NONFICTION Writing Samples
Chosen for variety in style and purpose
Personal Essay (medical student application)
He was just 19, with big plans and no worries, when a motorcycle tossed him like a rag doll headfirst onto the pavement. At first he was grateful that he’d survived, but then the eyelid and eyeball swelling began, and he began to go blind. Worse yet, along with his vision he was losing sight of the ambitious dreams that drove him.
I had just started my rotation in neurosurgery when the boy and his weeping family consulted with the team, solemnly weighing the treatment options for the caroticocavernous fistula—open surgery versus endovascular coiling through femoral catheter to the brain. The neurosurgeons calmly but urgently described the procedures. The boy’s mother spoke of her son’s dreams of becoming a nurse. The young man asked about the risks and the odds of keeping his sight. I listened. Even before the team performed the endovascular coiling (within hours the boy’s vision improved markedly), I knew I had found my specialty. I recognized myself in the team’s compassionate yet objective determination, their recognition that they were not surgeons about to perform a procedure on a patient but people with practiced skills and specialized knowledge about to save something precious for a very frightened young man.
Hemingway wrote that courage is grace under pressure, and I was drawn to that courage.
Our genes may determine who we can be, but our minds and thought processes define us as we are. We are the sum of our brain and central nervous system. Approaches to neurosurgery metaphorically mirror the hemispheres of the brain itself: the first relies on exactitude, standardization, and scientific method; the second relies on something closer to intuition, individual experience, and professional courage. Scientists are still learning to navigate the CNS map, and we do so by both methodically recording every route and landmark, and by daring to set off on the journey at all.
Neurosurgery appeals to my similarly dual nature. Like the neuroplastic brain, I adapt and reorganize, remaining flexible but determined in the face of challenge, and am drawn to innovative therapeutic and diagnostic techniques and to the very the mysteries of the mind. But I am also efficient, precise, and focused; I enjoy working with my hands, making deft repairs and seeing tangible, reproducible results—and knowing that my young accident victim, fully sighted, has gone off to university to pursue his dreams.
While some fellow students may match me in skills, knowledge, dedication, or level of commitment to helping patients survive and even thrive in the face of adverse CNS challenges, I believe none can match me in all four. My training thus far has been excellent, but to become an accomplished neurosurgeon I seek something more: an environment where I have access to exemplary mentors, first-rate tools and techniques, cutting-edge research opportunities, unparalleled patient diversity, and exceptional facilities—in short, I need a neurosurgical residency in the United States.
In the Philippines we have some fine hospitals, doctors, and medical schools, but few programs for neurosurgical training. There are only about 120 neurosurgeons in the country, and most are in private practice, not affiliated with teaching hospitals. The United States, in contrast, has tremendous human, equipment, financial, and knowledge base resources, and many distinguished dedicated neurosurgical training programs. While my goal is to return someday to the Philippines to start a cutting-edge Neuroscience Institute, I owe it to my patients, and myself, to avail myself of the best possible neurosurgical education and experiences.
It’s humbling to realize that a scalpel can kill as easily as it can heal, but incredibly rewarding to know, too, that in our hands—properly wielded with skill, knowledge, sensitivity, caution, and caring—neurosurgical tools can mean the different between blindness and sight, sentience and stupor, feeling and numbness. The more we learn about the brain and the workings of the CNS, the more we want to know, which ensures that the field will remain vital, stimulating, and anything but stagnant—exactly the kind of field that inspires and engages me. And to be the best neurosurgeon I can be so means beginning with a neurosurgical residency in the United States.
Rolling in Smelly Things (web article)
This is one of 25 short items for a website (www.dogtwist.com). All were approximately the same length, and written in a consistent, light style. As humor goes, it’s G-rated and not likely to turn up on the Jon Stewart Show, but it suits the audience. I might add that before I wrote these articles, my “expert” knowledge consisted mainly of whatever I have learned from my own border collie/lab mix.
You take Rascal out to the lake for a romp and a swim, and spend the afternoon playing Fetch! and other wonderful games. Then the last time you toss the stick he takes a little extra time ferreting it out before he comes trotting back up to you, head held high and tail wagging, very proud of himself. He does have the stick. The only problem is, he also stinks. Really stinks. He’s ecstatic about having found the slimy remains of a rotting fish, as that is just the sort of thing he loves to roll in.
Why do dogs go out of their way to roll in everything from dead animals and the neighbor’s garbage to swampy mud and even their own feces? The truth is, no one can say for sure. But the most frequently quoted reason has to do with the canine’s ancestry and his forebears’ instincts for the hunt. Ethologists—those are the zoologists who specialize in animal behavior (ethologists are sometimes called animal behaviorists)—posit that by rolling in things such as poop, Rascal is trying to mask his own doggie scent so that as he creeps up on tonight’s dinner, it won’t recognize him as a predator.
