As I expected, I woke up on my second day of skiing, Tuesday, very sore and stiff. As I expected, V did not. We grumpily trudged through our morning.
There was an annoying timing issue at this point: my expensive and timed down to the minute private lessons were to begin at 8:30 on Tuesday through Friday (because 8:30am lessons are significantly cheaper), and that was the earliest possible drop-off time for V at his ski school. I didn’t want to waste ten minutes of my lesson on his drop off. So Andrew gathered up himself and the baby solely in order to do V’s drop off and then go back up the mountain to chill out with her.
Because I’d switched lesson times after Monday, B was not my instructor for the remainder of the week. My instructor was A, a young Italian ski racer and instructor. A and I didn’t start off great with her evicing some skepticism that I was ready for the Giddy Up run, if I’d fallen up there. Her students, she reported, do not fall. She took me up there, I presumably embarrassingly fell off the end of the chair lift and she very cautiously took me down the steeper bit of Giddy Up with a critical eye.
We did better from there, because she agreed that I was the right level for that run. She then wanted me to tell her how I’d learned to turn, and discovered that her suspicions were right: I’d been taught the “Australian way”.
A brief digression into skiing technique: as a beginner skier, I skied with the front tips of my skis close together and the back ends far apart, called a snow plow, or a “triangle” at the kids’ school. This let me go very slowly, because it’s easy to turn both skis inwards and brake by dragging the inner edges of them both along the snow. The “Australian style” of turning (which I also learned in New Zealand in 1998, and which is also shown in the beginner ski school videos I’d watched, is that I turned by pressing the inner edge of ski which was to be the outside of the turn (my left ski when turning right and vice versa) harder into the snow than the other ski.
The “Italian style” turn that A preferred involved shifting weight throughout my body instead. Specifically, she wanted me to do nothing consciously with my feet, but instead always ski with my shoulder dropped down the mountain and my hips tilted up the mountain, with my upper body driving my weight into the lower ski. (Later in the week, she had me actually stepping my uphill ski up off the snow a lot, to prove I wasn’t bearing excess weight on it.) To turn, I was to slide my hips over the downhill ski and my shoulder over the uphill ski, which caused me to turn and restore the original weight distribution only I’d be pointing in the other direction.
“OK,” I thought. “But I really hope I’m not switching instructors every day this week.” Sometimes it’s best to learn one technique well than several poorly, even if it’s not the single best one. (Oddly, learning to breastfeed has this problem: every lactation consultant seems to have their own slightly incompatible technique.)
However, since A was assigned to me for the remaining four days, and the technique worked well, this worked out. Specifically, it resulted in quite fast and very controlled turns, which is great because the slower the turn, the more chance I had to point straight downhill and lose control of my speed and fall over. At the end of the week, A triumphed that I hadn’t fallen in her lesson and suggested we might be at Merritts (the advanced beginners area and early intermediate area, higher up the mountain) at the end of the week.
A had a rare and excellent quality in a physical teacher, which was that for every mistake I was to make throughout the week, she had a diagnosis. To be fair, it was almost always “lean further forward” or “your weight is on the wrong ski again” (especially, for some reason, when my right ski was the downhill one) but even so. Many a person has tried to teach me physical skills but has not brought relentless and flawless debugging skills to the party.
She was, I think, in her early twenties, her first time in Australia, and seemed to be naively charmed by all the lifties greeting her in terrible Italian. There are very many Italian instructors in Thredbo this year! Everyone is being kind and trying to learn Italian and speak it with us! If she had any inkling that there might be any special effort being made to speak Italian with smiley small young blonde winners of the women’s section of the instructors’ race, she didn’t hint at it.
But she probably knew it. The incredibly slow chairlifts meant we had a lot of chances to talk during the week, partly about travel and partly about the many, many things she disapproved of on the snow. For example, people who don’t wear helmets (one time she split a helmet in half in a racing crash), people who ski with babies strapped to them, and, especially, snowboarders. On the first day with her, she side-eyed the snowboarders joining us on our lift chair and asked them pointedly if they knew how to get off the chairlift. I pointed out that I didn’t know how to get off the chairlift and she ignored me while continuing to glare daggers at the snowboarders. (Sure enough I fell and they didn’t. She said nothing.) On the second day, I had my first fall in her class when I heard an “uuuuuh-oh” from behind and a snowboarder knocked my skis out from under me (I was fine, I fell up the hill on my side and slightly bruised my hip) and it’s possible she killed him with her brain. On the last day, I think one of her final piece of advice to me was “steer clear of them.”
