If at first you don’t succeed…
It has been two years since we have been on a ‘winter sports’ holiday. In 2015 we went to Passe Tonale in Italy to snowboard. It was a nice holiday but I also remember I was grieving the death of my father who had passed away only a few months before. Last year, 2016, we got married and therefore there was no time and money for such a holiday. So it seemed that ‘sliding down a mountain’ was the first thing on the agenda for 2017. If I am being honest, if would not have been my first choice of holiday, however I am relatively keen to try new things and this time I thought I would try my hand at skiing. It is not that I did not enjoy snowboarding but I had always wondered if I would find skiing a little easier. It certainly looked easier from the other side.
Shortly after Christmas we booked a package holiday to Bulgaria – snowboarding for him and skiing for her. Why Bulgaria? Well, the biggest pull was the price. The same holiday package in other places were considerably more expensive. Also we had heard from other people that Bulgaria was an up and coming place for winter sports. So we thought, why not? I did not have much time before the journey to really look at what I was getting into or have the time or finances to invest in a few ski lessons beforehand. I remember that before we actually hit the slopes on our first adventure to Andorra, I was no stranger to boards, boots and bindings. In contrast, I started this Bulgarian adventure, knowing absolutely nothing about Bulgaria (except that it was in the European Union) and knowing nothing about skiing. In the first 24 hours I learnt that Bulgaria is not part of the Eurozone, therefore they keep their own currency (levas) therefore do not deal in Euros and that having the right pair of ski boots can make the difference between a nightmare on the slopes or heaven on the snow.
Yes, you’ve guessed it, I experienced first-hand nightmare on the slopes. Well, I exaggerate, but for the first 48 hours, I was having a pretty miserable time. It occurred to me that if this was a school trip, I would have broken down in tears and would have asked to be sent home. However, I stuck it out, like the grown woman of forty years that I am and made the best of it. I managed to get through three pairs of boots in the time that I was on the slopes. The first day that we went to the ski rental depot was chaos, random queues and no real sense of order. The first pair of boots that I was given, were a very snug fit and my toes hit the end of the boot. I was not sure how they were supposed to fit and the guy giving out the boots did not seem to give me much guidance, so I asked for a bigger pair of boots. This gave me more room to wriggle my toes but by the time I had joined a then forty minute queue for the gondola to the slopes, I noticed that the shin on my right was starting to ache in an uncomfortable way. My husband correctly asked me to go back and change the boots but I was looking at the ever lengthening gondola queue and thinking of the lesson that we were going to be late for and decided that I would stick it out and adjust the strapping when we got to the lesson meeting point. In retrospect, that was a mistake. I was late for my lesson anyway and by the time I had reached the top both shins were in agony and I found it difficult to move in the skis because of the pain of my legs in the ski boots. The first lesson was a disaster and I am sure my ski instructor thought that I was unteachable. At the end of the day, I hobbled back to the gondola, in so much pain that I thought I would cry but I decided that there were more worthy causes to cry about. I changed my boots for a smaller pair but with better padding in the shin area. When I got back to the hotel, removal of my ski socks, revealed bruised and swollen shins (and remember there is not much subcutaneous tissue in that area). I felt a bit miffed but consoled myself that at least all my limbs were intact.
The second day only marginally better. I could move better in my new boots. I learned to snow plough and turn, however we went up a training slope and on three occasions while trying to ski down, I lost control and crashed into the netting at the edge of the slope. On the last two occasions, I twisted my right ankle, not badly but enough to mean that trying to walk was painful and there was no way I was going to try and ski again. I had also hit my head on the last fall and was feeling rather battered, so I ended up sitting out the last hour of the lesson and watching the others ski down the slope with less drama. It was depressing and demoralising. However, I consoled myself that I was alive and healthy and very privileged to enjoy the sunshine and mountain air. I busied myself with enjoying the beauty and splendour of my surroundings.
Day three, was the best day. My ankle was back to normal after an early night. I managed to use the pom/button/drag lift without any problem at all (it is much easier that using it with a snowboard). I skied down the training slope without any mishap. In the afternoon, our instructor took us down the 7km ski road. I did this with no problem at all, no falls and improved my ability to turn. I was the slowest in the group but I got to the end without any falls. I was so proud of myself.
I did hobble back to the ski depot and noticed that there was a twinging in both my big toes. This twinge escalated to a full on masterpiece of pain by the time I was ready for bed. The pain was so bad that I felt nauseous and I had to stop myself from screaming at my husband (he had done nothing wrong, it was just an option for relieving the pain, which I did not take!). I took a few ibuprofen tablets instead but this only brought the pain down to a dull ache (and even now while I was typing this at the end of the holiday, the dull ache is still present). I did not know what was happening to me and I could not sleep, so I went to my good old friend Google and discovered that I likely had (and still have) something referred to as ‘skier’s toe’ which is caused by the big toe hitting the front of the ski boot if the boots are too big or getting squashed if the boots are too small. Normally this is associated with a subungual haematoma (blood under the nail bed). I then suddenly remembered that the first time I went snowboarding, I came back with the same thing but I do not recall it being so painful. I remember having to wear nail varnish for about six months because I did not like the new look of my toes! Anyway, I digress. I decided that I needed to rest, no more skiing for at least one day. I was achy and tired and decided that enough was enough.
On the fifth day, I got another pair of boots, bigger with padding. They fitted like a dream.
Against my better judgement, my husband convinced me to try them out on the slopes, even though I had planned to rest my feet for another day. I had missed my lesson and so I decided to use the ski road to practice my turns. I did this successfully, only one fall and my feet felt fabulous. After lunch I did the same run again, no falls but my toes began to ache little more. However, I did feel a sense of achievement. I did feel that there was hope for me!
On the sixth day I woke up and my feet said ‘NO’. I decided that I really ought to listen to them. Instead, treated myself to a lie in and made my way leisurely to the slopes. I took the ski lift with my husband to one of the slopes with a wooden cross at the top. I had been hearing all week that all the other skiers in our hotel had been there and touched the cross. So I thought I had better do the same. This was perhaps the best day of the holiday because for once I was not worrying about falling over or sliding inadvertently over a precipice. The view was amazing and of course I got to touch the cross.
So that is the end of my little foray into skiing – for now. Despite my little hiccups and dramas and the fact that I was essentially in constant pain since I put on those first ski boots – the actual act of skiing was enjoyable to me. When I was not worrying about my feet or falling over, gliding on the snow in the beautiful scenery, was actually quite nice!
The verdict: I will not be strapping my feet to a snowboard again but I might attempt to take ski lessons during this year, with correctly fitting boots, to find out if it really is the winter sport for me.