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My First Ski (Accident)

whistler Ever since I watched skiers from the longest highest unsupported gondola in the world I have wanted to try it.

I was having the trip of a lifetime with my aunt. We took a coach from our hotel in Vancouver and drove for hours towards Whistler resort. After going past a large lake with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks we began to ascend and the snow started and deepened around the road. Whistler Creekside in the afternoon     whistler-view

On arrival we were greeted by the homely lights of wooden lodges and chalets. At the bottom was a fancy bar where I enjoyed a delicious Earl Grey lemon cocktail, truffle fries and fondue. Maybe this sort of food is part of the reason behind it being named the Number 1 Resort in a ski magazine. Apparently it is pricey though, a keen snowsporter told me it is £70 a day just to ski. 470033_10100541308911379_959251302_o Then we got on the 4 person gondola. We travelled at a standard height to the top of Whistler Peak and I admired the sight of skiers zig-zagging and curving down the slope. It looked so exciting I wanted to hop off and try it. There was a father and son with us. The boy of about 7 had been snowboarding so much that he was already “better than me” the dad said proudly. The boy looked up admiringly. 461643_10100541308786629_541747113_o  458266_10100541307913379_562161844_o

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View from the glass floor of the gondola dangling above a mountain with no supporting post in sight.

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Sky High

Then we carried on to Blackcomb  – the peak opposite, in a 10 person gondola with a glass floor. Skiers and snowboarders joined us, enthusiastic, chatty and exuberant from their alpine adventures. There were fir tree forests but even here there were people off-piste skiing, darting around in the sparser areas. At the highest point the 10 foot trees looked like matchsticks and we could see the whole valley blanketed in snow. The phrase winter wonderland must have been inspired by this. I was quite nervous when we got that high, especially when someone said “I wonder what would happen if we fell now, look, we’re only supported by that wire up there, there isn’t peak2peak-after-a-snowfallanother post for miles”. I imagine I wasn’t the only one who wanted to slap him. You should definitely put it on your to do/bucket list. I’ll never forget the experience.

I wondered whether I would ever get the chance to try snow-sports as most people were already at intermediate stage that I knew or didn’t ski. People said it was risky, cold and expensive. Our holiday will cost more than £1,000 for a week just for the basics. An opportunity came round a few months ago when a new friend, Andy, a doctor working as a G.P. He said that he hadn’t been but wanted to as well. Perfect. So we booked a pricey £175 day course at Castleford Xscape, an indoor slope with real snow, at -5 degrees Celcius. It would be 8 hours and I expected to be quite confident by the end of it, ready to go on to intermediate ones later. fixedthumbnailer

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I was expecting to be fitted for skis and boots but it was every man/woman for themselves. I got the size of my feet but they were too small. I got the next size up but didn’t know how to put mine on, so I thought they didn’t fit. So I finally went back and the assistant thought my foot might have a high arch so gave me another pair which they said weren’t as good. It really wasn’t. It dug into the back of my leg and was quite sore after some hours. I went back and worked out myself how to get the boots on. You had to tear it apart to fit it. It’s even more important to get a good fit with them if you’re a woman – the structure of our knees means we’re more likely to get injuries. Skiis were heavier than they looked. ski-boot_1007324cProfeetInfographicImage Andy was getting frustrated with turns and got the instructor to give him some personalised tuition. The teaching was too general for me too. I was doing turns with snowploughs, which is where you make a pizza slice shape with your skis, the end of the slice being the front of your skis and then go back to parallel skis. Mine were fitted too long and I struggled to stop them crossing, which makes you fall. It was a gentle slope so we didn’t pick up much speed. We copied and were given the occasional tip. Then after a nice lunch around £7 of a burger and chips I had more energy for the beginner/intermediate bit of the lesson. We spent a long time going from half-way up the main slope.

