Piste again

nice but cold

I don’t want to brag, but: my actual human eyeballs were here looking at this.

What time would you usually be happy to get out of bed at the weekend, at the earliest? Imagine getting up an hour and a half earlier than that every day. Imagine then putting on two coats, and then wrapping bubblewrap around both legs.   Then, you put on your warmest slippers, wrap your lower legs in a layer of clingfilm, and then ratchet several metal clamps around each foot and ankle. Then you go and sit in a walk-in restaurant freezer and start pedalling on a stationary bike until you start to sweat despite the cold chilling your face and hands. And then you are allowed to play the excellent video game Driver for the rest of the day – as long as you keep up your pedalling. If you’ve never been skiing before, now you can imagine what it’s like.

I’ve just returned from a week skiing in Austria, and this previous paragraph should in no way be taken to mean that I didn’t have a fantastic time; I love skiing and I think it’s a wonderful, albeit surreal, way to spend your time. But now that I’m back and have recovered from the intense brain-squelchiness of the last few days,  it’s the surrealness of the whole activity which is making me worry. The state of mental mashed-potatofication that it puts you into is the first issue: there is no way to avoid the fact that skiing is totally knackering,  whether that’s because you  (like me) get up early every day and spend the entire day pelting down the mountains until the pistes close for the evening, or because you get up pleasantly late with the faint hum of a hangover in your bones and do a few happy runs up and down the slopes while consuming litres of alcohol which you then garnish with gallons more once you finish for the day. Either way, by 9pm you feel so tired and empty-headed that all you can do is shovel delicious food into your face and then fall into bed like a slow – motion video of a tower block being demolished. So do people love doing it as a holiday activity because it’s partly nihilism, a way to exhaust and intoxicate yourself into a warm stupor so that there is no room left for thoughts of work, stress or loneliness? Is it escapism where the game is getting the curve and speed right down the slope, and the ‘win’ sequence at the end of the game is your night in the bar with a few drinks, celebratory and silly like Mario dancing around with the Toads after you beat Bowser?? Maybe not for everyone, but possibly for some, and certainly for me.

And I’m also worried because isn’t skiing maybe one of the weirdest types of torture human beings voluntarily self-administer? If you’ve never done it before, please recall the first paragraph and consider that that is just a fraction of how unpleasant skiing is in almost every way beyond the few fun bits. The hard plastic boots abrade and pummel your feet and legs into a dreadful,  bruised and swollen state. You fall down a low – friction slope with your legs mechanically attached to large blades, each of which might at any moment go in an insane direction opposite to the rest of your body and send you whamming to the floor, possibly with your crotch ripped in twain. In between the moments of actual skiing, you have to remove the skis and carry these heavy chunks of plastic and sharpened metal on your shoulder as you walk slowly to or from places, with your feet in the aforementioned tiny coffins. And fundamentally everyone is at the top of a mountain range where big trucks have combed the snow into smooth paths which have then been graded according to how bloody difficult they are to travel without injuring yourself. You simultaneously freeze to death and acquire weird, intense sunburn on your face. Unless it is not a sunny day, in which case the flat grey light makes every contour of the surroundings look like a homogeneous white nothingness where it’s impossible to know the steepness of the slope until you are plummeting down it – that is, as long as it isn’t actually snowing that day, in which case there’s really no point in opening your eyes at all. Yes, the fun parts are fun, but the non-fun parts are so very non-fun that it seems like nothing but a deeply unsexy version of sadomasochism. Thinking of it in relative scale, imagine if people could only go to the cinema if they wore pants made of sandpaper to, during and from the event. I’m not sure many would regularly pop out to catch a flick. Skiing is terrific but good god it’s uncomfortable. Maybe not for everyone, but possibly for some, and certainly for me.

And finally, mainly, it worries me that life is maybe worse than we acknowledge if one of the only ways to make it worth living is to do all this for a huge amount of money once a year. How depressed must we be if we feel the need to do something as frenzied, as demanding and as boy-howdy-crazy as this and will pay wads of cash to do so? In older times we would go wild on the odd beach trip or decadent ball, but I can’t think of an equivalent to skiing, in terms of the energy and funds required, from a time before the 1910s. Do we do this because our usual weeks are so unbearable that it takes a week of adrenaline, jaw-dropping landscapes, barrelloads of alcohol and fistfuls of money to provide an adequate counter to that? Perhaps I am being extreme, but it’s impossible to deny that this is also extreme behaviour. I wonder what it does mean, and whether happier people generally wouldn’t feel such a need for these insane and dangerous outlets. Does the elaborateness of your holiday time reflect the intensity of unhappiness in your non-holiday time? Maybe not for everyone…

Rose T