Meltdown on the ski slopes

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

We went skiing in the French Alps, but it became full of drama when I lost my nerve on the second day

On the second day of our skiing trip to the French Alps, I lost my nerve.

On the fourth, I had a meltdown, quarrelled with H in public, cried, and stomped back to the hotel by myself.

Looking back, the drama was not unexpected.

I had agreed to go skiing with H last month, but somewhat grudgingly.

We were spending two weeks with his daughter, A, who lives in Wales with her mother and is now nine.

For the past few years, our holidays with A have been leisurely. We would rent a cottage in the country and drive around to catch the sights.

This time, we thought we'd do something different.

Let's go to Paris, I said, visualising lazy days in a big city drifting from restaurant to shop. My idea of a perfect holiday.

Let's go skiing, H said instead. You will both get to try something new, it will be fun and you will love it, he promised.

I doubt it, I said. I've never done it before, I've got weak knees and skiing is hard. I'll probably break a leg and blame you forever for it.

But I gave in.

For one thing, he was looking forward to a memorable time with A.

He also loves skiing.

And, I thought, I really should fulfil my wifely duties and be agreeable to my husband once in a while.

Friends who have skied in France spoke highly of it, so we booked a hotel in Les Deux Alpes there.

We spent the first few days in Wales as A still had school.

On a bright Sunday morning, we drove to Bristol airport and flew to Geneva, where a car took us on the 21/2-hour journey to Les Deux Alpes.

We arrived in the evening, had dinner and went to bed feeling rather excited. Skiing, here we come.

We were told to assemble at 9.30am. What I didn't realise was how long it would take to get ready.

It was tedious putting on layers of clothing (I wore five) as well as the thick sunscreen we had been advised to wear.

Next came the shoes. We headed to the shoe locker room, where I discovered that ski boots are massive things weighing like 5kg that come with a complicated buckling system.

Other guests were already dressed and waiting for the bus that would take us to the ski lifts. I started to panic.

I managed to jam my feet into the boots and buckle up. Tottering on them, I rushed to another area to get my skis.

I was finally ready. And I looked a sight.

With my white, sunscreened face, big helmet, sunglasses, chunky boots, bulky jacket and ski trousers, I looked a cross between a Japanese Kabuki dancer and a player from an American football team - nothing at all like the images of sexy female skiers I'd seen on the Internet.

I was in the beginners group, while H went off with more advanced skiers and A was with other kids getting ski lessons.

The day turned out surprisingly well.

It was sunny, the lift ride up was fun and the mountains were beautiful.

Our teacher, Helene, gathered us at the bottom of the beginners' bunny slope and taught us basic moves. She said I had "good posture" and, unlike another beginner, was "not reckless". (I think she meant I was going very slowly.)

Next, she made us go mid-way up the bunny hill by holding onto a fast-moving tow rope at the side of the slope.

The third time I went onto the rope, I lost my grip and fell, legs entangled with my skis.

Skiers on the rope were heading towards me but I couldn't get up. My ankles hurt. My heart was thumping and I thought I was going to be trampled on.

I managed to crawl to safer ground, where Helene pulled me up.

She forced me to go onto the rope again. I made it up the hill and skied down. It was a good day.

Day two was bad.

The temperature plunged to -15 deg C and the ground looked icy.

When we got off the ski lift, Helene told us to ski down the bunny slope.

I looked around me and was suddenly frozen with fear.

Although I could do it the day before, the slope looked perilously steep now. Skiers and snowboarders were swishing around me. My head swirled with thoughts of Michael Schumacher, head injuries, broken bones, nasty tow ropes.

I can't do it, I told her. I just can't.

I sat out the session in a restaurant.

On day three, Helene said I couldn't rejoin the group as they had advanced too far ahead. H said he'd teach me instead.

We spent a few hours on the slopes. He was a stern teacher and stressed me out, but I made progress.

On day four, I woke up feeling bruised. When we alighted from the bus near the lift station, my knees felt like they were on fire.

I told him I couldn't go on, but he brushed it aside and lectured me about not giving up, which made me angry.

The excitement and exhaustion of the trip came crashing down on me. I started to cry, said some horrid things to him and stomped (hobbled) back to the hotel, while he went ahead.

We made up later that day (my knees miraculously recovered once I got to the hotel). He promised not to pressure me again.

On day five, I rested while father and daughter went off with their groups.

On day six, our last skiing day, H wanted the three of us to go up the mountain together.

"Let's ski as a family," he said.

I liked the idea and we took the lift up, but it was too windy and icy and we had to head down.

We made it safely out of Les Deux Alpes, took a plane back to Bristol and said goodbye to A there.

When I look back on the trip, I remember my fear on the slopes.

Mostly, though, I remember H being happy because we did something different, and we did it as a family. In the end, that was what really mattered.

We told A we'd go skiing again next year. Strangely, I'm not dreading it.

sumiko@sph.com.sg

Follow Sumiko Tan on Twitter @STsumikotan