Tricky Turns

It was higher but I still felt safe as although I couldn’t do parallel turns, I could do snowplough ones that slowed me down. We hadn’t been told anything about where your foot should be in the boot. Parallel turns in skiing look easy but they are not for the beginner. Every time one foot would drag and I would do a triangle (snowplough) turn instead. It was getting frustrating. I asked for help but the instructor said I was fine. I didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth. Chillfactore-beginners

Crash Landing

I’d been dreading going up to the top as it was higher than the highest slope I’d launched myself down sledging. Now I was on two tiny sledges attached to each foot and had far less control and surface area. If I fell backwards I might break my neck and that would be it. If I fell on one side I might dislocate something. Fall too hard and I might even break something. But the instructor told us to fall if we were going too fast or turn across the slope. I fell off the pomola (seat for one person on a wire) on the first try and then couldn’t get up on my massive skis. Turned out I was in between sizes so they had fitted skis which were too long and I felt like Pingu ice-skating. When I finally started down the slope I couldn’t see the bottom.

maxresdefault It was terrifying, but what could go wrong? The instructor had said that he wouldn’t have taken us up there unless he was sure we were ready, so we shouldn’t worry. I didn’t believe that. He had a schedule to keep and he was going to carry on regardless. I didn’t feel my turns were developed enough but we were following him in loops so we would be fine…surely. I did two turns and was just relaxing and thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all when one foot wouldn’t turn.

The edge had become wedged in the snow. I jerked my foot to free it. It came free suddenly and turned straight as it did. My other foot spun round with it and I was going straight. I looked at the teacher but his eyes were elsewhere. I’d be ok I thought, I’d turn across the slope. But when I tried to turn my feet in my boots one size too big (I was between sizes there too) they wouldn’t budge and I continued to slide down.

My speed began to snowball and I started screaming at the top of my lungs. My eyes were watering at the blast of icy air, people were blurs and the slope seemed to clear as I hurtled down. I couldn’t turn and in the panic I didn’t know what else I could do. My experience was similar to this video but faster. An instructor later told us that the top speed down there is 35 miles per hour. beginners

Suddenly three quarters of the way down, the instructor appeared and yelled “sit down!”. I was like a rabbit in the headlights so it took me a short moment to process it. But then I imagined breaking my neck as I fell over backwards. Should I roll? Then I might break something too. But before I could do anything the fence zoomed towards me and it was finally flat so I could turn. I braced myself and stiffened my shoulders. I’d hit it on the side to minimise injury. SMASH CRASH THUD THUD. My body was a projectile that collided with the wooden and (thankfully) plastic mesh fence. I hit it on one shoulder, grabbing for the mesh to slow the impact. The force of it rotated me and I hit it on my other shoulder and cut my chin on the plastic, such was the speed. The impact then threw me backwards.

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The staff responded immediately, three of them running in on all sides. One instructor I’d chatted to earlier, a tall guy with black-framed glasses and black spiky hair kindly asked questions. He reminded me of the actor Jeff Goldblum. I said I had a sore neck and started crying at the idea that I might be paralysed just from this. But as I lay on the snow with everyone gathered around I realised that it was an ache not a sharp stabbing pain like a broken bone as someone ran up next to me with a spinal board.

“I’ve just sprained it” I said weakly. Should I test it out or was that too risky? What the hell, I didn’t want to be carried off and create even more of a scene. I sat up suddenly and bent my neck. It was sore but thank goodness, not fractured. The staff gently pushed me back down.

“No sudden movements, we don’t know what your injuries are yet.” “It’s ok” I insisted, “I’ve just sprained it. I can move it fine.” He asked if anything else hurt. “My back”. I said. That ached from the fall. “Could it be broken?” he asked. “No it just aches, I’m fine.”

Andy appeared. “I’m a doctor” he announced and everyone visibly relaxed and looked to him to sort things out. He asked how I was. I tried to get up and this time they allowed it, helped by three staff. My boyfriend appeared. “Are you ok?” “Yes” I whimpered, as Mikhail-Maksimochkin-accident-stretcherAndy and the first-aider helped me to the first-aid room.

The health and safety officer was a young girl with dark eyes and hair scraped back into a small ponytail. She was brusque and dismissive. It was clear that I’d embarrassed them with this accident which required an incident form and a bump note. Andy did tests for broken bones and they were negative. He thought my nose might be broken because it looked bruised but he felt it and it was fine, just dirt from the fence.

The girl wiped the blood off my chin. It bled again but she didn’t notice as she was busy getting my account as briefly as possible. She clearly wanted it over and done with but looked sympathetic as she told me I was the fourth person to hit the fence that month. Andy had to ask for a plaster as blood was slowly pooling on my chin. I’d bit my lip as I crashed and that was stinging a bit. There wasn’t enough blood for it to drip onto my mum’s ski suit luckily. There were only bandages and massive blue plasters in the first-aid box.

