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Julz’s World: Verbier Skiing Drama

(Column by Julie Symons, former Napier journalist, current world traveller, now a secretary at the World Health Organization in Switzerland.)

Why does the dramatic stuff always happen to someone else?

Last weekend some friends took advantage of the early snowfall in Switzerland, skiing at a popular resort.

They stopped to catch their breath on a mountainside, watching a Cessna fly low overhead. Suddenly the plane clipped the cable of a ski lift, losing a wing in the process, and crashed into the snow within metres of the skiers. In terror my friends fled down the slopes, dodging the pieces of plane that rained down on them. It was like a scene from Mission Impossible rather than a day on the ski fields at Verbier.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed I missed the action, as damningly gory as that may sound. Friends back home think I lead this amazing fairy tale life in Switzerland, but I can’t recall the last time a plane exploded before my very eyes. The closest I’ve found myself to that kind of edgy excitement was during my early days in Geneva, on the numerous occasions I stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic, forgetting which direction cars drive in over here.

Still, it’s good to have another excuse not to ski. Once winter hits with a vengeance, skiing is the main topic of conversation in Switzerland (even surpassing that of chocolate, money and noise curfews). So you really feel among the lower echelons of society if you have to admit you can’t ski. More embarrassing still is conceding the fact after a week’s skiing lessons.

I firmly remember that traumatic experience. I tore down a mountainside at top speed, screaming at the top of my lungs “I can’t stoooooooppp!!!!”, my life flashing before my eyes.

“Bien (Good),” came my instructor’s satisfied reply. Ski lessons just don’t come easily if you can’t speak the same language as your instructor.

Perhaps the week would have passed more smoothly had my instructor been a young, gorgeous sex-God. But my grey-haired, bearded, grumpy teacher was a far cry from the Chippendale-type Swiss Ski Instructor every girl dreams about.

Eventually he judged it was safe to let me lose on the slopes. Obviously he needed his eyes checked. Innocent tourists scattered in all directions as I careered down the mountain. Friends found themselves used as human crash barriers. Finally I lost control on a particularly difficult slope (okay, okay, it was the learner’s track!) and had a split second to choose between hitting a building or going over a bank. Miraculously my terrified mind managed to compute “Building 100% chance of injury, bank 50%”, so I sailed through mid air, hit the snow, and continued skiing down the mountain on my head. After that I handed in my skis.

Most humiliating of all though, is watching five-year-olds tackle the slopes with more finesse and skill in 10 minutes than I could muster in a week. If only I could be so fearless.

But I concede defeat. I’m not a skier. I’m a danger to the slopes. This season I’m going to try snowboarding. At least there’s no chance of poking some poor sod’s eyeballs out with a ski pole when I lose control at break neck pace.

Of course, some cynics say I might be better off enjoying the slopes from the safety of a restaurant. Others have had the audacity to suggest I stick flashing lights all over my body so people can see me coming. Personally, I’ve already chosen the perfect way to spend my White Christmas… kiwi style, with a good old rubbish bag, sliding down the slope on my backside – intentionally for a change.

Copyright Julie Symons 2000.

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