I was still confined to Friday Flat, the beginners area, mid-week, on Wednesday progressing to the slightly steeper main area. But after my first day with A, it was my first ever time on the snow that I would happily just circle around. Ski down. Ride lift up. Ski down. Ride lift up. And of course, this kind of practice is necessary to progress, so I was extra thrilled that it wasn’t ski down, nurse injuries, cry, ride back up.
I also solved the chairlift issue after my Tuesday lesson on my own. The trick with dismounting chairlifts is that you need to get your weight above your skis, because that’s the general trick to not falling over when skiing. However, I’m very tall, and while I’m fairly strong in an absolute sense for an untrained woman, I’m not strong for my height or weight. Together, this means that getting my weight above my feet takes me appreciably longer than it takes most people and during this time, I figured I was falling over, especially since the ground beneath chairlifts at the dismount point is close enough to the seat to allow three year olds to get off comfortably.
So, I simply waited half a second longer than most people. Chairlifts all have a short slope leading down from the dismount point, and I would wait until the chair was a little way over the slope, and get off then, meaning I was basically dropping down into a standing position rather than forcing myself upright into one. This was a touch tricky; once I waited long enough that I actually had to jump down very slightly. But it worked and I didn’t once fall again, nor did I ever fail to actually get off and have to go round embarrassingly. (Presumably with increased skiing ability and faith in my skiing ability, I would be able to get off at the normal disembark point too, but I never tested again.)
So on early Tuesday afternoon, I headed up to Andrew comfortably smug at my ability to stand up and slide around on skis. He said he was feeling a bit tired, and we planned out that he would “only” do the Village Trail, Thredbo’s easy but long run at 5km. He didn’t start quite at the top but took the slower Snowgums chairlift most of the way up it (spying a wombat on the way) and came down. He was feeling a bit ill from something he’d eaten and figured it wasn’t the day for a lesson and a short outing was fine. We gathered up V, fed him a donut, and came back for the evening.
On the Wednesday, Andrew was becoming feverish and decided to take the day off. In a selfish way, this was good as I was able to double my practice time, but I was sad for him. He saved energy to do one beginners run with V, who at this point had turned into a child-shaped snow-bullet and left Andrew fallen in the snow half way down Friday Flat. Andrew was worried that he’d inexplicably become a bad snowboarder but (spoilers!) he was in the early stages of getting quite ill.
It was on Wednesday, I think, that A decided that I should start turning parallel rather than in a snowplow, and instructed me to drag up uphill heel with a turn so that the skis turned together. This caused, I’m pretty sure, my first self-inflicted fall under her instruction. No more mention of parallel turns was made for a little while.
Shortly after that, I felt that I was doing a particularly dodgy turn, hurriedly managing to shove my legs back under me before I fell over. A observed this and I waited to be told how to avoid it ever happening again. “Yessssss,” she crowed. “That turn, that turn parallel.” I had been wondering how on earth skis turned parallel, it seemed like it would involve impossible stresses on my knees and ankles to pull two skis around together while both bore my weight. But no. The mechanism is, essentially, to have so much weight on the downhill-side ski (or when turning, the ski that is about to be downhill-side) that the uphill ski can just be yanked around smoothly; thus, the exercise later in the week of stomping my uphill ski in the snow to check how little weight it was bearing. So that was pleasing, considering that A described it as something that was very hard to predict, taking some skiers a few days and some years.
Thursday was another fine day of skiing and gradual improvements as I linked parallel turns on the flatter part of Friday Flat (which is, in its entirety, very flat by the standards of skiing) and another day of Andrew ceding all his snow time to me. Perhaps, I said on Wednesday, this fever just needs a day to blow itself out, but it wasn’t true. On Thursday morning I was planning that I would try Merritts on Friday. By Thursday evening, Andrew was on a continuous loop of paracetamol and ibuprofen to manage the fever and pain, and we were very worried about packing and getting everything down the mountain. I said, very sadly, that probably on the Friday I should just do my lesson, have a celebratory run down the slope to acknowledge how far I’d come, and call it a week, rather than leave him alone for the day to handle packing and look after A while barely able to walk.
Thursday I also had the frustrating experience of my rental skis disappearing during my after-lesson meal, so I trudged sadly around the rental places sorting it out and believing I’d be out a few hundred dollars in loss fees. I ran into my first day instructor, B, during this, and she enquired how I was doing and we had a nice chat in the midst of my frustration, and in the end the rental place told me that they usually recover the skis and, honestly, probably wouldn’t bill me if they didn’t. But it was annoying all the same, not least for costing me an hour of skiing while I sorted out replacements.