The main problem with this perfectly natural behavior is that what smells yummy to Rascal often sends you reeling away to retch. No doubt he’s confused and hurt when you the refuse to pet him or let him into the house. Unless Rascal is a feral stray, the likelihood that he needs to stalk and kill his dinner is very, very slim. Kibble, for the most part, just sits quietly in the bowl waiting to be eaten. He doesn’t, therefore, need to roll in kitchen scraps and bat guano to survive.
There’s another theory about why Rascal seems compelled to cover himself with human-repelling smells. In this theory, Rascal’s excitement has been likened to a sort of giddy ecstasy. Say you pull the handle on a slot machine and you get back ten times as many quarters as you put in. You’d be pretty happy, right? You’d smile, maybe want to show it off to your companion? Now imagine that when you pulled the handle, you won the top prize, millions of dollars: quarters keep pouring out into a huge pile and the lights flash and the horns blare. You might grab handfuls of quarters and throw them in the air, shout, do a little happy dance. That, say some ethologists, is very much like what’s going through Rascal’s mind when he finds not just an interesting scent but a three-day old roadkill. He’s won the doggie jackpot!
How to Stop It
Rascal does not need to mask his scent, nor does he need to celebrate every time he finds something smelly. So how do you break him of the habit? First, you have to catch him in the act. If he goes off into the back yard out of your sight and comes back reeking of carrion, you can’t reprimand him. He won’t understand what he has done “wrong,” because to him he has only done something instinctive. And you can keep him out of the house, but he won’t understand that, either. If, however, you are nearby when he rolls in something, you have chance to train him to stop.
It’s quite common for dogs to roll in poop—their own or that of another dog. One thing you can do immediately is pick up and dispose of his little piles right away. It won’t teach him not to roll in it, but it will cut down on the number of chances he finds to do it. (Many dogs will eat feces as well. While this isn’t dangerous in and of itself, it can lead to parasitic infections. It will also give Rascal an extreme case of doggie breath for a while.)
What you need to do to discourage the behavior is to associate it with something unpleasant. For example, if every time Rascal rolled in something smelly he got a squirt from a water pistol, he would soon make the connection and stop the rolling. There are also remote-control collars that will release a cloud of citronella. It’s harmless to Rascal, but he will hate the smell. So as long as you are on hand to activate the collar, this can work as well. The advantage is that Rascal won’t know where the scent is coming from, so it won’t be you doing something to him directly. The disadvantage, of course, is that a plastic water pistol is a heck of a lot cheaper.
The best time to catch Rascal rolling will be while he’s walking on a lead, as then you are within squirting distance and can keep him away from the offending substance. Alternatively, you might place a stinky dead thing in your own yard and set up a “blind” so Rascal doesn’t know that it’s you spraying the hose on him when he rolls in the pile of smelly garbage you’ve deviously placed nearby.
Otherwise, catching him in the act won’t be easy. Dogs often sniff the ground and circle before urinating. If you hit him with a water spray or a blast of citronella and then find out that he was only intending to pee, you might really confuse him. He may think that urinating outdoors is what causes the unpleasant squirt/scent, and the last thing you want to do is untrain a house-trained dog!
Doing the Impossible (company profile excerpt)
This is a cross between “journalistic reporting” and blatant marketing, as it is an excerpt from an annual report. The company really took off when laser-based technology rendered the original technology obsolete, and when they added additional presses to the DI line. Many printers use DI presses these days (e.g., Sir Speedy.) Everyone I knew at Presstek—including founder, Bob Howard (who started Centronix as well)—is long gone.
When someone starts a company to manufacture a product better, faster, or cheaper, the problems they encounter are far different from those of a company sets out to design, develop, and manufacture a product that has never before existed. Such was the case with the DI technology: it was revolutionary. No one had ever built a product that could image plates right on a printing press successfully.
Many people in the industry were skeptical. After all, hadn’t other companies tried similar products and failed? Weren’t even the powerhouse companies overseas abandoning their own direct imaging projects? A lot of experts said it couldn’t be done, that the high-frequency vibrations caused by the printing press would make direct imaging unworkable, and that the printing press would need too many alterations to make the final manufacturing process economically feasible. But nobody ever said it shouldn’t be done.
The Presstek team evaluated many presses and manufacturers before realizing that the Heidelberg GTO was the ideal DI vehicle. Not only was the press format correct for the target marker but the press itself had a reputation as the finest small-format printing press available anywhere. It was adaptable to the DI technology without any major changes and it could hold register and color throughout a long run, which would complement the DI’s feature of automatic registration via in-position imaging. Furthermore, the GTO had an ink fountain that could be adjusted under computer and electrical control, which complemented the DI’s ability to set the ink keys automatically from a connected PC. Removing the dampening system provided a convenient space to install the DI components.
