THE YOUNG AND THE RECK­LESS

When learn­ing to con­quer the snow, it helps to be un­der 10 and fear­less, laments Barry Oliver

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Family Holidays -

THEY slide down­hill with such lack of con­cern, ap­par­ently won­der­ing what all the fuss is about. Strap a pair of skis on to a child’s feet and most will take it calmly in their small stride.

It’s hard not to come over all gooey at the sight of a bunch of ju­nior skiers rugged up for their lessons on the slopes, co­cooned in smart snow suits with snazzy hats, cosy mit­tens and plas­tic bibs iden­ti­fy­ing them as part of the ski school. The colour­ful gog­gles of­ten add a film star touch but runny noses, a con­stant in the cold, tend to spoil this il­lu­sion.

I didn’t con­sider them cute when I started my midlife ski­ing ca­reer. In­deed, I hap­pily could have throt­tled the lit­tle dar­lings as they sailed by on their seem­ingly con­stant lessons, arms out­stretched do­ing aero­planes or in a conga line, choo-choo train style, or — and this was the ab­so­lute pits — singing a merry song.

I was strug­gling with my piz­zas (for the unini­ti­ated, it’s how you turn when you first ski) while they were singing. There should be a law against such things. Chil­dren just nat­u­rally do the right thing on the snow (there are prob­a­bly a few no­table ex­cep­tions). If they’re headed for a tree they will turn, even if they’ve not been shown how. They some­how fig­ure it out, while I have to be told a dozen times in a dozen ways and even then there’s no guar­an­tee.

Chil­dren aren’t given ski poles to start, so this at least should have been one area where I could have up­staged them. Sadly, my poles were taken from me at an early stage (some­thing about the dan­ger to fel­low skiers, or it may have been a bal­ance is­sue, or both). In­stead, I had to prac­tise car­ry­ing a tray of make­be­lieve drinks while ski­ing.

Chil­dren would cast a ques­tion­ing eye at my out­stretched arms as I passed. An ex­pla­na­tion al­ways seemed in or­der but I rea­soned they would be well gone be­fore the story was com­pleted. At least no one tried to or­der drinks. Once, af­ter a par­tic­u­larly spec­tac­u­lar fall, I ended up a crum­pled mess at the feet of a sur­prised child. She didn’t say a thing, just stared down at me try­ing to com­pre­hend how a grown man was un­able to stay up­right on a sheet of ice with two bits of wood strapped to his feet.

Then there’s the fear fac­tor: I have it, chil­dren don’t. When it comes to skis, snow and slopes, chil­dren seem to have no con­cept of dan­ger. Some­one should ex­plain it to them. Don’t they re­alise it’s a per­ilous busi­ness? Bones can snap; heads can bleed. Grown-ups can be re­duced to tears. (Well, what would you do faced with a sheer in­cline that rep­re­sented the only way down from the top of the moun­tain? Wait­ing for spring and the snow to melt was one op­tion briefly con­sid­ered.)

An­other mildly ir­ri­tat­ing thing about tiny chil­dren on the slopes is that, since they are for­ever tak­ing lessons, they have right of way at lift queues. You don’t re­alise how many of them there are un­til you have to shiver in the freez­ing cold while they shuf­fle past.

Th­ese days I’ve learned not to ven­ture any­where near a group of ski-school kids. It’s too de­press­ing. If I do hap­pen to bump into some (so to speak), my tac­tics are to pass at speed. Get it over with quickly, with­out so much as a glance at their cute lit­tle an­tics.

And make damned sure I don’t spill any drinks.

Ski poles apart: Ju­niors hone their skills. Clock­wise from above, Mt Buller and Mt Hotham in the Vic­to­rian Alps; But­ter­milk Moun­tain, Colorado

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