Looking back perhaps I shouldn’t have been quite so cocky! We’d visited the Sierra Nevada ski resort a few times before with our girls but as a treat for my husbands birthday the grandparents were looking after them and we had two blissful child free nights to gracefully glide down mountains, stop off for fancy lunches and delight in some apres ski whilst sitting in the blazing sun watching the snow glisten before us. At least that was the plan.
The first day started well and after dropping the girls to school we enjoyed a refreshingly easy 3 hour car journey. I gorged myself on sweets free of prying eyes, listened to everything except frozen on the radio and we didn’t have to stop once for a wee on the side of the road. We arrived at the resort and went straight to El Lodge, a beautiful boutique hotel where we had a lunch reservation. El Lodge has the only ski in ski out restaurant in the Sierra Nevada and as we watched people do exactly that we remarked how the next day that would be us. The food was delicious and suitably fed and watered we set off to find our hotel as El Lodge was slightly (massively) out of our price range. We were staying at Hotel Ziryab which we chose mainly due to location being meters from the main lifts up the mountain. By this time it was starting to get dusk and as we had a ski lesson booked for 9am the next morning we decided to relax on the sofas situated in front of the log fire with our books and make the most of the peace and quiet. We had a relatively early night and awoke the next morning raring to go.
Being complete beginners as in neither of us had even put a foot in a ski boot before we’d booked a lesson with the British Ski School which in hindsight was wise. Both myself and my husband are fairly sporty and were quietly confident that after a couple of hours we’d have grasped the basics and be on our merry way. The first seeds of doubt crept in as we stepped out of the hotel door. The sunshine of the previous day had been replaced with heavy grey skies and my iPhone showed a temperature of a bracing -12 without windchill. Not to be defeated I put on an extra pair of gloves and headed for the gondolas dragging my snow boot clad feet behind me.
I’m not sure why I hadn’t considered my fear of heights before but as the wind rocked our gondola and the gap between the slopes and our feet widened it came rushing back. I tried closing my eyes (which made it worse) so instead focussed on the top whilst trying to stem a panic attack every time the lift stopped which seemed to be pretty frequently.
We finally made it and stepped out into arctic conditions. Within minutes my fingers were so cold it felt like I had knives stabbing them but with the promise of warming up once we started moving we set to it. The next two hours were really good fun if you ignore the hypothermia and frostbite and we mastered the magic carpets and were soon confidently gliding down the nursery slopes thinking we’d cracked it. There was one incident where Rich careered into a plastic dome and I ran over the back of someone’s skis but we were eager to get on a real slope and so as we said our goodbyes to our instructor casually informed her that we were heading for the green runs. Her face wasn’t exactly supportive and instead she looked slightly horrified. A brief discussion followed where she tried to dissuade us and we settled on extending our lesson by an hour so she could at least escort us. I didn’t think this was strictly necessary but embracing the thought better safe than sorry we all set off together.
The first obstacle was the chairlift which whilst looking easy was surprisingly challenging. It was also longer than it looked from the bottom and as I got off I promptly face planted theground resulting in the chair lifts being stopped whilst a number of people hauled me up. We followed our instructor to the start and with strict instructions to stay behind her and follow her tracks I lasted approximately 5 seconds before careering past her totally out of control. What had looked like a slight incline from the bottom was actually pretty steep. The last words I heard before bailing and throwing myself onto the hard, compacted snow was my poor instructor yelling at me to commit to my turn but by that stage I couldn’t even control my legs and hitting the ground sooner rather than later seemed the sensible decision.
The rest of the decent followed much the same path. I gave up counting just how many times I fell over or voluntarily threw myself over. My poor instructor desperately tried to increase my confidence telling me it was mind over matter but despite a couple of brief moments where I thought I was getting to grips with it the whole decent was a car crash. Richard on the other hand seemed to have an abundance of confidence and despite wiping out on a good few occasions was unperturbed and wanted to head straight back up. I think the cold had affected my sanity by this point as I voluntarily got back on the chairlift to give it another shot. I will say I managed to stay on my feet this time but I was actually crying with fear and given that there were 3 year olds whizzing past me I decided to end on a high and left Richard to get a few more runs under his belt whilst I warmed my numb fingers on a coffee and hid inside.
By afternoon the sun had made an appearance and boosted my spirits so much so that we had another couple of uneventful goes on a green slope before calling it a day and heading back to the hotel feeling rather victorious.
The next morning was painful to say the least. My legs, arms and hips were all shades of purple and black and fabulously the temperature had dropped even further. In a quest to increase my confidence and not kill myself we managed to book a last minute lesson and after being assured my skis were neither too long or too slippery but in fact perfect for beginners we set back off up the mountain. My instructor for that day described my skiing as moments of brilliance interjected by many moments of not so much brilliance. In fairness he tried his best and I did learn a lot but the easiest path down the green run was always going to be my limit on this trip. After our lesson Rich suggested I once again grab a coffee as he wanted a shot at a blue run and quite honestly I’d rather have jumped out of a plane without a parachute. He told me to get comfortable as he wanted a good few runs and would likely be a couple of hours. The coffee shop had heating and a view of the slopes plus I’d packed my book so this suited me fine. It came as a bit of a surprise then when a meer half hour later I had a phone call off him telling me he was ready to go home. Now Rich is not one to be short of words but he remained white and refused to talk until we were a good hour into our journey home. It turns out the blue run was quite a bit more difficult than the green run and perhaps required a fair bit more skill as opposed to a winging it and hope for the best approach. After the emergency snowmobile had had to check on him on at least two occasions as he crawled back up the mountain to retrieve his skis he contemplated faking injury in an attempt to obtain a ride down but vainly battled on and thankfully made it down in one piece with only his pride broken. He said he’d first started to doubt his decision when he witnessed from his seat on the chairlift a fellow skier who was also embarking on his first attempt at a blue run careering straight down the mountain at break neck speed in as wide a snow plow as his legs would allow whilst screaming. Suffice to say he was in no hurry to repeat the experience and we both went home far more respectful of the slopes than we had been on our arrival.
Now I’m not one to be beaten and I don’t give up easily so the plan is to head back with the girls when it’s a good few degrees warmer and give it another go. I’m not sure if I’ll ever master a black or even a red but I would love to be able to have weekends away as a family in the snow having fun and I’m sure my daredevil girls will love it and be far better than me in no time.