Undaunted by the skeptics, the Presstek team developed, with Heidelberg, its first commercially available full-color, high-resolution Direct Imaging press, marketed as the Heidelberg GTO-DI. As a dry offset press, the GTO-DI eliminated the difficult ink-and-water adjustments required in conventional offset printing. The much-feared vibrations turned out to be eminently controllable through ingenious software, mechanical and electrical innovations. The resulting Presstek DI technology was unique, proprietary, and well protected by patents, ensuring the tiny New Hampshire company’s prominence as the leader in computer-to-press technology and providing a basis for further innovations and improvements.
By the end of the year there were nearly a dozen GTO-DI print shops and service bureaus operating in North America and Europe, with many more in the production pipeline. Pretty impressive for something that “couldn’t be done.”
Mussel Pain (short news article)
This short article that appeared in a local publication uses a very matter-of-fact journalistic style.
We’re under attack! That is, Big Island Pond, along with numerous other lakes in the Northeast, is in danger of becoming infested with Zebra mussels—non-native, freshwater, bivalve mollusks. Since these little shelled creatures are usually under two inches long, what’s the big problem? Actually, Zebra mussels cause many problems:
• they attach themselves to boat hulls, enter boat cooling systems, and colonize and clog water intake pipes at industrial facilities and shoreline residences
• they produce foul smells when they decompose, and litter the beaches
• they colonize and contaminate shoals, spoiling fish nesting areas
• they compete with the native shellfish and alter the aquatic food chain
• they colonize quickly and reach densities of 100,000 or more per square yard
Worst of all, they are razor sharp. Step on one of these innocent-looking little shells, and you will slice your foot badly enough that you may end up visiting the local emergency room.
Zebra mussels originated in the Black, Caspian and Aral seas of eastern Europe. The adults secrete strong byssal threads by which they attach themselves to a variety of surfaces. They were first found in North America in 1988 in the Great Lakes, and it seems likely that their larvae arrived in the ballast waters of a transoceanic ship in about 1986. The mussels multiply rapidly. And have recently been spotted in the Hudson River and Lake Champlain.
How do you recognize a Zebra mussel? Their shells are marked by alternating light and dark bands. They commonly collect in vegetation, on docks or pilings, and along shoreline cobble and rocks. Most are not much bigger than a dime, and they are the only freshwater mussels that attach to objects with byssal threads.
What can we do? If you’ve been boating or fishing in fresh water outside New England and plan to launch locally, inspect and clean your boat and trailer thoroughly. Remove and discard any weeds you find. Flush the cooling system and bilge areas with tap water—before launching!—and discard any bait that has been in contact with water that might be infested. Share information, ideas and monitoring tasks with your neighbors and other members of the Big Island Pond Corporation. So far, no Zebra mussel sightings have been confirmed; let’s keep it that way!
These pests have caused millions of dollars in expenses for industries, boaters, farmers and many others in Canada and the Great Lakes Region. To learn more about Zebra mussels, call the New Hampshire Lakes Association at 800-750-0299, or the University of New Hampshire at 603-862-3848.
Jim D, Unplugged (personal profile)
I wrote this for a friend whose father died after fighting a losing battle with lung cancer—and with his doctors, although he wasn’t aware of that. I was there when Jim died; it was a humbling experience.
The lights in intensive care glinted cold and bright off the metal rails and plastic tubes. Outwardly Sally’s dad may have been tethered to the bank of machines that hummed and ticked and blinked and hissed, monitoring and medicating him through his post-surgical pain. But inside he had whisked himself back 30 years to a tiny motel on Cape Cod where he lay face down on a putting green, elbow to elbow with his six-year-old daughter, both of them with noses pressed into the grass, breathing deeply.
Breathing—such a simple thing that we all take for granted. And such a strong trigger for special memories. When her dad whispered hoarsely from his hospital bed that he’d been thinking about that long-ago summer night, about that faintly acrid chemical smell mixed with the earthy green of freshly cut grass, Sally, too, was instantly transported, and could see him clearly as he was that magical night: grinning in the greenish glow of the little landscape light just over his head, as though he had his own halo, his own special spotlight.
Maybe he did. One of his special gifts was his ability to live so completely in the moment, and to seem so entirely absorbed by whatever he was doing or by whomever he was near, that it almost seemed as though he did have a halo of light that warmed every casual conversation into a deep connection. For Jim, there was no such thing as a simple errand, or a small task: send him on a quick trip to the store and he’d come back not only with a bag but with a story to tell about someone he met in line, or the fellow behind the counter, or something he saw on his drive there. And he might or might not bring back whatever he was sent out to get.
So I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised by the dumplings. Just down the road from Sally’s parents’ house there’s a big farm stand, run by a retired scientist and his son and daughter-in-law. Jim used to visit Cider Hill almost every morning to chat—with the owners, with the counter help, with the other customers—and to get an apple dumpling. He loved those dumplings. In fact, he loved them so much that when he turned 74 in June, Sally and I gave him a handful of custom Apple Dumpling coupons graciously made up on the spot by the owner.
