Imagine a heavily pregnant giraffe with her legs strapped together, frantically falling downhill with her neck flailing about in the wind. Imagine a baby hippo learning (and failing) to stand up for the very first time. Imagine a large seal trapped on an icy rock, thrashing about, furiously bobbing up and down in a fruitless attempt to get moving, repeatedly slipping sideways and yet getting nowhere.
All of these things are more graceful than me on a snowboard.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about skiing holidays in my lifetime. Every year, dozens if not hundreds of my friends and acquaintances pop off to the slopes for an active holiday full of fun and frolicking in the snow. And every year, they come back gushing about the amazing time they had, regaling stories about gracefully flying down the slopes by day and partying like wild teenagers at night. Their photos all look impossibly glamorous with everyone smiling and having the time of their lives.
Well, I’m calling bullshit.
Having always been slightly jealous of skiers and snowboarders, I recently decided to bite the bullet and head off on a weekend in the snow and learn to snowboard. I had an awesome group of friends with me, lead by the coordinator of my social life and captain of all things awesome, James Frost. Frosty’s the kind of person who knows everyone and fixes everything, so when he suggested I join them on a weekend in the snow, I felt like I was in safe hands. But despite having a brilliant weekend with my friends, all I learned from the seven hour drive each way and two days in the freezing cold was that snowboarding is really, REALLY fucking hard.
Nobody tells you that you realistically need to go through a week of absolute torture before you can be even remotely capable on those graffiti-covered deathtraps. They might look cool but trust me, they are the demon cousins of the skateboard… similar in shape but bigger, faster, nastier and harder to manoeuvre. Oh and plus your legs are essentially glued in so you can’t just hop off in an emergency… you literally ride or die (like in Fast & Furious… except you’re not fast, just furious).
Basically, I spent the entire time either flat on my arse or trying to get off it. And on the rare occasion that I managed to actually stand up, I immediately fell back down with the grace of an epileptic donkey, smacking my head on the ground and finding myself back where I started… flat on my arse.
In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a good idea to spend a couple of hours on a slope before having a beginner’s lesson. Knackered from being bashed around all morning, I was already thoroughly cheesed off and a bit fragile by the time I got to my instructor (who may or may not have been hot… it’s hard to tell under the goggles and several thousand layers of clothing). After failing miserably at most of the preliminary drills, we went back on to the dreaded (easy) slope for an attempt at actually snowboarding down a hill.
I’m not going to lie to you, you could see the top of this slope from the bottom so it wasn’t exactly big. Everest it was not, but it took me and my class forever to get down it. Between falling in to each other, falling on to unwitting civilians and generally struggling at life, we were going nowhere fast. I felt a little more stable whenever I was holding on to the instructor for dear life… so much so that he joked about me just wanting an excuse to hold his hand. Normally, I would have a witty response to this but in my state of despair I wasn’t capable of flirting. I needed to get off the “mountain” quick-sharp, with or without my (potentially) hot instructor.
By lunchtime on the first day I was beaten up and beaten down. I was ready to throw myself on the floor, retreat into the foetal position and sob. As I got to the bottom of the hill I bumped into one of my friends. I must have looked all kinds of pathetic because he just grabbed me and gave me a big hug. Now I’m generally quite an independent person and I’m not a huge fan of physical human contact at the best of times, but in that moment I honestly just wanted him to rock me like a baby, sing me a lullaby and tell me everything would be ok. This is the level of pitifulness we were dealing with here, folks.
Over lunch, I tried to psych myself up to go back out there and keep trying. A few glasses of mulled wine and a pint of lager helped numb the (emotional and physical) pain but I was still visibly shaking and fighting every urge I had to say: “please don’t make me go back there”.
Eventually I plucked up the courage to go back out, despite every fibre of my being urging me to stay at the bar (where I knew I could excel). I decided to take the ski lift to a different slope with my friend who was a decent enough snowboarder. She was happy to just make our way down slowly together and laugh at me whilst I fell over repeatedly. So off we went.
The lift took about ten minutes and with every passing second I could feel the dread coming over me like a thick fog. I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, nor am I the kind of person who makes sensible decisions, but as we got off the lift into what seemed like a blizzard, hundreds if not thousands of metres from the bottom of the slope… I started to think that this was a terrible and potentially dangerous idea.
We drifted along a narrow, flat bit of snow towards the beginning of the slope and despite only being about thirty metres from the lift, I almost slipped off the side of a cliff several times. If my friend had not been there to hold me, I would have been (much like America’s political credibility) gone. So I decided to make what was probably the first rational decision of my adult life. I decided to turn around and go back whence I came, let my friend enjoy the slope on her own and meet her at the bottom.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever sat on a ski lift to go back down but trust me when I say it’s all sorts of humiliating. I spent the entire time pretending to take interest in the trees and clouds above and around me so that I didn’t have to look directly at any of the people using the lift to go up in the right direction. I looked like a demented magpie on speed.
And thus ended my first ever day of snowboarding. I quickly retreated to the safety of the bar where I spent the rest of the afternoon the way god intended our weekends to be enjoyed - over some shots and beer.
As subtle as I’ve been so far, you’ve probably gathered by now that my first attempt at snowboarding did not go smoothly. Skiing is supposedly more suitable for beginners as it’s easier to grasp the basics. So perhaps it was my fault for daring to dream big and go for the snowboard without any prior experience. But in all honesty, I can only assume that having a ski on each leg would merely result in me having more loose limbs to keep track of and ultimately lose control over, so I doubt I would’ve found that any easier.
Since my near-death-experience-on-repeat (I refuse to call it a holiday), I’ve spoken to many people about my stint of suffering in the snow and to my surprise, most people have told me that they’ve never really enjoyed it either… which begs the question:
WHERE THE LIVING FUDGE WERE THESE PEOPLE BEFORE I PUT MYSELF THROUGH THIS UTTER HELL?
Seriously, nobody has ever told me that they had a miserable time on a snow holiday. Nobody speaks about the weeks, months, even years it took them to get good at this ridiculous pastime. It’s like they (and their social media accounts) have had a selective lobotomy to remove any trace of the suffering it took to get to a skill level that makes this activity even remotely enjoyable.
So after falling hard on my head four times in the space of ten minutes, taking out several civilians and small children whilst getting (stumbling, falling) off the ski lift and getting winded (and wounded) half way down the easy slope… my message to you, the general public is this:
Stop perpetuating this lie. Stop pretending that you enjoy skiing holidays when clearly it is a torture device created by the advertising industry in order to boost tourism. It’s expensive, it’s painful and it’s miserable. Stop lying to yourself and stop lying to me, thank you, please.
Despite my new-found hatred for all things alpine, perhaps the title of this article is slightly misleading. It won’t be my last attempt at snowboarding. Not by any means. Like I said before - I don’t shy away from a challenge so I refuse to let a pile of wood, fibreglass and plastic get the better of me. I’m sure I’ll live (or not) to regret this statement but I will definitely be going back. If only to adequately flirt with the (potentially) hot instructor…