Size 70 shoes

If you live in the cold, frozen north, and thus learnt to ski at a young age, this post may seem slightly daft. (I’m not sure exactly where in Wisconsin it starts getting that cold, so I don’t know if this applies to you or not, Claire). Britain, although regarded as cold and rainy, doesn’t have nearly enough snow for people to ski on, apart from in places like the top of Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in Scotland. Thus, learning to ski is very much a middle class activity. Schools often run ski trips in february, and all the little rich kids go off to learn to fall down mountains, coming back a week later with tanned goggle marks on their faces, talking about red runs and black runs and why the Austrian alps are better than the French, but not quite as good as the Swiss. (That order might be wrong, but posh skiier language definitely involves something about Austria and Switzerland).

As you may have guessed from my disparaging tones, I was never one of those kids. The closest I have ever been to going on a skiing holiday is visiting the Scottish Highlands, and spraining my wrist when I crashed my toboggan into a tree. In Vancouver, people ski a lot. Whistler, the scene of many winter olympics, is only 2 hours away, and in a country the size of Canada, that means it’s just around the corner. [In England, driving that far is nearly cross-country, and most people are unlikely to do so more than a couple of times a year]. So, when given the opportunity to learn dry slope skiing whilst on summer camp, I accepted gladly, presuming it would be something I might need to know to fit in whilst in Canada.  From TV watching and listening to people’s discussion, I had ideas of what skiing would like. I don’t think my idea could have been more wrong …

Imagine getting out of a minibus, and standing at the bottom of a big, very wet hill. Now imagine someone gives you a pair of size 70-odd shoes, and tells you put them on, as opposed to your own size 6/7 (I think US Shoe sizes are pretty similar to English ones) converse. The amount of shoe that sticks out in front of you is probably near equal to your height. You start shuffling up the hill, when someone takes your foot, places it in the very middle of the shoe, with about the length of your legs stuck out behind you, out of sight. Then they stick it down with duct tape, wrapping you in it up to the knee. Very tightly. This is repeated for the other foot. Shuffling up the hill, you trip – or nearly trip- more times than you can count. When you get to the top, which naturally seems so much higher than it did from the bottom, you are expected to lean forward, and slide gracefully down the hill – not fall and land on your nose or arse, either way breaking both legs in the process, like my understanding of physics said I should.  It might win prizes for being the world’s most drawn out metaphor, but that ladies and gentlemen, is  what learning to ski felt like. I was absolutely terrified.

They say everything gets easier with practice, and skiing was no exception. After that description, to find out that, come the end of the hour, I enjoyed it, seems bizarre. But not quite as bizarre as admitting how much I can’t wait until the next time.


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