On August 18, Sally went to Cider Hill, hoping to buy a dozen or so of those dumplings to serve to friends who were coming by to help plan her dad’s funeral mass. Unfortunately, there were only three dumplings left. The woman behind the counter, a young girl she didn’t recognize, shrugged and said she was sorry, but the baker had already gone home for the weekend.
When Sally used three of the special ‘Jim D Apple Dumpling coupons’ to pay, however, she lit up. “Oh, how is he?” she asked. “We haven’t seem him in so long—we’ve all been so worried.”
When Sally answered that her dad had died just the night before, she could see by the teary response that the woman was one of the hundreds, or thousands, or maybe millions of people who had been caught at some time in the glow her Jim’s special spotlight; she seemed shrunken by the news, just plain sad.
But Sally was sad, too, and soon forgot about the woman, wrapped up in her own and her family’s grief. Until, that is, a few hours later when the phone rang. It was someone at Cider Hill, phoning to say that they had called their baker back in, and how many dumplings did we need?
To me, that is not a story about great service, or customer loyalty, or even about some stranger’s fond memory. It’s a story about how a quiet, thoughtful man lived a life lit up by one deep connection after another, a man with grass stains on his khakis and a glint in his eye, and the gift of making everyone else feel special. It’s about Sally’s dad, my friend, a singular man. A man whose life deserved a better death, prolonged and protracted beyond reason until a handful of people were forced to make a wrenching decision that was far more difficult than the flip phrase “pull the plug” can ever convey.
There is no plug. As an electrical engineer, Jim would have appreciated the decision circuitry: a yes or no here leads to an array of choices here, each with its own set of choices—not all of which have binary answers—and everywhere there is resistance, impedance, loss. The final living impulses of Jim D, compressed to a flat green line.
Yet when one life has touched so many, it’s never completely extinguished as long as some trace of him can still spark a grin, a story or a tear; he remains forever plugged in to the network he created.
Learning to Ski (feature article)
I was commissioned to write this feature-length article from the point of view of a 30-something British woman who had completed a series of ski lessons in France. I am female, but I am also well past 30, am America-born and bred, and have never been to France. The client was thrilled with the results, and I was pleased myself, except for the fact that to this day there there is a typo on the first page of the online version, found at http://www.ski3.co.uk/
Or, How I advanced from green to red in a little more than a fortnight,
all in the name of love—and found more than I bargained for!
By Meg Matthews
Not long ago a friend asked me along on a ski weekend—someone I fancied and wanted very much to impress with my spirit of adventure and élan. Eager to show off my natural athletic prowess, of course I said yes, but as soon as I’d agreed, however, I began to panic. After all, I had less than a month before the big date to transform myself from a woman whose experience with skiing was limited to watching the Winter Olympics and using the same lip balm as Picabo Street to one of those graceful beauties schussing effortlessly down the piste. Did I cancel the date? Of course not. I did what any reasonable but infatuated woman would do: I signed up for lessons. Not just anywhere, mind you—I was in love, remember?—but at French Ski School. I’d love to tell you that the date went swimmingly and we lived happily ever after, but the truth is that the date turned out to be a total disaster. It seems my date couldn’t bear that I was the better skier...
Ecole du Ski Français
Everyone told me that to learn to ski, I should go to France. After all, it is close to home—I could drive, train or fly there at no great expense—and was considered the ideal place for beginners. Picturing a large but infinitely romantic place tucked into the Alps, its gorgeous scenery complemented by equally gorgeous skiers from every part of the globe, I told the gent in the travel agency that I wanted to go to French Ski School.
“Which one?” he asked.
What a gubbins I was. As he explained, French Ski School is not a place, but many places—over 250 of them. He waffled on about its history, explaining how members of the French Skiing Federation (FFS) had founded the consortium of ski schools in 1937 with the idea that one school ought to be using the same teaching and skiing techniques—ecole française—as the others, and how they likewise thought it rather important that the instructors be certified, and that the pupils be rated using the same standards. All the while I was thinking, “What a relief!” I’d been anxious about picking the “right” school, and now it turned out that any ski school affiliated with EFS would follow the same principles, methods and standards and the others. I could throw a dart at the list and still be assured of choosing the “right” school.
I admit to being a bit flummoxed by the options. Should I spend the extra euros for private lessons, which would probably be more effective? Or save a little dosh for the “date” by joining a group? In the end I decided to do both: I would begin with group lessons while I was still a rank amateur who’d never before so much as touched a ski—and then, when I had the basics down, move on to private lessons for “classe 1” skiers (that is, those who have skied one or two weeks and can manage the tows and lifts without wreaking havoc). My goal was to reach “classe 3,” which in EFS terms meant a “good” skier looking to master the technique and pick up the pace. This would likely mean more private lessons once I’d left the nursery hill and the green trails and moved on to the blue intermediate trails.
