There comes a point in every man’s life when he realises he has to do something so alien, so unappetising, and yet so necessary, it cannot but sit in the craw. That thing involves asking for help. It demeans and reduces us, ameliorates our ego, weakens us, shrinks (!) our masculinity.
My moment occurred while exiting a ski drag-lift high above the picture-perfect village of Verbier on a serene Sunday morning. While everyone around me swished and swooshed past without a care in the world, all glam and hip-wigglingly groovy, I remained rooted to the spot – mute and motionless, like a frog in a pan of slowly boiling water. I, you see, had gotten the fear.
Now, ski-fear wasn’t new to me. Two years previously, along with my then-fiancé, I’d braved the slopes of Courchevel with friends, half of whom could ski, half of whom could barely snowplough. I had a brief lesson, then reintroduced myself to skiing’s colour code (blue: scary; red: mortal danger; black: certain death). I spent the next few days in a state of utter terror, my state of mind mirroring a sparrow observing a large, onrushing and very hungry tabby cat.
And here I was again. I’d enjoyed the previous day skiing with my now-wife. I’d even swhooshed a little myself, after overcoming some initial jitters. Yet here I was on day two, again edging myself down a pretty innocuous blue run. My frustration rose, along with my anger, which I directed at myself, the slopes, and the very Gods themselves. Damn you Schoeffel, King of the snowdemons. And your evil frosty minions, Rossignol, Spyder and Salomon.
There was very little left to do but to open the Batphone and ring our helpers, minders, and weekend angels – the wonderful minds and managers behind Ski Verbier, owners of some of Switzerland’s most chichi chalets, and our hosts for the weekend. Kate was, as ever, was a godsend, immediately locating a ski instructor, Lawrance White, who just happened to be free a half-hour hence.
Lawrance was exactly what I needed. His first skiing holiday as a young man nearly put him off the sport for good, as he struggled with technique. Many years later he returned, realising to his surprise that not only was he very good, but that he had a knack for helping others to reach their potential (he recently taught his father to ski for the first time, his proudest moment on the slopes).
To kick things off, he decided to take us off the beaten track, and head for the far side of Mont-Gele. Over here, the blue runs were wider, slightly easier, and less populated. We started with the basics but Lawrance soon realised that my biggest problem, predicated on a fear of the unknown, was the turning process.
Put simply, I simply didn’t know how to get my skis to turn even in a wide circle. Even when I did manage to turn properly, which I’d done on thousands of occasions, I’d been bluffing. So when I hit a steep part, necessitating a series of tight turns on harder ice, I had – and please excuse here the pun – just frozen, either managing to edge my way down or bluffing again with a few lucky switchbacks.
Lawrance taught me where to start the turn as I skied, using the slope, and horology, to install in my mind the image of a clock face. Turn at two o’clock (midnight and noon being the direction you’re facing as you ski laterally across the slope, not the view up or down the mountain), he’d say, and dig the bottom ski edge hard into the slope. That hard bite by the lower, active ski, as you turn toward four o’clock, will force the top ski to travel with you, willingly and passively.
It was so simple – as of course everything is once you master it, barring perhaps nuclear fission and string theory. Once I had the turning process cemented in my head, the process of skiing became less of a chore. Instead of focusing on fear, I focused my turns. As my turns came more naturally and less laboured, I started actually enjoying my skiing, which in turn let me bask in the the unadulterated bliss of being up high in the clean Swiss air. Joy it was in that morning to be alive. And to be able to ski properly for the first time was very heaven.
Ninety minutes later, Lawrance and I were ensconced in a bar, a fresh, cold Heineken to hand. My wife joined me and we enjoyed the moment, watching the contrails of planes high overhead, and the paragliders as they floated effortlessly across the valley. Finally, after years of frustration and bluffing, I had located second gear on my skis, all thanks to Lawrance White’s teaching, and Ski Verbier’s wonderful help and organisation.
To book with Lawrance contact Altitude Verbier, a 2 hour private lesson costs 225chf