Notes from a ski slope

A snow debutant takes up a skiing course and learns how to reach the base of a slope upright after many a horizontal start

It began well. A slight push and I slid effortlessly down the slope. The icy breeze serenaded my face, I pulsed with the thrill of speed and my confidence grew. But it was not meant to be. The swift pace was an alien sensation and I lost my balance.

“DON’T SIT BACK,” she yelled. “DON’T…”

The wind roared. I could barely hear the coach, let alone will my body to follow her instructions. Completely out of control, I crashed into powdery mounds of snow. Dusting off the icicles creeping into my shirt, I strode uphill for yet another attempt.

I was at the Indian Institute of Skiing & Mountaineering (IISM) in Gulmarg, regarded as one of the best skiing destinations in Asia. Despite never having seen snow in my 26 years of existence, I signed up for a skiing course and ended up setting a personal record for falling flat on my face.

At the slope, we did various preparatory exercises — marching in our boots, lifting our legs and swinging them. I kept sliding back, though I was slightly better off than the two people on my right who nosedived in all sorts of Kamasutric positions. Once everybody could just about stand, we began skiing down the slope. Only halfway downhill did I realise that I did not know how to stop. I looked for the cushiest padding of snow and prayed for it to thwart my run. After the entire group similarly crash-landed, the secret was divulged — you halt by pointing your heel outwards.

Where there’s skiing, there’s bound to be an après-ski. In IISM’s case, it was the ‘evening conference’, which was essentially a guise to keep us from mischief in the dark, snowy nights of Gulmarg. For about two hours, the principal of the institute talked about the disappointments of his skiing career (of which there were quite a few) and summoned students to the stage for bouts of cacophonic singing. Nobody could hide from his indiscriminating gaze and that is how I brayed to the tunes of ‘Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaaye’ in front of a woefully unimpressed audience. The most memorable performance, however, was a 10-year-old’s maudlin rendition of the song ‘Maa’ from Taare Zameen Par. It reduced most in the audience to bawls and a few of us to incredulous giggles.

On the second day, the adults moved to a steeper slope. By then, I had grown quite accustomed to falling and watching people fall. After the children joined us on the slope, it became a crowded mess. Skiers began crashing into each other, occasionally rolling into a mass of tangled bodies and skis that banged into more and more people as they hurtled down the slope — just like in the cartoons, albeit without the avalanche.

Injuries and a wedding

As we got a hang of the techniques, the instructors helped us refine them. Day after day, the hill reverberated with exhortations of “Don’t sit back!” (the beginner’s instinctive response to hurtling down a slope) and “Put pressure on your shin” (leading to bruises, shin splints and better knowledge of anatomy). But every time I managed to hone an aspect of the technique, something else would go awry. When I was finally able to manoeuvre my shins, the pressure on my heel would go amiss and consequently, my uphill swing refused to go up. A few people also dropped out — for reasons as varied as injuries they claimed they would never recover from and even an impending wedding!

And so it went on for another week, culminating in the slalom competition. Slalom is an obstacle race for skiers where one has to pass through a series of gates formed by alternating red and blue poles. The person who completes the course fastest wins.

There was a heady mix of speed, stumbling and boisterous cheering. In a rush to reach the finish line, most students skipped a gate, resulting in disqualification. On seeing the slew of misses, I proceeded rather cautiously. I managed to go through all the gates, though my movement was far from swift. The brash skiers were all out of the running and the winners were to be chosen from the 15-odd people who managed to complete the course. “Maybe, I’ll win the third prize,” I thought.

The last day was the graduation ceremony. After some surprisingly brief speeches, prizes were handed out. Although I did not get any, I took consolation in the much-contested assumption that I stood fourth. After all the time spent face flat on the snow, I was glad I could finally stand on my own two skis!

The Delhi-based writer is a photographer and occasional filmmaker.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 7:29:33 PM |

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