The agent recommended several places that featured “doorstep skiing,” which literally mean that I wouldn’t have to walk too far in those Frankenstein boots carrying skis, poles and who knew what else just to get to the snow. I chose one in the lower price range, sacrificing quaint architecture in favour of package pricing that would allow me to stay longer. It was near a quaint enough town that appeared to have enough shops, pubs and restaurants to help me wind down after a boffo day on the slopes. I won’t tell you which one it was, but I will say that I booked six day-long, beginner-level group lessons for just over 200 euros. That didn’t include lift tickets or insurance, but it did include hiring skis and boots for the whole six days. I also booked a handful of private lessons in the following weeks at €50 an hour (afternoon prices are lower).
I should say right off that I am no athlete. Physically I am just your average woman approaching 40—I stand 1.6 meters in my stocking feet, and weigh in at 9 stone 4—in reasonable but not exceptional shape. I was a tad worried that taking on a rather rigorous sport at my age might be daft, but weighing the odds of serious injury against the possibility of true love helped calm my fears a bit.
It didn’t take long to see that before I could hit the slopes, I first had to hit the shops. I had no equipment, and not a stitch that I considered appropriate for floundering about in snow for hours at a stretch. Yet I didn’t want to buy everything until I knew for certain that I liked it as much as I did the après-ski. To read about my recce of the shops and hiring agencies, click on the sidebar, “Prepping for the Piste”
Once I was properly outfitted, though, there was nothing for it but to bundle off the chalet I’d chosen, an old-fashioned lodge that slept—and fed—around fifty people. That night I practiced putting my boots and skis on and off several times, and tried walking about the room in just the boots, which I found I could only do if they were unbuckled. As promised, there was indeed snow right at my doorstep, and the next morning I set off after a hearty breakfast, confident that I could fake my way to the designated lessons area. What I found was that standing and walking in skis on snow was not at all the same as doing so on carpet. I was forced to remove my skis and walk until I spied my group. Only then did I reattach the skis, which seemed determined to trip me up by criss-crossing with every step.
My fellow students stood, looking as wonky as I and equally determined, in a nervous cluster. I was thrilled to find that I was not the oldest among us to be taking up a new sport; a scholarly looking fellow who introduced himself as Sanjay—we did not shake hands since neither of us dared loosen out death-grip on our poles—looked to be about fifty. The group also included Claude, a swaggering man of perhaps forty, and Keiko and Mariana, giggly twenty-somethings bunking off from university. Our instructor glided up, flashing a snow-white smile and looking like the ski brochure come to life. She said her name was Nina.
Ups and Downs—I had imagined that our first lesson would be some simple manoeuvre—say, walking several feet without falling. Instead, after we had all given our names and confessed our complete beginning status, Nina told us to drop our poles and fall over. Having practiced this inadvertently many times that day I was a pro at this, but I was less successful at the next part: getting up.
First there was the little matter of the incline. Even though we were near the base of the nursery slope, it still had a bit of an incline. Every time I very nearly made it vertical—and how I did that without my poles was nothing short of a miracle and sheer determination—I would start to slide. Trying to halt this sent me off balance and back into the snow. I looked around, relieved to see the others in similar straits.
Meanwhile, Nina dropped gracefully to the ground, and demonstrated how easily we could stand again by digging the edges of our skis into the snow perpendicular to the fall line, shifting into a sitting position uphill of the skis, and pushing ourselves to shift our balance until we were standing again. The fall line, it turned out, was not the scar gouged into in the snow with each new fall but the invisible path a ball might follow if you let it go on the hill—in other words, the route our skis were trying to take us before we were ready to go. Among us, only Nina was able to stand without relying on the poles.
Even the best skiers fall sometimes, she assured us, so we should learn to do it without hurting ourselves (or someone else) She passed on these pointers:
• if you feel yourself falling, try to relax as much as possible, not—as we seem to do instinctively—tense up and try to brace yourself
• don’t use your poles as brakes; it won’t work, but it will increase your odds of poking yourself or wrenching something
• if you have a choice of how to fall, aim for landing on your hip or your bum rather than any other body part; hurtling onto your knees, elbows or head is a good way to twist and even break something
• do your best to get your legs facing downhill perpendicular to the fall line; this makes it easier to use the edges of your skis to dig in to stop the slide——or to use your boots if your skis have sprung loose from their bindings and gone their own way
Speaking of flying skis, Nina also reminded us that we should have had our bindings set to the proper DIN setting; that refers to the international scale for the pressure required to release skis from their binding. The “correct” setting varies according to a skier’s weight, height, skiing style and ability. Given our ability level (none, so far), we should have had our bindings set so that in the very likely event of a fall our boots would release the skis at the first hint of trouble. This reduced the likelihood of us floundering about with lethal weapons attached to our feet and twisting our legs into unnatural positions at high speed. Better to lose a ski than to break a leg. As we improved, Nina assured us, we could move to less sensitive settings so we wouldn’t spend half the day putting our skis back on.
