Downhill From Here

Obertauern in Austria and I’m learning to ski. The paraat Austrian ski instructor is earnestly telling us to “snor-plau, snor-plau” but we’ve been “snor-plauing” for an hour and we only have two days to ski! This won’t do, so I head off for the ski-lift.

“Oy, where are you going?” shouts herr instructor. I point ‘up there.’ “But you can’t even snor-plau!” he exclaims, him being used to things being done as they should be done. He’s right, of course, but there’s the matter of the two days (less this hour we’ve already wasted).

I discover that when you hop off the ski-lift gravity does not take a short break to allow you to get your bearings, so my first descent is backwards standing up for twenty metres, then backwards lying down for a few hundred metres, then various undignified ways until I lose a ski which then gives a bit of traction, so I can dig one boot in the snow and stop.

So I can then retrieve the other ski and get back to the ski-lift and start again.

After a while I work out a good system: Down at full speed at an angle across the slope till I cannon into the deep drift on the side. Then back across the slope to the other side, till ditto. Zig-Zag I go, accumulating more snow with each crash so I look like a huge semi-human snowball. It’s abominable, but it is more fun than snor plau.

Too much snow accumulates on the corduroy trousers, so I decide to try another way: Straight down the slope to dodge the deep drifts.

Well . . .

Whistling along at terminal velocity I notice that there’s nothing to stop one at the bottom (which I haven’t reached till now, having been on my face long before the bottom). Below the ski-lift start, the slope simply ends against a building. Said building houses a below-ground restaurant where people can sit and eat while looking up the slope at eye-level.

Approaching the restaurant window at speed I close my eyes and lie back and hear a smack as my skis go through the grill under the window and protrude right into the restaurant above an occupied table where some sane guests (who can probably snor-plau) are eating. Some of our group, notably Volke – the CEO of Aitch’s company, our host on the trip, whose brother owns the restaurant, which is why we’re here – come up to me and pour gluwein down my throat and laugh at me, refusing to help me up or out of my skis. I’m soaked through my corduroys and cotton shirt under my anorak and my ankles are breaking, but do they care, as they laugh and take pictures?


I hang up my skis when I’m finally freed. Call it a day with limbs intact. One’s constitution can only stand so much fun.

– first-time skiing – corduroy pants, half a lesson, no brakes! –
– Aitch bundled up –


snor-plau – snow plough, I suppose – I never did learn to do it. Even after skiing again in Lesotho: Still no brakes.