Skiing China 2: In Which I Attempt a Slalom

“The black run is short,” Li explains. “After, blue.”

“What about that one?” I say.

“Dangerous! Lots of rocks!”

Well, I think stoically, that’s one way to sort my turns out.

On the equipment side, it’s been an exciting morning. There’s something about the Chinese language that makes having a pop at carving skis seem an easier option than explaining to a non-skiing Chinese rental guy that, yes, you are going higher up the mountain, but no, you don’t need carving skis because you can’t ski well enough to use them.

Safely back on yet another pair of moron skis, I am, however, feeling the absence of a helmet.

Not quite enough to go and drop £70 on one, particularly given they only come in Elephant Man size, but ever since Zac’s dad inquired what Zac would do “if it all went a bit Natasha Richardson” after I took a 4WD window out with my head in Egypt, I’m less cavalier than I was about matters neural.

The black run is, in fact, not that steep, by which I mean that, standing at the top of it, I can see quite a lot of it below me.

Right! I think! I CAN do this! I can TOTALLY do this.

And I can do this with parallel turns, rather than snowplough turns like some kind of imbecile. I’ve skied steeper things than this…

“Well, maybe a few falls,” says Li, dubiously, pulverising my confidence like a washing machine disassembling a snotty tissue, and distributing it in small flecks across the mountain. “Hope not too many!”

“Go slow,” says Li. “Try not to fall. Control your speed.”

What does the man think I am? Lindsey Vonn? I’m a lady intermediate skier with no helmet, an (according to my son) *middle-aged* lady intermediate skier at that, endeavouring to sort out my parallel turns. On a sodding black run, which for all I know is solid ice on the bits I can’t see, but which is, because we are skiing China, the only alternative to a beginner’s slope.

And of course I can control my speed! I know how to go across a slope, Jesus.

“Yes,” I say, biting back more pungent retorts. “I don’t want to fall.”

“Well, maybe a few falls,” says Li, dubiously, pulverising my confidence like a washing machine disassembling a snotty tissue, and distributing it in small flecks across the mountain. “Hope not too many!”

GREAT.

Great, great, great.

I let a couple of Chinese athletes zoom past, at roughly the pace of Christopher Reeve circling the globe in Superman, before gingerly embarking on a traverse so painstakingly horizontal that I’m frankly embarrassed to be on this run at all.

This, I begin to realise, might be what the interwebz mean when they say that most Chinese ski resorts aren’t very good for intermediates.

“Ahahahahahaha!” I gamely fake-laugh, from flat on my arse, manoeuvring my legs to reassemble self and skis, which, perhaps because of my molluscan pace and perhaps because of the cruddy bindings, remain firmly and fracture-inducingly attached to my boots.

I descend in a series of embarrassingly horizontal and inelegant turns, my back foot either jumping into turns or flapping aimlessly, rather in the manner of the arm in Body Parts, except instead of being possessed by a serial killer it’s possessed by the Aflac dancing duck.

“Is my back foot alright?” I yell to Li, who is some way ahead of me.

It doesn’t feel alright.

Li says it’s fine. Quite how he would know given he doesn’t appear to be looking at me, I don’t know.

No, it doesn’t feel right. I know what it feels like when I’m turning correctly and…

….. aaarrrrggghhhh ICE….

….the graunch and rattle of one panicking intermediate skier trying and failing to turn on ice on a black run…

… and I’m down…

“Ahahahahahaha!” I gamely fake-laugh, from flat on my back, manoeuvring my legs to reassemble self and skis, which, perhaps because of my molluscan pace and perhaps because of the cruddy bindings, remain firmly and fracture-inducingly attached to my boots, though at least I didn’t hit my head, eh?

The right-hand side of the run is heavily iced. The left is set up for a slalom. Yes, a slalom. Yabuli GaoShan is, first and foremost, a training centre for Chinese ski teams.

