Monday, 30 April 2012

Up The Slopes

In general I'm not a very sporty person.  At school I was always one of those people who got picked last for any team game, whether netball or hockey, and even then it was normally to make up the number or because my friends felt sorry for me.  I didn't use to mind.  My height was never sufficient for any sport involving throwing a ball into a hoop.  Also I actually enjoyed being a fielder in hockey, well away from being attacked by those lethal hockey sticks wielded by high spirited school girls.  I did get into squash at one point, but after a while I couldn't see the point or the fun in hitting a small rubber ball against the wall over and over again.  Perhaps the sport is best played with a partner, but then you'd have to play for points and losing is not something I take kindly to.  So, for exercise these days, I content myself with swimming a few times a week.  It's solitary, stress free and a great opportunity to indulge in uninterrupted day dreaming.

There is however, one sport that I truly enjoy, perhaps because it's not one where I could just go off and do whenever the desire strikes me.  And that is, skiing.  For the past decade, downhill skiing, a sport that can only be done in winter and involves a trip to a mountain preferably with plenty of snow on it, has been an annual getaway that I look forward to with uncharacteristic excitement.  Don't get me wrong.  When it comes to skill, I'm only a so-so skier who can now just about do the blue and red runs without getting my skis tangled or tumbling headlong down the slopes.  Moreover, after a few days, skiing really kills my knees and often leave my legs and feet swollen and sore.  And if snow conditions are not good, or my skiing style is on an off-day, it's not rare that I come home from the holiday more exhausted than ever, not to mention covered in bruises and aches and pains.
So, what is it about skiing that I enjoy, apart from the fact that snow and winter sports are not something we could enjoy in this tropical country of ours?  Especially seeing very few of my friends and colleagues greet my proposal for a skiing trip with a modicum of enthusiasm.  It's too cold up on the mountain, says one.  Sliding down a mountain at great speed sounds scary, protests the other.  Another, who has tried it, doesn't like it.  She had a problem with lifting her buttocks off the ground every time she fell down.

Indeed, for the newbie still trying to find her balance and getting used to walking around in big heavy boots, there really is no fun or joy in the sport.  During my first few days of trying to learn to ski, I spent more time on the ground than standing up on the skis, let alone doing zigzags on the snow.  As you lie sprawled face down on the flattest part of the mountain with a mouthful of snow, while little three year whizz by you effortlessly like penguins on skis, normally this is the point when you curse with pain, humiliation and frustration not to mention sheer exhaustion and wonder why, at your age you bother to waste so much time and energy on such a silly sport that you will never be very good at.

In a way, this is precisely the reason why I take to this sport where others, such as the genteel golf and the gentle yoga, leave me cold.  Skiing has all the elements that appeal to my somewhat masochistic and solipsistic side.  This is one sport that doesn't involve scoring, competing with others or winning.  But it does require you to conquer your fear, overcome your frustrations and to put up with never ending tumbles and constant falling flat on your behind.  Any sane adult with better things to do would most likely laugh it off as an activity best mastered when young and sensibly work on their après ski drinking skills. A holiday, especially to far off lands, should best be enjoyed stress and bruise-free.

Skiing is hardwork.  Not just in terms of planning where and which mountain in the world to go to, but in the whole process of getting ready to ski.  After piling three layers of clothes under your thick ski jacket, putting your wooly hat, warm neck muffler, gloves and ski goggles on, the time comes for the most tiring part of the sport:  putting on the ski boots.  Heavy, chunky Robocop kind of boots that are impossible to put on without much straining and struggling as your feet need to be coaxed into them so snugly there should be very little wiggle room for the toes and ankles.  An effort beneath all the thick clothings that is already burning up your precious breakfast calories.  You're exhausted even before you're anywhere near the mountain slopes.

Then comes the carrying of your heavy skis, while tottering around on your unwieldy ski boots, to the chairlift or the gondola that takes you to the top of the mountain.  An experience not for the faint hearted nor those suffering from  vertigo.  Swaying about in the air with your feet weighed down by boots and skis with the snowy slopes beneath you as you make your way to the top however, you feel excitement creeping up.  And by the time you slide off the chair at the top of your slope with the skis beneath your feet, the heaviness and the exhaustion is gone.  Instead there's only anticipation.

And when the skis take you riding down the powdery snow with the breathtaking mountain peaks around you, while above nothing but an endless bright cerulean sky like in some picture postcard, and in your ears only the sound of the wind and the swishing and scraping of snow beneath the bottom of your skis, then you feel nothing but joy and exhilaration.  Because there's only just you and the snowy mountain.

(Desi Anwar:  First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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