Wow! After more than seven long hours of driving and spending our first night in Jindabyne, we arrived bright and early in Perisher, otherwise known as “the snow”.
As I looked around soaking it up, I felt like I’d landed in a huge tub of cheap, whiter-than-white, vanilla ice cream. You know the stuff that’s pure white and not one of the better, creamy vanilla ice creams. The snow was deliciously thick and the skiers out on the slopes looked like those miniature figures you stick on top of birthday cakes. All we were missing was the candles, a match and Happy Birthday!
The weather wasn’t the best on our first morning. It had rained a lot the day before and the mountain was shrouded in mist. You couldn’t even see mid-station, let alone the summit. Visibility is a good thing when you’re skiing. By midday, the mist had lifted clearing the way for azure blue skies, which we enjoyed for the rest of the week. It was serious beach weather and all that was missing was the water. However, despite the balmy sunshine, it was still only 6-8°C out there and definitely NOT bikini weather…even for our daughter!!
While our kids went straight to ski school and my husband headed out to the slopes as soon as he could get the rest of us organised, I’d booked an adaptive ski lesson at 11.30 and had a bit of a wait. I am a member of the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association and I receive lift tickets and ski instruction half-price. We also received some much appreciated financial assistance under the Flexi-Rest program.
I was stoked to book a lesson in with Tom, my ski instructor from last year. Tom is a specially-trained, adaptive ski instructor. He’s mean on two skis but I’ve heard that he’s also a legend in a sit chair. While it’s an achievement to be able to ski at this level, it is such an inspiration to see someone use their physical strength and expertise for good and to help people who are experiencing a few extra challenges, achieve their dream of skiing. This not only takes exceptional skiing ability but also a detailed understanding of the subtleties of so many different disabilities, treating people with respect and knowing when and how to encourage while bearing real and potentially risky limitations in mind. I was going to say that this is a gift, a talent but it’s no doubt taken a lot of hard work, a good set of listening ears and a real passion and empathy for helping people with disabilities to reach their potential.
I can’t tell you what this has meant to me and our family. It really is a terrible thing when you can’t go on a family holiday and do things together. That one member of the family is shut out and excluded when with a bit of patient, qualified assistance, they could be taking part. While I always appreciate a bit of “me-time” and having a break, it’s quite something else to be shut out of family activities. Through Tom’s help, the bird was set free from her cage and truly able to soar!!
Last year, Tom actually skied backwards down the mountain for me. That’s right. Tom skied backwards down the mountain so I could ski forwards feeling safe yet encouraged. This was much the same way as you see a parent encourage their toddler to walk beyond their first few tentative steps. How many people can say that anyone’s done that for them? Not many, I’m sure!! But Tom did that for me. Being a ski instructor, skiing backwards down a mountain wasn’t a big deal for him but it made a huge difference to a completely freaked out, panic-stricken me. There I was gobsmacked, perched on the very edge of the world holding my breath as I looked down, down, down. Perisher Village had shrunk into nothing more than a handful of dots. It was such a long, long way down and I was held in the very grip of fear. Indeed, I was frozen to the spot until I fell over. As much as I wanted a skidoo to come to my rescue, Tom went backwards down the steepest part at the top of the mountain holding my hands to encourage me down. I’m surprised that he wasn’t needing to dangle chocolate in front of me to lure me down, I was that frightened. At the same time, I desperately wanted to pull off this challenge. It had been in the pipeline for an entire year and I wanted to ski down this blasted mountain and turn my personal mountain around. I wanted to ring that victory bell!!!!
So having reached the bottom of the mountain, you can understand why Tom is my hero and has earned my respect. Oh please! I’m not some shameless, gushing cougar. No, I’m a skier! Tom and I discuss life, philosophy, writing, books and of course skiing while we’re out on the slopes. You do get to have a bit of a chat while you’re on the magic carpet. It takes awhile to crank you up even a small slope.
So there I was (along with Geoff who wanted to see how I went) a year later meeting Tom for my lesson on day 1. It was great to catch up but at the same time, I was apprehensive. How was I going to go after getting through pneumonia, a flare up of my auto-immune disease (which attacks and destroys my muscles by the way) and chemo? This savage trifecta might have knocked me down and tried its best to wipe me out but I’d got up again. Not just on my own strength but because effective treatment is available and also through the power of prayer. God wasn’t sleeping on the job either.
When it came to getting back onto the snow again, that’s where having a qualified instructor really made a difference. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have known quite how to get myself back onto the snow. However, Tom had me moving my legs back and forwards to get used to gliding and we did a few other bits and pieces and my ski legs almost came straight back to me. I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat amazed.
In no time at all, I was back up on the magic carpet and we were both seriously impressed. I had pretty much picked up where I’d left off last time. I was fairly smooth aside from some serious jolts and wobbles getting on the magic carpet. We did some snowploughs, turns and once again he drew the `S’ in the snow with his pole to illustrate turning. It all went so well…almost uneventful, which was pretty hard to believe after everything I’d been through. Last year, Tom even had to remind me to breathe on my first couple of days. Talk about progress!
It turned out that Tom was going to be away for a few days and so I’d be having some different instructors. I was initially very wary because Tom knew me so well and I hate having to explain my issues over and over again. Tom had also been quite literally my tower of strength last year. I am quite tall and when I fall over, it can be quite difficult for me to get myself up again even on land let alone on slippery skis in the snow. I knew Tom could do that. It really helps when you know someone knows you in this way and can help you.
Yet, while Tom and I are great mates, it was good for me to go with the other instructors because they each brought something new or emphasized a different element and so I developed quite a lot of depth to my skiing. It also meant that I came to rely more on my own strength and appreciate that it was me and not just Tom that was bringing about my success. I was practicing for an hour every day in addition to my lesson so I’d made quite a commitment to improving my skiing and was working as hard as I could. While practice might make perfect and it is tempting to try to get value for your ski pass, I do have a “smaller engine” and I really had to pace myself to get through the day. Two hours of skiing for me was my limit.
While my first day of skiing went exceptionally well, I hit an unexpected snag. Someone took my skis. Everyone stacks their skis on the racks provided and given that it’s mostly hired gear, you can understand people getting their skis mixed up. However, I had been using Geoff’s own poles and these were clearly labelled in not one but three places. At first, we spotted a pair of similar skis near where I’d left mine and thought there had been a mix up. Night skiing was on so people were still hanging around at the end of the day waiting to go out again so there were still quite a lot of skis out there. Soon those skis had been claimed and things were looking bad. Geoff rang through to the ski hire company and fortunately, someone had dropped my skis back to a ski hire place in Jindabyne. It turned out their skis were a different colour to mine on a different rack so you’ve really got to wonder what they were thinking. There I was with all sorts of memory issues from chemo brain yet someone else mixed their skis up and took mine!! You could say it takes brains.
That night, Geoff logged in and check out our ski stats. While my altitude metres were pretty woeful and that included my trip up to mid station as a walker to get my hot chocolate, I did actually score the most lift rides for the day. That’s the advantage of taking the magic carpet. It’s short and sweet.
As pleased as I was with my progress, the mountain was still looming ahead. How would I work up the courage to get down the mountain again?
I still didn’t know.
Stayed tuned for further installments!