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