Once they reach middle age, these skiers don pink shirts and colorful boating shoes to sail during the summer months, before returning to the mountains in winter to ski majestically down the mountain with their enviably perfect turns, perfect ski attire and perfectly accessorising children. They are on the slopes early, (rather like Germans around the swimming pool in Europe), when the snow is at its best and you will spot them après-skiing by mid-afternoon and in bed by 9pm, in readiness for the next day.
The second type of middle-aged skier is not quite as committed.
This type of middle-aged skier has either never skied in their life before their forties, or skied once or twice at the expense of some wealthy, tossy, private school friend who took pity on them. They assume before they get on the slopes that skiing will be like learning to ride a bike – that once they get it, it will be a skill for life.
That’s their first mistake.
These skiers experience pain on a daily basis during their skiing holiday because they do no other sport during the rest of the year. By day 2 of their holiday, they cannot contemplate leveraging their bodies onto the slopes without pain medication, three hot chocolates (with additional cream), several Schnapps and a full breakfast. By the time they reach the snow at lunchtime, conditions will have deteriorated to ice rink status – highly unsuitable conditions for the inflexible middle-aged body.
Exhausted by constant snow ploughing (which is the only way down a mountain if ‘fear’ and ‘anxiety’ are your closest friends), and ever-fearful of injury, they give up after a couple of hours and head straight to the consolation of the après-ski. After several rounds of pain-numbing, mind-altering shots, a kebab or three and movies back at the hotel, they head to bed late with all the best intentions of getting up early in readiness for the fresh snow.
At 11am, they are still snoring.
I haven’t decided whether mine and the old man’s physical pain is due to our age, the lumpy sofa-bed or because we are both suffering from some terminal disease neither of us knows about yet.
Admittedly, we’re not spring chickens and skiing is a ridiculous sport to take up in middle-age. With skiing, it’s actually the simple processes of the sport that penetrate the nerve-endings of your sinews. Getting down the slope is actually the easy part if you take the view that what goes up must ultimately come back down – somehow – even if that does mean removing your skis mid-slope and sliding all the way down on your ass, wiping out every small child in your path like a human avalanche.
Our limbs physically groan when we bend down to fasten our ski boots, when we walk in our ski boots or attempt to carry our skis. I regret ridiculing and badmouthing those yoga and Pilates bunnies now who can touch their toes effortlessly, when it takes me ten minutes to re-align my vertebrae after limping off the final slope of the day.
Of course the old man did begin our holiday already injured and he obviously did more brain damage than even the neurologist discovered, judging by the number of run-ins with trees and snow boarders on his way down the mountain.
Unfortunately, I have no excuse for my poor physical form. I admit now that ogling the French swimming instructors under the guise of ‘swimming’ at North Sydney pool, was never really going to condition my exercise-intolerant physique for the impact of skiing/crashing on icy snow.
I also have my anxiety factor to contend with.
Men are far more impulsive than women when it comes to extreme sports and while the old man can stand at the top of a slope, close his eyes, say a prayer and then push his skis downwards and hope for the best, I, on the other hand, am more the showjumping horse who refuses to jump. I over-think it. That pathetic voice in my head keeps going ‘no fucking way, you crazy bitch’ every time I point my skis downwards. Eventually, I am forced to nudge my way down, snow-ploughing nervously, like some old person driving on the road, more dangerous due to my lack of speed.
Chair lifts and snowboarders are my two biggest fears. I managed to ‘take out’ the whole family yesterday when I forced my way off the chairlift a little too aggressively, widening my legs into the biggest snow-plough you’ve ever seen in preparation for my descent. (Okay, so NC ended up in a pile of sludge on the side of the mountain, but I did remain vertical and in fairness it did give her the perfect opportunity to examine the ‘solid’ formation of ice).
It wasn’t my finest moment.
I know for a fact now that either a fall from the chairlift or a vengeful snowboarder will end my days. I have had several angry words with snowboarders mid slope, balancing precariously on my skis, wagging my poles at them angrily. At night I lie in bed worrying that these altercations will end badly, rather like when you kill a spider in the knowledge that he’ll come back with all his mates to finish you off.
Nerd Child’s observation that we are not a ‘pack’ family has been proven several times this holiday – we are dysfunctional even on the slopes. We are ‘lone wolves’, each out for ourselves – skiing for us is about survival of the fittest.
Middle-age cultivates fear and anxiety and skiing challenges those fears.
Fear of injury, fear of embarrassment, fear of death. My ultimate fear is of ending up that ‘lone wolf’ stranded in the mountain, fingers up my own ass to prevent frostbite, while the rest of the family enjoys their first Schnapps in the village.
But sometimes you need to test yourself to feel alive, don’t you?