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Teaching an Old Dog, New Tricks - Learning

A question I often get asked about cycling is what part of it I enjoy the most. Is it the freedom to go at my own pace and explore the country? Is it killing myself on a long climb? Is it getting into a tempo and feeling like I am flying? Is it descending off a mountain with only a few millimetres of rubber between me and the ground? In truth it is all of these things but if I could identify my least favourite then it would be descending! I am light in stature and light in courage.

My partner on the other hand always had a pathological draw to skiing which to my mind is essentially giving yourself over completely to the awesome force of gravity and the unpredictable force of luck. With many of years of persuasion and rebuttal I knew it was time to relent and try a skiing holiday. This winter I would be packing my bags and joining the rest of the upper-middle classes in Nassfeld, Austria to make a complete fool of myself. Could I, an old man, learn to ski and keep up with my partner and her friends on the slope or would I resign to the bar and accept defeat drunkenly.

Let’s rewind and don’t stop until I was 13 years old and my first taste of skiing. I remember my dad coming to tell me to prepare for cold weather as he was taking me skiing at the weekend. Even back then I knew this was not something that was generally done on a whim. It took years of practice and perhaps even lessons. My dad had no such qualms or at least he didn’t show them so the weekend came and we drove with his friends to the slopes. Equipment hired, we were basically left to our own devices. I managed to successfully get on the chair lift but still had not skied. As the lift ascended I knew the time was coming to finally feel what a world without friction would be like. As anticipated it was my bum on which I first skied and with it the pangs of embarrassment that only a 13 year old knows.

The day did not improve unless you count going in a straight line at a modest pace improvement. The charms of skiing were completely list on me and remained so for the next two decades. Skiing was something that other families did in winter. I added it to a list of sports like golf that I deemed impenetrable unless you were born into it and I moved on to other teenage pursuits.

I wanted to enjoy the holiday and to prove to myself and others that I was actually a competent sportsman. I knew people that skied and even those who claimed to enjoy it who were otherwise not at all athletic. They were my inspiration.

I didn’t want to go into the holiday cold, so to speak, so I arranged some intensive lessons on a local dry slope in Aberdeen. Two blocks of three hour group lessons. Was six hours of skiing enough to learn lofty goals such as turning and, most importantly, stopping.

Getting to know the people in my group there was one common theme. We were all older and we all had ski-loving partners determined to throw us off a mountain this winter. I went into it with an open mind and a willingness to improve. I might not be as athletic as my 13 year old self but I was more willing to make mistakes, something that I found was vital to skiing. I went in knowing I would fall and knowing that each fall was a step to fulfillment.

In six hours I had gone from the pizza to more or less (less) parallel turns. Along the way I had learned to ski backwards and even on one leg and whilst plummeting down the face of a mountain was still a long way away I felt relatively confident that one way or another I could at least stop myself.

Driving to the resort I glimpsed my first sight of the slopes. A slope is not a word I would use. Cliff would be more appropriate.

To break me in gently and to reacquaint myself with ski’s I decided to take an hour long private lesson. My basic skills were judged on the blue slopes (basically slopes for beginners) and then with a few tips and tricks in my back pocket I spent the rest of the day practicing on the blue slopes with my partner. She looked graceful and elegant whereas I felt that my limbs strained and flailed with every turn. She assured me that I was doing great but her praise only gave me misplaced confidence. I spent most of the afternoon falling and getting frustrated with myself.

My mood was not improved when someone decided that stopping was an optional skill to learn and took me out as I waited for the lift at the bottom of the slope. I did a couple more runs and called it a day, downbeat at my progress or lack thereof and surprising sore from falls self-inflicted and otherwise.

I decided that in order to relieve the boredom of just aimlessly plodding down and up the blue slope I would join a group lesson. This proved to be a good idea as the teacher was excellent and really helped me to gain confidence in my technique and ironed out a few obvious flaws. He also forced us to gain some speed and learn to control it. This was to be a vital lesson for progressing to the red slopes and beyond.

The look in the picture below is one of nerves and tiredness...

Join me in Part Two to see if I managed to mimic someone who had been skiing their whole life.

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