Baby Steps—Once we were standing again, Nina showed us two ways we could move from one place to another. As I mentioned, I had practiced standing on my skis the night before, and had even tried to walk forward a little. This was not at all the same—it was somewhat easier. To walk in skis we did not need to lift our feet, just slide one forward, then the other, and repeat until we reached our goal. At first it seemed that for every two “steps” forward we all took one back, but eventually we were all able to scoot forward like a small band of wind-up tin soldiers. We weren’t ready for the black runs yet but…dare I say it?…we were starting to feel comfortable enough that we were having fun. Even the reserved Sanjay was smiling.
Once we could stand more or less still, and move forward without having to remove our skis, it was time to start with more of an incline. Nina showed us two ways we might propel ourselves uphill. The first, called sidestepping, involved standing with our skis parallel to each other but perpendicular to the fall line. By carefully lifting the uphill ski and planting it a comfortable distance up the incline and then digging in with the outside edge, we could follow suit with its downhill mate. It was cumbersome at first, keeping the skis parallel, daring to move one ski more than a few centimeters away from the other, but soon we were plodding up the slope successfully, if not gracefully.
The other way to climb required facing up the hill with one tip pointing about 45° anti-clockwise, the other pointing about 45° clockwise, and digging our inside edges into the snow. In this pigeon-toed pose we were able to “herringbone” up the incline, although Nina warned us that for steeper grades we would find sidestepping more effective.
So far, none of us had broken any body parts or left in tears. In fact, we were all feeling quite please with ourselves, and eager to try some actual skiing. After all, we had mastered standing, falling, getting up, walking, sidestepping and herringboning. It was not to be. We spent the rest of the afternoon picking one ski high off the ground, assuming the snowplough and digging our inside edges in to stop a slide, and even hopping around a bit in our skis. From a distance we may have appeared possessed, but by the time the group broke up for the day we all felt much more comfortable with having boards almost as long as we were tall attached to our feet. I was even able to make it to the lodge without having to take off my skis. All that was left was to point downhill instead of up and go, right?
Facing the Fall Line—Of course there was a little more to it than that. First we had to learn the proper stance. All that falling had taught us which positions kept us upright (leaning forward) and which ones sent us sprawling (leaning to the side or leaning back). Although I had always heard that skiing required bending at the knees, this turned out to be only half the truth. What we need to do was keep our shins in close contact with the tongue of our boots. I did have to bend at the knees to do that, but more importantly I had bend at the ankles so I could lean forward. If I let my shins pull away from the boots and bent only at the knees, as though I were sitting at my desk, my center of gravity was too far back I landed my on my bum every time.
On the second day, Nina had us herringbone up to a steeper part of the nursery slope, then turn our skis perpendicular to the fall line. Slowly we rotated our uphill ski just enough that we stood in snowplough position, but still not facing downhill. We weren’t very far up the hill, and there was nothing in front of us but a wide expanse of piste—that’s the snow that has been groomed for skiing, as opposed to the virgin stuff off to the sides that’s punctuated with trees, gondola supports and other nasty obstacles—but as we slowly turned to face the fall line I noticed that I was not the only one to mutter something that can’t be printed here.
I will never forget that first “run.” I started out gritting my teeth and questioning my sanity—was a date really worth the possibility of death and disfigurement?—but by the time I glided slowly to a stop, having run out of incline, I was hooked. I had skied! I had survived!
When the five of us were able to make it ten or fifteen meters down the nursery hill without toppling over, Nina took us over to the tow lift. There we watched a hapless beginner mistakenly sit down on the T-bar and promptly collapse to the ground, whereupon the skier immediately behind him had to perform a rather dicey manoeuvre to avoid skiing over top of him. This incident did not make us eager to try the lift for ourselves, but as Nina pointed out, the people who used it correctly were deposited safely at the top of the hill without having to huff and puff all the way up.
Again looking like an advert for the resort, she slipped into position and with one fluid motion guided the bar behind (not under!) her buttocks, and let it pull her smoothly up the hill. Sanjay managed it without too much wobbling, so I tried to follow suit. At first I felt as though I were going to pitch forward, but once I stopped fighting the urge to lean way back, I found I could let the lift “ski” me up the hill. I did fine. I was even able to disengage at the top without falling. Several among our group were not so lucky.
Facing down the whole of the hill, no matter how gentle its slope, was a true test, I think, of whether or not I would ever ski again after my big “date.” My stomach felt a bit dicky, but it was also exhilarating watching all those people (many of them mere children, I must add) wending down the expanse. I felt ready. Okay, so were all still in that snowplough position that marked us as first-timers, but we were about to ski! Nina reminded us to keep our shins braced on our boots, to look where we were going, and to stop at the bottom by digging the inside edges of our skis into the snow. Then she took off down the hill, leaving the five of us to follow. I did. It was glorious.
Turning Points—There was a point halfway down the hill when I spotted a skier who had lost her balance and wound up spread-eagled directly in my fall line. Nina had taught us a lot, but as yet she hadn’t really instructed us in the fine art of turning, at least while hurtling down the slope at what felt like breakneck speed at the time. I had a horror-struck moment as I envisioned the collision that seemed inevitable. Thinking to slow myself down, I started to dig my inside edges in, but for some reason—maybe instinct, maybe luck—dug in more firmly with one than the other. As a result, I was no longer skiing straight toward the poor woman but angled off to the left.
