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Don't forget your helmet
Member Name: grahamt
Date: 18/03/09, updated on 19/03/09 (132 review reads)
Advantages: Healthy ; a superb way to get fit
Disadvantages: Can be expensive ; accidents can be serious ; you will probably become a "ski bore"
The tragic accident to Natasha Richardson whilst learning to ski at the Tremblant ski resort in eastern Canada highlights the fact that skiing, for all its supposed glamour and glitz, can be a dangerous sport. Richardson is not the only high-profile person to suffer an accident whilst skiing; Sonny Bono, former husband of American singer, Cher, suffered a fatal accident whilst skiing, as did Senator Robert Kennedy's son, Michael.
Richardson is 45 and whilst this may be considered a late start in life for such an energetic and technically demanding sport, it is actually not much different from the age at which I first learned. It is to my eternal regret that I did not pluck up the courage to take up the pastime earlier in life, not because I believe that it is easier to learn when you are younger, it's not, but more because I would have had longer to indulge in what is to my mind one of the most exhilarating sports on Earth.
So, don't let Richardson's accident or that of other well-known personalities, put you off if you are seriously thinking about giving skiing a try. Serious accidents are, thankfully, rare, even for beginners, and with the right precautions even those accidents can be minimised. But, how to take those first "steps"?
Well, it isn't necessary to go out straight-away and buy every piece of equipment and clothing you think you will ever need. Whilst ski clothing can be relatively inexpensive, especially if you buy from outlets such as TK Maxx, renowned for great value outdoor wear, there is no denying that the equipment can be very expensive indeed. Until you are certain that skiing really is for you, it is far better to hire, and this goes for clothing as well as equipment.
Best of all, at least get a basic grounding in the techniques of skiing before you set off for your winter destination. It is perfectly possible just to head for foreign slopes, and here I count Scotland as "foreign" as well(!), having signed up for a week's tuition, if you do find that you really cannot manage to get to grips with the skills required, you are going to have a lot of spare time on your hands. Still, there will I suppose, always be the local bars in which to drown your sorrows!
Throughout the UK there are numerous skiing centres that will offer you lessons that will get you off to a good start once you have decided to take that first ski trip. Whilst they are mostly open-air dry slopes (you can find a list of them at ifyouski/dryslopes), there is an increasing number of indoor "real" snow facilities such as the SnowDome in Tamworth and Xscape in Milton Keynes, that offer a taste of the real thing. And there is no doubt that skiing on dry slopes is not quite the same as skiing on snow. That's the bad news; the good news is that the techniques you need to learn are the same for both.
We learned to ski initially at the dry slope ski centre in Rawtenstall. In the few weeks leading up to our first ski holiday we visited three times for a total of four hours tuition from qualified instructors in the basic skills needed to stay up-right, to be able to head more or less in the direction intended and, most important, to stop before crashing into anything. All we needed for these lessons was a sturdy pair of jeans that we didn't mind getting dirty, and a pair of tough gloves. The gloves are especially recommended as the surface on which you ski has large gaps in it and catching a finger in the holes if you should fall, and you will, often, can be quite painful without. I recommend mitts as better than gloves.
By the time we were ready to head for the slopes we had at least started to master all of these. Our first ski holiday was in the Austrian ski resort of Zell um Zee. We had booked a complete six day's tuition as a part of the package. Although we had gone out and bought skiwear we had bought nothing else. Boots, skis and ski poles were all hired for the week at the resort.
The ski classes consisted of a group of around ten people. The instructors were all English speakers indeed, our two instructors were Scottish and Canadian! It soon became clear that our pre-preparation had served us well. We were able to master the basic lessons quickly and were able to move confidently to the next stage. This was far from true of many of the others. Indeed, it was clear quite early on that there were just a few for whom skiing would always be a skill that they would never learn to acquire.
Now, don't think that we are especially competent sportspeople. We both do play other sports. I played football for years, not well but enjoyably, and we both have played badminton and squash. In my youth I was also a racing cyclist. However, none of these really prepare you in any way for skiing. I was never a good ice skater though I can make may way unsteadily around a rink. That's the nearest skill I can think of to skiing.
However, we both took to skiing like ducks to water. Most of our group had only booked three days of tuition and so we had our Scottish instructor more or less to ourselves for the rest of the week. With such concentrated tuition we were even on Red runs by the end, and mastering them with a degree of competence. Black runs still eluded us though during this holiday. If you aren't familiar with the grading of runs, Green is the easiest, followed by Blue then Red and finally Black as "challenging".
By the time we were due to come home we had enjoyed one of the best holidays we had ever had. It was absolutely certain that we would do it again, and we have, many, many times. We have now been skiing almost every year for the past 20 years or so. This year was our first miss for a long time, due to various reasons that I won't go into here. The sense of "loss" is palpable. Skiing gets under your skin.
Nowadays we have our own skiwear, several items in fact although I would by no means describe us as fashion victims. What we also have is our own equipment. We decided to buy our own boots first of all but for later holidays we invested also in our own skis and skipoles. The ski poles are still the original ones we bought. They have lasted exceptionally well, despite suffering some unintended bends through various crashes. They were soon straightened out again though. The skis are our second set and have also proved extremely good value.
Getting good fitting boots is absolutely essential. Go to a proper ski shop and take their advice. More than anything, take as much time as you need to be completely happy that the boots you are trying really are a perfect fit. My wife can testify to the pain and suffering caused by wearing boots recommended by a salesman who really didn't have a clue. This was in Andorra. At least we had the opportunity to take them back to be changed before the week was out but by then the damage had been done.
So, what about protective headgear, bearing in mind Richardson's accident? My recommendation is, definitely, especially for kids. Kids seem to have absolutely no sense of fear, and our two are testimony to that. Mind you both are natural skiers. That means that they take risks that the rest of us would probably see as reckless. A ski helmet is not seen as chic for adults but what would you rather, a skull in one piece or hair with rather fetching red streaks?
Having said that, I confess I don't wear one, nor ever have, but then ski helmets were not common back when I first learned. I have had many crashes but I can honestly say that I have never hurt myself whilst skiing even so. The only serious injury I suffered was when I was brought down on hard ice by a stupid and inconsiderate ski lift passenger whilst exiting the lift.
Now (March 2009) is not too late to go skiing this year. Europe has had some of the best snow in decades and the current global economic woes have resulted in a shortage of visitors. Now some absolute bargains are on offer for late-season holidays and the snow is still generally excellent at the time of writing. If you have been thinking about giving skiing a try, there is no better time to take the plunge.
Oh, and don't forget your helmet, and your insurance.
Summary: One of the most exhilerating sports on Earth