First-Time Skiing In Falls Creek

08 Sep 2015

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Skiing – bah! It’s not for me. It’s posh and elitist and requires a tonne of equipment, and hours spent putting on special, ugly puffy clothes that don’t really fit. You are then given heavy, long things that you attach to boots and then they put you in a chair that takes you up a cold mountain. Then you are sort of tipped out of your chair and whoosh!

It’s absurd. People die doing it. Or they kill others. Or they get injured. Or they get lost.

It also costs a fortune and much of the time – in the beginning at least – you are on your butt, or on your way to being on your butt, and in the children’s nursery run, with calves that ache and a frozen hand due to a missing glove.

Which is why for years I wasn’t even remotely tempted to try it. But this year Australian slopes have enjoyed excellent snowfall and snow-lovers are talking about what a great season it is, so I decide to check out Falls Creek, with good runs for beginners, in Victoria’s picturesque high country.

I fly from Sydney to Albury (a little over an hour) and stop at the Atura in Albury for a big breakfast before meeting our guide, Heath Fallon, for a lift up the mountains. Fallon runs a local bus service, school tours and private shuttle services up the mountains.

Kitted out

There are seven of us on this ski trip. We troop into the ski rental place to get fitted up. There’s a lot of gear: jacket, pants with a waist that goes up to chest-height, helmet, goggles, gloves, apres-ski boots and then the dreaded ski boots – blocks of plastic that corset from the shins down.

If you’ve never worn them, they feel like this: you owe the mafia don $1 million and can’t pay up, so he’s made you these boots to wear in the Yarra.

Writer Brigid Delaney gets fitted out for ski gear.

So, yes, they are heavy. When you try and walk in the slippery ice and snow, you won’t know how – so you will stand there frozen, actually literally frozen until someone comes up to you, asks if it’s your first time in the snow and tells you how to walk (heel first, digging your feet into the snow).

Help is also required entering and exiting the chairlift. You stand at the side in a queue with all your stuff (making sure your poles aren’t snagged to bits of yours or someone else’s clothing), then shuffle forward, then shuffle forward, then shuffle forward then – Go! Go! Go!

You have to stand on a line and sit with all your stuff while the chair is moving towards you (from behind) and you just have to trust that you don’t sit too early (or too late) and that you don’t knock out your neighbour’s eye with your ski poles and that you push the bar on the chairlift down so you don’t fall out of the lift at a great height.

An empty ski-lift.

All this before you’ve even 'hit the slopes'. As we glide up in the chairlift, and I feel secure behind the bar – I’m struck by how beautiful the scenery is around me. It’s what the snow-people are calling a 'whiteout'; black stalks of trees, white ground heaped with snow, the snow gums buried, their green-grey tops like shrubbery dusted in ice.

And then there is the silence … the hush has a peculiar, muffled quality, like being in a recording studio with headphones on.

Beginners' slopes

Falls Creek is beginner/intermediate-friendly, with around 80 per cent of the resort catering for snowboarders and skiers in this category. I am heading for the 'nursery' (a hectic patch where three-year-olds wearing fluorescent bibs slide in zigzag lines) and adults – lumpy in their plastic clothes – wobble down the slight decline.

But first – getting off the ski lift. Most people ski off but as I’m carrying my skis, this is not an option. Go! Go! Go! I jump off but I’m not used to walking in these boots, so I am slow and narrowly miss being hit on the back of the head by another chair and people skiing by me. Also one of my gloves flies away in the wind. (It was retrieved and returned to me by what I like to think was a Mr Darcy type but it’s hard to tell as he was wearing goggles and a balaclava.)

I’m here with another beginner skier. We find our instructor, Mark. Like all the instructors here, he is wearing a bright-blue ski jacket, a name badge and town of origin. In my three days on the mountain I am taught by instructors from Germany, Sweden, Falls Creek and the Adelaide Hills.

The first thing Mark teaches us is how to slide on our skis in the snow. It is essentially just standing upright and moving a little bit forward without falling over. The next bit is surprisingly hard. It’s climbing up a hill sideways wearing your skis.

There is a vicious wind on top of the mountain and visibility is poor; the skis are heavy and progress is slow. After spending 10 minutes walking around five metres up a small incline, Mark points to a black blur somewhere in the distance and requests that I slide to that.

By this time, my fellow beginner has retreated into the mountaintop Cloud 9 cafe with excruciating shin pain that is only relieved by removal of the ski boots.

Down a longer run in the white, blurry conditions I become frightened of going too fast and falling over, so yell “Mark! Mark!” like a baby and he skis backwards while holding my hands – sort of like a human brake. It’s kind of awkward (not least for him, as he can’t see where he is going) but we manage to get to the bottom of the hill where we line up with all the children and go up an escalator, which makes me nervous because I still have my skis on and fear they could catch on a part of the escalator and mince my feet.

The escalator is a similar experience to the chairlift – necessary but fraught.


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Sweet relief

Down at the bottom of the mountain I am staying at the QT apartments, which is mercifully very close to the chairlift. It only takes me 25 minutes to walk the 15 metres to my apartment.

But it’s so nice when I get there. The floor of the bathroom is heated and I lie down on it for a very long time. It’s actually better than a bath.

The three-bedroom apartment sleeps six and looks on to the ski fields. It’s spacious, beautifully furnished (with a kitchen if you wish to self-cater) and warm. There’s also a balcony with a whirlpool bath.

I have a different instructor for my next lesson. He is German and not as nice to me as Mark. When I’m sliding down the hill and shout out for him to hold my hands like the other instructor did, he pretends not to hear me.

I am yelling “Help! Help!” as I slide ever faster down the mountain. As I pick up speed, I try to remember stuff ... poles: do I stick them in the snow like a brake? Skis: do I push them together to stop? I turn widely (and wildly) but somehow manage to avoid the group of children. I swerve again, terrified and still screaming before falling heavily on my side.

Skiers take to the slopes.

Bizarrely, I am uninjured. But the spectre of injury is everywhere. People talk of large numbers at the fracture clinic over the weekend, and there are people in red jumpsuits with white crosses darting all over the mountains.

Rest and rewards

The best bit of the skiing lark is apres-ski. It’s so great! If this is the point of skiing, then now I truly understand. The QT apartments feature a spa centre and I enjoy a one-hour massage that focuses on the muscles used in skiing. Then I slip on my 1980s moon boots and head to the restaurant, Bazaar, that forms part of the QT complex.

The hunger! I can’t even remember eating my first course of the buffet. It was starchy, hot and tasty. Then there’s cocktails after dinner at the Stingray bar (also part of the QT) where they mix a very good Old Fashioned and also a range of delicious, hot brandies and boozy coffees. But I don’t linger long. It’s 8.30pm and I’m wiped out.

But it’s a good tired. I have fallen over. I have skied into children. I got on and off the ski lift four times and the elevator six times and have not killed anybody else or myself (yet).

I’m too sore to ski on my last day but what joy to hand back my skis with my bones intact – I had so long assumed that my time on the slopes would end in plaster, that this feels nothing short of miraculous. Plus, on the balcony of my apartment is a whirlpool bath, so on my last morning I sit in the steaming waters while snowflakes fall around me. I am planning the next trip. I will be back again to test my luck.

This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

This article was written by Brigid Delaney from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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