Snow boarding. When we arrived in Cervinia 2 weeks ago it was already dark and 11 o’clock at night. I couldn’t see the mountain, but the town was covered in snow and I was thrilled. We got to the flat and started unpacking while SF (Simone Ferradini) started throwing together a quick dinner.
The place was small but it was perfect with its little fire place and open plan kitchen and living area. There were two balconies with big glass doors opening out onto them, giving you an amazing full view of the snow covered mountain during the day. The two bedrooms, one with a double bed and another a bunk bed, were cosy and warm with their heaters and carpet covered walls. They both had beautiful shutter windows overlooking the snowy forest at the back.
Having gone from Cape Town (sea level) to Florence (140 ft above sea level) and then to Cervinia (6581 ft above sea level), my head was spinning slightly so my sleep that night was restless. Luckily I had some Oscar Peterson to calm me down and sooth me to sleep.
The next morning we got up at 7 o’clock. After making breakfast and getting me geared up for snowboarding, we set off. I was using SF’s snowboard and boots ( which was two sizes to big for me but I didn’t have the heart to tell him, he seemed very anxious to get on the mountain).
I only snowboarded once before in my life 7 years ago, and my sister informed me that even then I wasn’t any good. But I thought it would be the same concept as riding a bike, it will come back to me. Well it didn’t.
When we got off our first lift at the main central of the mountain, there was a mini slope for beginners and children. SF had been giving me skeptical looks and nervously suggested that I first try the mini slope before attempting the bigger slopes with him and Camilla.
So eager to show them my skills I strapped my boots on my snowboard and headed for the slope. In seconds I was all over the place and chaos unfolded in my wake. I nearly knocked a three year old right out of his mini ski’s before he neatly dodged out the way, glaring after me. I body slammed straight into an instructor who neatly caught me. My hero I thought. But instead of getting me off the slope, seeing as I was clearly hazardous, he gave me a wicked grin and a little push back down the slope. So I glamorously zig-zagged all the way to the bottom were I came to a very sudden and rather painful stop. As I fell I could hear a chorus of “Oooh”‘s rising behind me. Embarrassed and bruised I lifted my face from the snow to see if I caused any casualties. The whole slope had frozen and were staring at me with utter disbelief, others with sympathy and some were just having a good hard laugh. I got a few glares as well from mothers mostly, and I vaguely remember swearing all the way down.
At the very top stood SF and Camilla. Camilla had both hands over her mouth revealing only two large eyes, and SF had one hand on his hip and the other was on his head, eyebrows raised and smiling at the few people looking at him, having connected them to me. I inelegantly rolled to my back and threw my head back in the snow, closing my eyes praying for an avalanche or some other disaster bigger than mine. I crawled snowboard and all onto this band thing at the side of the slope that takes people back up the slope. It was the worst kind of walk of shame I have experienced up to date. The band was moving painfully slowly making it impossible to run away from all the eyes bearing down on me. So putting on a brave face I smiled and nodded to every stare I came into contact with. When I reached the top of the slope SF smiled sympathetically and suggested a few lessons before I try anything bigger.
SF and Camilla skied down but I hang around a bit, having a caffé and marveling at the view, before I took the lifts down again. By the time I got back down it was almost time for my lesson so I hung around at the beginners area watching everyone else embarrass themselves. It was great.
When my instructor arrived I was delighted! He looked like a SA surfer in snowboarding gear. He was super tanned with dark blond hair sticking out from under a pink bandana, mirror sunglasses and a friendly smile. His name was Paolo and I immediately liked him. We started our lesson and he would heartily laugh when I fall, slapping his knees, making me laugh too. But he would also fiercely praise my good runs, making me feel like a champion.
At on stage I got a little fed up with falling so often and so hard that I lay in the snow, having a semi tantrum kicking up snow, cursing myself. Paolo only patted me on my shoulder and said that I was not falling so much because of clumsiness but because I was fearless. With his limited English vocabulary he probably didn’t know what he was talking about but I didn’t feel like correcting him. He then carried on explaining that I have accomplished in one day what takes most weeks to learn. Of course they didn’t fall as much as I did because they were more careful but it took them much longer to learn as well. Basking in the praise I felt much better by the end of the conversation so I got back up and continued.
I was boiling so I peeled of layer after layer of clothing. I ended up with only my big padded pants (which were needed), a black tank top, my hair in a rough bun on top of my head and my aviators perching on my nose, sweating like a pig. I drew a few comments but I was too busy trying not to fall that I didn’t pay them any attention. At one stage Paolo shouted something in Italian at them and they were quiet. He himself was wearing only a T-shirt seeing he had been running after me the whole time like a nervous dad running after a toddler taking his first steps. I had a proper sunburn at the end of the lesson and his absurd tan made a bit more sense then. With a high five and a few last jokes we parted ways. I walked a few yards and collapsed in the snow. I lay there in the snow for a while staring at the mountain while waiting for the others to finish their slope. I met up with them for a pizza and a cola before we headed back home.
The next morning we went through the same routine but this time we hired me some boots that actually fit and it made a big difference.
SF, having watched only a portion of my lesson the previous day, deemed me ready to do a slope with them. If my memory serves me right it was a red slope, the second most difficult slope after the black one. Me not knowing this at the time felt fairly confident. Off we went and everything started off alright but it only got worse. I had about 3 really bad falls. One had my nose bleeding a little, another had me seeing stars but the last one was the worst. I was coming down a slope which had a dip at the end so you had to build up good speed to make it out this dip. Just as I was going really fast I slightly shifted my balance to the front because I was getting a cramp in my back calve. Just like that I lost my balance, brought my board into backside to attempt to break but instead the front of my board hooked snow and without being given a chance to register that I was falling, I was out. I couldn’t breath, seeing that the wind was knocked right out of me, and as I shifted to my back I couldn’t focus on a thing. Luckily SF and Cami weren’t there to witness my epic fall but instead I had a group of strangers huddling around me, making unnecessary fuss. They were speaking all kinds of languages above be but none of them were English. Just my luck.
I was trying to get my breath back to tell them to f*#k off (seeing that it is universally understood) when Paolo’s head appeared above me through the clutter of faces. He burst out laughing when he saw it was me, then ushered the crowd away, telling everyone that I was fine. With the people gone it gave me space to get up. Paolo helped me up with a grin that only deepened when I scowled at him. Suppressing laughter he asked me if I was okay and what had happened. I told him if I had implants they would be burst by now and I might have broken a few ribs. He laughed and poked at me, asking were it hurt while I grumpily slapped at his hands.
As he dragged me the last way down, I explained how my slope went and he never lost his cheeky grin. When we reached the bottom he had a lesson to give so I went to go pass out in the snow once again for a power nap. I was woken by Paolo roughly nudging me with his foot, telling me to get back on my board and do a few rounds at the beginners slope otherwise I’ll regret it tomorrow. Bitching and moaning I did a few rounds. The worst part were coming back up on the band. You had to stand in one uncomfortable position all the way up while your whole body cramps up and the band moving painstakingly slowly.
In the end I took my board, went to one of the restaurants and had a pizza and a glass of wine but I had a grin on my face. It had been a good day.