The instructor came in as I was giving my statement, apologising. “Why didn’t you sit down?” he asked. He asked if I really needed the plaster. I said they’d had to put it on as my chin wouldn’t stop bleeding. He went out, saying he’d come and see me afterwards. Finally my boyfriend appeared. He said he didn’t want to crowd me. When he’s hurt he doesn’t like too much attention but likes to “get on with it”. The first-aider refused to let me complete the last hour of my lesson so I went upstairs to the cafe in a huff and sat at the window watching Andy confidently winding down and my boyfriend having fun. He looked up often which was nice.

When I booked the last hour days later, the receptionist stated how much it was. Although staff had said they’d make a note on the system they clearly hadn’t. I said I hadn’t been able to do Lesson 5 as I’d crashed and hadn’t been allowed to complete it. She said she wasn’t sure if I could get it for free and that she’d check. After speaking to an instructor she booked me in.5aac3a674db76fb1e01b4ab8f426987317038ae0

When I went back two days later I was in the 9pm slot on a weekday so it was wonderfully quiet and I didn’t have to worry about what other skiers/snowboarders were doing and whether we’d collide. My boyfriend was going to ski but at £25 (the same price as an hour’s lesson) even off-peak he didn’t bother. I built up confidence and faced my fear, pointing myself towards the bottom of the slope from the top but in a snowplough so that I could slowly turn. The coaching was personalised in that I got two tips in the hour but it was mostly again a matter of copying the instructor. Unfortunately we couldn’t see what his feet were doing in his ski boots, which is probably what prevented me from improving the last time. You need to know where to put your weight in your foot. You need to literally be on your toes when you turn. My boyfriend gave me useful tips on the way there that would have been useful in training. My arms and shoulders were achy, my knees had purple bruises, my chin had a Harry Potter mark on it and there was a red spot on my nose but I’d been really lucky. At least the incident support was great and I didn’t get any serious injuries. I didn’t get too confident or foolhardy and now I know what can go wrong I won’t take risks but will slowly build up my skills.

As my Yorkshire champion instructor said “if you have the tiniest bit of doubt in your mind, don’t do it.”

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The beautiful Kate Middleton is a skiing fan. She was first spotted kissing Prince William on a ski holiday.

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A weekend in Birmingham

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I feel like a villager in Birmingham. It’s a city for giants, with skyscrapers touching the clouds all around. If you have money to spare it’s a lovely place for a night out.

My boyfriend’s university friends were having a reunion. I imagined a rowdy night out with mostly guys, as it had been last year. But this year there was a married couple who worked at a charity for children with learning difficulties and a physicist with his Masters student girlfriend. Or at least that’s as much as I could gather from the conversation. I was feeling a bit shy. I had said I didn’t mind staying at home and working – after all my boyfriend was offered a spare bed. But when I saw the company I could see why he was keen for me to come.

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We rolled up at the Marriott Hotel. It had been the only last-minute booking available and my boyfriend grumbled about it and said it was “just a hotel”. But it wasn’t “just a hotel” to me. Although there were smudges of something on the marble floor under the light, everything else was clean. The bathroom was mostly marble, with pretty shell mirror lights. The room was standard, except that it had a nice wooden wardrobe and three windows, two of which opened. I was expecting a kettle and teas for the price but it was still a treat. I was so tired later I didn’t mind the firm mattress, which is just how my boyfriend likes it, though he really doesn’t need the extra support.

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Spot Santa!

I was going to put on a short party skirt and top but luckily my boyfriend told me that we would be outside for a while at the German market, so I kept my acrylic LBD (long black dress) on. The whole of the city centre was covered in little wooden huts with fake greenery and baubles on the top. There were Santas on the rooves and a large Christmas tree. It was “Frankfurt” in Birmingham and the prices were probably just as ridiculous. The atmosphere was lovely though and there was one stall selling incredible hand-crafted chocolates in tool shapes – there were pliers, bolts, calipers, cameras, instruments and hammers. All the details were so delicate.

