I was in awe looking up at a snow-covered hill in Pyeongchang, South Korea – the location of the last Winter Olympics. I shivered both from the cold and the anticipation of skiing for the first time. The slopes were packed with people zipping down the white incline in skis and snowboards, doing tricks as they went. At the foot of the slope, novices made the most of any slight elevation and took pictures of every achievement. Everyone was having a great time.
My Korean guide, who was also a ski instructor, gave me a few pointers by showing me some basic stances. “You practise first,” he said and left to go to the peak. There’s only so much fun one can have making shapes with skis and after a while I wanted to try the peak. “What could go wrong?” I said to myself, watching my breath in the air. So I jumped on a chair lift and up I went.
I found my guide at the peak and he encouraged my attempt. I was glad for the approval, the chair lift was incredibly scary. The way down was only about 1 to 2km so I thought, why not? I pointed my ski blades towards the finish line and let gravity and inertia do their thing. And I fell almost immediately.
I realised that getting up from a supine position with skis on was a challenge that resulted in more comical falling over than a classic slapstick movie. The guide decided to help, he held on to the tips of my ski poles (not a euphemism) and, facing me, we slid down the snowy hill. He yelled out instructions to me as we picked up speed but his accent was throwing me off. His ‘A’s, ‘H’s and ‘edge’ – positions of one’s skis while in motion – all sounded exactly the same.
By the time I got it figured out, I was flat on my back. We tried again – we picked up speed, he barked the instructions. “Do an eh,” he yelled. And I yelled back, “What? H? A? What…” and splat. Enunciate damnit, I cursed under my breath. I picked myself up and we tried again. “Okay, now make ehh!” he yelled when we sped up. I tried all the alphabets but fell again. I was getting bruised all over. Stay down, my head screamed after another fall, but I couldn’t. I was in the way of other skiers.
There were moments when I truly thought I had gotten the hang of it, then I’d see my feet in the air and my back would feel the cold ground. My instructor gave up before I did. He was annoyed. “Give me your skis,” he said. He snatched them from me and pointed to the bottom of the hill. “You walk,” he said and quickly skied away.
The bottom of the slope was still a long way off and the wind was picking up the snow. Beautiful, but I couldn’t enjoy it. The cumbersome boots and my sore body made the downhill walk a challenge. It took an eternity before I reached the bottom of the hill. When I found the instructor and got my skis back, he was in a better mood. “Hope that doesn’t stop you from skiing again,” he said. “Nah,” I said, lying.