Of course, this now meant I would be skiing across the path of other beginners on the hill, and that was as potentially painful as an unintentional ski jump off the supine skier would have been, so I tried to do the same thing but in the opposite direction. This time I overcorrected and felt myself skidding. I leaned forward as far as I dared and widened my stance, and miraculously wound up once again facing the fall line and the now-familiar form of Nina waiting below.
I learned an important lesson that day: ski with confidence, but not overconfidence. Delighted by what I took to be confirmation that I was born to ski and already skilled enough to move from the green runs to the blue, I headed straight down the piste just as fast as I possibly could (still snowploughing, or course). My plan, inasmuch as I had one, was to ski triumphantly up to my instructor as though I had been doing it all my life, and not just two days, earning her admiration and moving to the head of the class. Instead I ended up plunging more or less head first straight at her, arms and poles wind-milling in a vain attempt to regain some small semblance of control, until I slid to a stop a few centimeters from the tips of her skis. She smiled down at me, unfazed.
“Nice turns up there,” she said, flashing that supermodel smile. “When you stem out that uphill ski, though, you must make sure your tips aren’t crossed before you pick up so much speed.” She helped me up.
When the group was assembled again at the top of the hill—this time we all made it up the lift without incident—Nina showed us an exaggerated version of the turn I had accidentally made. We practiced planting both hands on the knee of our outside leg (the one opposite the direction we wished to turn), and our thighs, which would eventually enable us to tilt the inside ski and move it parallel to the outside ski.
She advised us to begin our turns in that manner rather than by throwing our shoulders around; that, she warned us, might result in an unexpected and abrupt about-turn, with predictable results. She further warned us that there would be a moment in the turn when we might find ourselves moving very, very fast. We were not to be afraid, but to trust our bodies, and our skis, to maintain balance and control. Although we were carrying our poles, we were to keep them tucked and facing behind us at all times; we should not be planting them in the snow just yet. She kindly refrained from mentioning that we should also not fling them wildly about should we find ourselves tumbling uncontrollably down the fall line. I was grateful for that.
With each lesson I grew more confident that my date might believe I had been skiing for years. I had learned to turn and stop—snowplough fashion—without falling (too often). Nina had taught us traversing, which is skiing across the fall line rather than into it: we did this by keeping our skis parallel but fairly wide apart and leaning slightly onto the outside edge of the uphill ski, and onto the inside edge of the downhill ski. No doubt this posture made it look as though I were riding a horse, but as I relaxed and felt more comfortable I didn’t feel quite so bowlegged.
Traversing made turning inevitable. Where traversing had felt a little awkward, the next move felt downright impossible. It might occur, said Nina, that we would sometime find ourselves stopped and needing to turn about but in a place where we had little or no piste in which to do it. Describing the move she recommended for such a situation might be nearly as dicey as executing it. Imagine you are standing with skis perpendicular to the fall line, tips pressed up against an immoveable object—say, a snow bank. This is called the kickturn. Plant both poles near your uphill ski and, bracing yourself, swing the tip of your downhill ski in an upwards arc until it is standing on its tail near the tip of your other ski. The bottom of your ski should now be facing the snow bank. Now twirl your knee about so that you can place the downhill ski flat on the snow again, still parallel to the uphill ski, but this time facing in the opposite direction. (I swear I am not making this up.) You should now be standing such that the tip of one ski is inches from the tail of the other. This is not the most comfortable position you will ever find yourself in, so as soon as possible you will want to slide your uphill ski over the tail of its mate and scoot it around so that both skis are now pointed in the same direction, away from the snow bank.
For the most part, however, what we needed for traversing was to keep turning left and right in a lazy S down the slope (lest we ski straight off the piste), and after several days of practicing this we were feeling rather pleased with ourselves. We had mastered the stem turn—allowing our skis to come out of a snowplough turn into a parallel position—which was the prelude to our next lesson. Since we now dared build up a little speed and felt more assured in using our edges to control our movements, Nina showed us the parallel turn, which was mostly a matter of exaggerating what we were already starting to do. The hourglass shape of the skis makes them turn easily if you dig the inside edges of your downhill ski into the hill; to execute the parallel turn we opened up the snowplough and kept our uphill ski parallel throughout (but not, as yet, too close together). Here is where shifting our thighs made the move easier as it helped us regulate the pressure on the edge. They were wide turns, but they were parallel, and for the most part we were skiing that way too, switching more into snowplough formation only if we felt a little out of control.
The grade on the “green” nursery run had been 25° or less, yet it had seemed frighteningly steep that first time. Now it was too easy. When we learned the parallel turn, Nina moved us to a “blue” intermediate run, where the shallowest grade was 25°; some of the other intermediate runs went as steep as 40°; the prospect of facing them just yet was daunting.
