Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And I didn't fall down!

Last Sunday, I went skiing for the first time in my life. I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to learn for quite some time; even Josh got to join my family on trips while I was away at school. I wasn’t quite sure how the experience would go, since I’ve been told on many occasions that skiing is quite athletic and very difficult. I wanted to try regardless of the physical demands. I figured that I’ve walked in several 5Ks, which I never expected of myself, so why not give skiing a try?

I joined Shurrece and her daughter on a bus trip to the slopes at Feldberg, Germany. Feldberg is located in the Black Forrest, about one and a half hours from Zurich.

The Feldberg is the highest mountain in the Black Forrest, and other than the German Alps, it is the highest point in Germany. The trip to the summit involved many switchbacks, and the road entering the range provided views reminiscent of alpine landscapes.

When we arrived at the ski resort, we labored with our gear through the cold, under a grey sky. Still, the roads and paths were clear, and we didn’t encounter excess snow until we reached the “point of no return”- the slopes. I wrestled with my rented ski boots for several minutes, and never really found a comfortable fit. Looking back, this should have been my first indication that the day might involve discomfort. Oh, glorious hindsight!

Shurrece dropped her daughter off at the children’s ski teepee- yes, they got to drink kinderpunsch in a teepee at their lessons- and we found our lesson group just a few minutes late. The ski instructors decided to split our class into two groups, and of course we were put in the group of women who spoke English. Right away Max, our instructor, put us to work. He showed us how to climb up the side of the slope sideways.

I am told that in some places, skiing classes get to use the bunny slope lift during lessons. Even though there was a rope lift, we got to climb the hill for every single exercise Max taught to us. This is my biggest problem with skiing. Going downhill was loads of fun, and I’d love to do it again! Climbing up the hill is a horrible, brutal idea. For one, your whole body will ache after about the fifteenth climb. Secondly, if your boots don’t fit (and we’re back to my poor foresight), you’re in for bruised ankles and possible tears. Yes, I admit that I cried because it hurt so badly. I kept going, and maybe part of my welling was due to the horrible wind chill (more on that in a moment), but I know that I was so upset that I felt as if I were crying.

Every time I reached the bottom, there was Max to remind me: “Becky, we must climb up to make this exercise again, yes?” I couldn’t stop thinking, this guy cannot be serious!

I kept climbing and trying and resolving to push forward for quite some time. As our lesson progressed, the forecasted winter storm began to roll over the mountain. I don’t own truly proper ski gear, so my multiple layers of exercise clothing were succumbing to the ice and snow being pelted at me by high-speed winds. I was being blown sideways on my skis. I can say that I was proud when I managed not to fall down, even one time. I might as well have fallen, though, by the time I had finished- I was soaked all the way through my layers. At one point toward the end of the lesson, Max told us we could stop when we felt we needed to, due to the weather and our relative inexperience. I picked up my skis to climb the hill again (no more ankle-breaking sideways-climbing for me!) and realized that my hands were freezing through my wet gloves, sticking to the skis! That was the end of my lesson, thank you very much.

I bought some overpriced gloves and a warm fleece to change into something dry, and met Shurrece and Madison in the lodge. We had a delicious lunch and sat there for hours talking, waiting for the time when we could meet our bus to head back home.

I enjoyed this part of the day at least as much as the skiing. While we ate and talked, the storm assailed the mountain more fiercely each hour. By the time we left, there was at least a foot of snow on surfaces that had been clean only four hours earlier.

When we finally made it to our bus and headed back toward Kaiserslautern, the driver heard on the radio that we had just missed an avalanche on the Feldberg! I’ve never knowingly come so close to an avalanche before in my life. But this is life in Germany; you never can be sure of the weather, until it is happening. You can bet that it will surprise you, often in less-than-pleasant ways.

My overall assessment of skiing is that, yes, it is very strenuous. My body is still aching all these days later. If you don’t have proper gear, it isn’t very comfortable even in the best moments. However, the rush of flying downhill is totally worth the discomfort and frustration. I’m planning to go skiing again, and to buy a lift ticket and ride halfway up the bunny slopes for a while. Maybe some day I will ski from higher up a hillside, but for now I’ll take the rush of the little bump.

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