibility was 5 meters to almost nothing, he is a local, a trained one who knew the terrain and the way down.

Determination brewing up in my head:

1. Get over with this and just ski down!
2. This is an extraordinary experience! Live through it!

Belgian girl and I followed ski instructor closely, zigzagging down real slow and carefully. The snow was incredible, it was knee-deep and skiing was really difficult. If I slide further down to the slope gutters, the pack of snow would reach my thighs trapping me and making me immovable. I also noticed that my teeth were clattering fretfully, the insides of my nose frozen and my lips would have been diagnosed in semi hypothermia state.

About halfway down the drop, Belgian girl became quite indifferent and difficult to handle. She crashed a couple of times, stood up and nose-dived ahead of us. Ski instructor explained to me that she has some problem that he didn’t understand. I thought it has something to do with her wearing normal glasses instead of ski glasses therefore affecting her visibility. He told me that she is crying in frenzy, wouldn’t listen a single thing from him, wouldn’t wait and slow down and the only thing he heard from her repeatedly while sobbing, “I just want to get out of here, I want to go down!”

She totally lost it I think. Instead of being safe [this is what’s important!] by skiing together with us, she stubbornly endangered herself by being on her own. Anyway, I think the ski instructor handled her perfectly well. The other advantage was that, visibility has improved to several meters after hitting the halfway down mark. Thus, ski instructor can see her kamikaze act ahead better.

Seeing the plateau arena from the distance, I then charged gleefully through the last of all red slope obstacles. I almost felt a huge and heavy sigh of relief depart from my entire system. It’s like one of those, I am finally home feeling. Well not quite really as I have to finish up this last red runway. It was only when I hit the plateau grounds that I let go of my resolved composure. I, survived a Siberian-like snowstorm up in the summits!!!

Whew, what an experience! But I am still in shock and disbelief. I wanted to tickle and pinch myself so I can get out from the flaccid state. I also wanted to slap my face as a demonstration of congratulations for surviving [as a beginner] the Siberian-like snowstorm, but I am still floating chained in my self-made surreal world.

Taking a souvenir foto of the directional signage covered in thick snow near the apartment during my last day of skiing.

“So this is it, goodbye…” grins the ski instructor extending his hand towards me. I accepted it firmly with a huge smile, still in my dreamy state of affairs. “As a beginner, you are a good and safe skier. You have the right technique. If you want, you can take more advanced courses later, especially with speed” he said.

True, speed was my challenge, but at this time, I opted to be slow than break my neck and leg.

I thanked and waved my last bye-byes to Austrian ski instructor and quickly skied [if only I could run and jump, I would!] to the restaurant in the plateau arena, where the Dutchman was waiting for me. I couldn’t wait to tell him my snowstorm experience!

Tags: The Ski Experience Part I, Wintersport Holiday in Austria, The Austrian Way, Ski Myth

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