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We went to a French restaurant, Le Truc. I had a lovely hot spiced apple cocktail with a slice of apple in. It warmed me up and tasted sweet and delicious. We sat down to dinner and I ordered onglet. I wasn’t sure what it was but it sounded fancy, and with beef dripping chips. I asked one of the company what it was and I heard “snake”. I proudly announced to my boyfriend that I was having the most exotic dish. He didn’t know what onglet was but asked why they would serve snake. I asked the waitress and apparently it was steak. She asked how my boyfriend would like his steak. I told her he likes it freshly killed with blood still oozing from it. When he served it to me for the first time recently I could still taste the blood and felt a bit sick.

The onglet arrived but gristle was a better description. I couldn’t cut it. I struggled for a while and then gave up, ordering a fillet steak instead. When it came it was the best I’d tried, juicy, succulent and full of flavour. It was £17.50 for that and some standard chips – I couldn’t taste the beef dripping apparently on them, and a couple of leaves of spinach. I also had a goats cheese starter that was a slice of fried goats cheese on a potato cake. I thought it wasn’t much for £6.

I shared my boyfriend’s creme brulee for dessert and that was delicious. I’d IMG_0016only taken £50 cash to the city, thinking I would just be going for dinner and maybe a few drinks, but the drinks were so lovely I ended up spending £40 on two cocktails and the meal. The surroundings were nice with chandeliers and arty sketches and cartoons, and there was actually a French waiter. He was asked whether there were any nuts in the tart or sticky toffee pudding and didn’t understand until I translated rather falteringly with what I could remember.

Gingers was a lovely cocktail bar. They were really tasty and there was a wide variety on the menu. They were £6.50 each so I tried to make mine last. I had a strawberry milkshake one with a little too much alcohol in, it was quite sharp. Some were £8.50.

Although it was a classy establishment, unfortunately shortly after we sat down someone projectile vomited out of the toilet door (clearly more money than sense) and there were no other seats free. We were soon breathing through our mouths due to the chlorine bleach cleaning operation underway from a glamourous member of staff in a figgure-hugging LBD (also long). Ladies tottered around her in ridiculous heels, wearing fancy short dresses, fake-style make-up, curled freshly-dyed hair bouncing about. It was lovely being able to talk – the music was in the background and there wasn’t a dancing area, one wouldn’t want to encourage drink-spilling and debauchery.

My boyfriend took great delight in ordering “the gayest thing on the menu”. He had been yawning since the restaurant and after enjoying IMG_0023a sweet “Pink Panther” cocktail in a delicate little glass yawned until everyone followed suit and decided to call it a night. Most of the company were 30 or over and clearly weren’t used to such late nights.

In the morning I was annoyed that I woke up too late to enjoy the hotel pool. I enjoyed using the marble bathroom and the novelty of riding in a lift with a carpet and a mirror though.

We went to brunch at one of The Independent’s top 50 cafes. Nothing on the meu cost less than £6 so it was a bit pricey, and for that I only got three IMG_0041Scottish pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, a couple of blueberries and a strawberry. When we ordered tea I asked what tea they had and they said Earl Grey or ordinary. I wasn’t impressed. The salmon and poached egg brunch was probably what impressed reviewers, it looked like better value for money. There were wooden tables and the tea came in a lovely knitted tea-cosy. It was called The Plough and the toilet was rather fancy, all wood pannelling with their own soap and hand cream.

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We then went round the Christmas market again. I had a potato pancake, deep-fried. It was very fatty and chewy and not to my taste, even with the apple sauce. Others had little dough balls. I tried one but they were also chewy and fatty. Not worth £4 but they looked pretty.

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Then we went round the Bullring shopping mall. It just had chain stores in but we got lunch there. We marvelled at the cakes and tarts at the Patisserie Valerie counter. I asked whether my boyfriend wanted a tart for his birthday (on Friday). I said he was only allowed an edible one though.

We rushed to the station only to discover that when I was really tired I had bought a ticket from Sheffield to Birmingham instead of the other way round, having booked a ticket from Sheffield to London for our upcoming trip to Istanbul at the same time. My boyfriend was driving down south for an 11 day shift, working away. I’m going to London the day before we fly  and my boyfriend is picking me up and taking me to the airport hotel. I bought him return flights and he’s treating me to free 4 star spa hotel accommodation throughout the trip, as he stays away so often with work that he has lots of points he can use.

So my knight in shining armour not only bought me drinks and my Christmas presents but then had to buy my train fare home. He’s refusing to let me pay him back so I’ll get him something nice for Christmas instead.

I’m really looking forward to the next two weekends and I’ll tell you all about them as soon as I can.

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