It takes us a short geological era to reach the blue run, though, mercifully, there are few witnesses to my abysmally wide and painfully shallow zigzag down what is, actually, not a particularly challenging black run. Well, apart from the ice, that is.

The right-hand side of the blue run is heavily iced. The left is set up for a slalom.

Yes, a slalom.

Yabuli GaoShan is, first and foremost, a training centre for Chinese ski teams.

“Stay left,” says Li, from some way below me. “Much ice!”

Well, I think gamely. For, gentle reader, I am nothing if not game.

A slalom is DEFINITELY one way to sort my turns out. The snow looks good, soft and choppy, which makes not only for fun skiing but a nice soft landing when if I fall.

And if I do two wide traverses for each set of poles, where a good skier would do one narrow turn, that will keep my speed to the required geriatric crawl.

What was that thing, again, I think? The exercise? Heel-toe, heel-toe? I can remember the words of the exercise, but my heels and toes can’t remember the movements.

I do another couple of turns without apparent effort, through this lovely soft easy-going snow, I should even remember what to do with my poles in a second…. Yeah! This is really coming together!

All of a sudden, insanely, heel-toe, heel-toe starts to work, and the spirit of the Aflac dancing duck departs my back foot with a ghostly howl quack. I’m traversing at a slightly less pathetic angle, and I’m turning, well, I’m turning effortlessly!

In fact, I realise, as I do another couple of turns without apparent effort, through this lovely soft easy-going snow, I should even remember what to do with my poles in a second….

Yeah! This is really coming together!

I turn in a patch of snow that looks friendly to said activity, come out and…

Oh… That blue thing…

Oh sh…

OUCH!

I veer so ineptly that I actually straddle the slalom pole. I register two things, firstly that one of my skis has come off, which is good, and secondly that I’ve at least been going fast enough for straddling a slalom pole to hurt.

“Ahahahahahahaha!” I fake laugh, disentangling myself from the slalom pole, retrieving and donning my ski. “I’m FINE. Really! I’m FINE! Ahahahahaha!”

Not that Li appears in the slightest bit concerned with my welfare.

I go really fast on the baby run at the end, at least before the icy stretch, just to show I can.

Ahead of me, I spot my spawn, doing precisely the same thing on the ice, a little red-topped dot whizzing off into the middle distance.

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Picture credit: Tharrin.co.nz.

8 Responses

  1. Catherine Hartmann says:

    Another laugh out loud post thanks. How do you manage the steep slopes with your vertigo? That is what I struggle with the most, have to stay on slopes that are gentle or I just end up shaking and crying. You would never have got me up on that black in a million years. Although I totally relate to the embarassingly horizontal traversing and have even been know to sit down when I get to the edge and turn my skis around to take the next traverse (but only when I am shaking and crying of course).

    • Theodora says:

      My vertigo is actually of the sheer variety. Anything that’s above 80 degrees leaves me gibbering and quailing, but something that’s just steep, I’m OK with. Very handy on Everest Base Camp as well as here, because even though, of course, a 75 degree slope could be just as lethal as a sheer drop, in practise it doesn’t freak me out at all…

  2. Yvette says:

    Helmets are for wimps.

    … You probably don’t want to go skiing with me ever.

    • Theodora says:

      That seems to be the prevailing view in China, also…

      And, no, you sound like you might be rather good…

      • Yvette says:

        Not so much good so much as I started in kindergarten and back in MY day no one wore helmets for skiing… they didn’t start percolating until middle school or so I think. So I guess I can be one of those old fogies before my time complaining about how over-coddled the modern generation is. 😉

        • Theodora says:

          Whereas I started only five years ago, and helmets were part of the furniture. Also, doing it with a child changes your perspective. He’d wear a helmet to ride a bicycle. So he’d wear a helmet for skiing…..

  3. Ahhhh… Skiing. One of life’s great tortures. Just when you think you’re good and are flying along, it has a way of putting you on your arse just to show you who’s boss. Nice story. 🙂

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