Returning to skiing is easier than you might think; Susi tells us in her guest blog how it feels to (finally) return to the slopes after a hiatus spanning many years.
I stand at the top. White surrounds me as my gaze wanders over the countless mountain peaks stretching into the horizon. Somehow, it was suspiciously easy to get to this point: The sports shop at the base station of the lifts kitted me out with ski gear in a matter of minutes. I climbed into the gondola shortly thereafter and – whoop de doo- here I am, standing on top of a 2,000 metre high mountain, in the middle of all this white stuff. The kind of which I hadn’t seen a great deal of, over the past few years.
The snow-covered slopes, the other skiers, snowboarders, mountain huts, clunky boots on my feet and the two planks below them feel kind of weird – especially as this is the first time in 13 years that I am standing on skis. But also strangely familiar.
Back then, my skis towered 15 cm over my head. This time round, I am clutching brightly coloured, oddly shaped wide planks, that only come up to just about my chest.
Carving skis didn’t even exist the last time I had skis under my feet. Nobody, bar ski racers, wore helmets and draglifts dotted the slopes. Gone are the days of when entry and exit to the lifts mutated into an unwanted and incessant test of one’s own skiing ability. Nowadays, the resort is full of chairlifts that not only slow down for you to get on and off, but sometimes are equipped with heated seats too! A few more reasons as far as I am concerned, to finally re-enter the skiing circus.
And where better, than at the place where it all began? I learned to ski in Tirol at the tender age of four, and spent numerous ski holidays and ski weekends there in the following years. Many ski resorts within easy striking distance of my native southern Germany, plus alpine panoramas, plus delicious Tirolean cuisine – this is a no-brainer for me! My return-to-skiing-weekend was going to happen in Tirol, or not at all.
So one train, taxi and cable car ride later, I am standing at the top of the Hohen Salve Mountain in the Wilder Kaiser-Brixental ski resort near Söll, the largest inter-linked ski resort in Austria. That is all beside the point right now, as this white, steep slope ahead of me is more than enough to contend with at the moment.
Luckily, I have the good looking and likeable ski instructor, Patrick, by my side, who will be coaching me during my return to the sport for a few hours every day – providing me with some welcome tips on the ideal skiing technique and bolstering my nerve. To start with, we ride up the mountain together and pick a blue piste not far from the cable car middle station – with a great mountain panorama and (hopefully) no beginner’s slope humiliations.
I am still a little nervous as we finally set off and I glide down the slope behind Patrick on my borrowed carvers. It feels a little wobbly, and I realise that I have to take this slowly to start with.
After only a few minutes, however, my body begins to remember the seemingly long-forgotten sequence of movements, gliding over the snow and the feeling of having planks under my feet. It really is a little like cycling or swimming – once you get back in the saddle (or water) you realise that you never really forget how to do it. You just have to trust in yourself and listen to your body.
After two or three runs, I really got back into the swing of things. Even my brain remembered why skiing has always been such fun. It is an unbeatable combination of exercise in the great outdoors and speed, coupled with panoramic mountain views and mountain hut magic.
Elated by my initial success I head back to the hotel early afternoon, a little tired, but full of pride and good spirits. I know I shouldn’t overdo things when returning to the sport, so I spend the rest of the day indulging in the luxuriant pleasures offered by the hotel spa and a delicious meal made from local produce. I then visit an almost 500 year-old alpine farm and improve my good mood even more with a little Tirolean schnapps tasting session with farmer Simon. Later, I end my evening with a snowshoe hike by moonlight which (as opposed to skiing), is something I have never done before.
The next day I feel almost like an old pro again as I saunter confidently to the gondola with my skis in my hand. Only a few downhill runs later under expert instruction, the blue runs begin to bore me. My new favourite piste is now a lengthy red run, which really pushes my concentration and stamina levels, but one I can complete in one fell swoop. That is how I imagine skiing to be.
I get a little more adventurous and test other slopes in search of the best run, with the most snow and nicest views. I find it at the very top, at the Hohen Salve summit, which is fondly known as the “Scenic Mountain” with very good reason. An alpine panorama stretches out in front of me, like a mural dreamscape, with paragliders swirling through the air. 70 three thousand metre high peaks can apparently be admired from here.
Unfortunately, the only way to ski back is down a black piste. It looks pretty mean from up here, steep and icy. Yet I want to give it a go and decide to turn it into my final adversary in my returnee challenge. It surely can’t be that difficult? Our dashing private instructor, Patrick, wants to show me how to tackle it.
So, only a short time later, I stand at the top of this steep slope and attempt to gather my wits. Meanwhile, better skiers than I whizz past to my left and right and I am having trouble supressing a feeling of queasiness. I carefully push off towards the slope, dig my edges in like there is no tomorrow and concentrate hard so I don’t slip down the shady slope. And it works! Somehow!
The final section down to the middle station is as easy as pie. I am now “in the zone” and don’t need to stop at all.
What a run! What a weekend! I can ski (again)!
And suddenly, I am looking forward to winter all over again.
Susi Maier is a passionate traveller and blogger, always on the lookout for her next adventure and extraordinary experiences, which she writes about on her blog www.blackdotswhitespots.com After a skiing accident, this Stuttgart girl is ready to venture back on the ski band-wagon this winter – in Tirol, of course.