To get to the top of these runs we had to master the chair lift, which meant assuming half-sitting position and looking behind us as the chair come up behind us, then letting it scoop us up, all without dropping a ski or interfering with the skier who was trying to get in next to you. Lone skiers called out “single!” so that other lone skiers could share a chair, which helped keep the line moving. Getting off was slightly more tricky that disengaging from the tow lift, but not too difficult now that we were such pros at keeping our balance.
We all stood looking down the fall line. This time, though there was a little tummy flutter, I could hardly contain myself as I looked down the winding ribbon of this piste. Before we could test our mettle, though, Nina moved us off to the edge of the piste to demonstrate a move called sideslipping. Unlike sidestepping, which enabled us to climb up a steep hill, sideslipping was a way to get down the hill without exactly skiing. This would be useful should we find ourselves staring down a run, or part of a run, that we didn’t feel quite ready to tackle. To sideslip, she explained, we should stand perpendicular to the fall line but instead of digging our edges in as we would during a turn or a traverse we were to roll our feet so that the bottoms of our skis were more or less flat on the snow until gravity took over and we started to slide sideways. We should maintain a bit of pressure on the uphill edges—if we caught a downhill edge we would almost certainly fall—and when we wanted to slow or stop the slide, dig them in harder although not so abruptly that we lost control. Sideslipping would work if we were slightly diagonal to the fall line as well.
We all practiced sideslipping the ten meters or so down the piste, then regrouped. Three of us were eager to head down the mountain. Claude, who had lost a great deal of his swagger over the past week, opted to sideslip a little more, as did Keiko. That’s a disadvantage to group lessons: not everyone learns as the same pace. Fortunately, another instructor was nearby and offered to hang back with them while Nina guided us down the piste. Sanjay, Mariana and I wished each other luck and set off.
Pistecraft—This seems a good place to pass on one of Nina’s most important lessons, although she had in fact she’d delivered it the very first day. The International Ski Federation (FIS) has an official “code of conduct,” sometimes called pistecraft or the piste code. I present them code here as it appeared on the leaflet she gave us that first day:
1. Respect for others. A skier must behave in such a way that he does not endanger or prejudice others.
2. Control of speed and skiing. A skier must ski in control. He must adapt his speed and manner of skiing to his personal ability and to the prevailing conditions of terrain, snow and weather as well as to the density of traffic.
3. Choice of route. A skier coming from behind must choose his route in such a way that he does not endanger skiers ahead. In other words, the skier in front/below always has priority.
4. Overtaking. A skier may overtake another skier above or below and to the right or the left, provided that he leaves enough space for the overtaken skier to make any voluntary or involuntary movement.
5. Entering and starting. A skier entering a marked run or starting again after stopping must look up and down the run to make sure that he can do so without endangering himself or others.
6. Stopping on the piste. Unless absolutely necessary, a skier must avoid stopping on the piste in narrow places or where visibility is restricted. After a fall in such a place, a skier must move clear of the piste as soon as possible.
7. Climbing and descending on foot. Whether climbing or descending on foot, the skier must keep to the side of the piste.
8. Respect for signs and markings. A skier must respect all signs and markings.
9. Assistance. At accidents every skier is duty-bound to assist.
10. Identification. Every skier and witness, whether a responsible party or not, must exchange names and addresses following an accident.
All the rules were running through my mind, along with Nina’s instructions for turning, slowing down and, obviously, staying upright. Although I was intoxicated by the thrill of the sport as well as by the grandeur of the setting, I was very aware that I was doing something a little frightening. This piste was both narrower and less even, and it curved more often and less gradually than had the green runs. Off-piste were trees and the occasional bare rock behind banks of snow that, were I to fly into them at maximum speed, we act more like jumps than fences.
It seemed wisest to tackle this first blue run with the same slow, controlled S patterns we’d been practicing, not with a full-fledged schuss (assuming the basic shins-forward, bent-knees stance and barrel straight down the fall line). I was excited, but not barmy. At first I found myself skiing more uphill than down, edges ploughing heavily into the snow. But partway down I realised that something had changed. I was no longer gripping my poles like lifelines and grimacing with concentration. I was laughing.
It’s amazing, that feeling when you stop being tentative and frightened and find yourself being cautious and yet calm and confident. It’s important, too, because as you challenge yourself more you fall more. I fell twice on the first blue run—once when I hit a patch of ice, and once when I tried to ski over a bump, lost my balance, and went flying. I’d been concentrating so much on keeping my skis parallel that I think I brought them too close together, and was just not balanced enough to “bounce” with the abrupt change in terrain. Yet both times I was able to quickly remove myself from the path of any other skiers. Because my bindings had let loose, I just moved to the edge of the piste to put my skis back on and, still laughing, continued on.
After my group lessons were over I returned home. I missed the camaraderie that had sprung both at the school, in the chalet, and after hours as swarms of us descended on the local pubs and swapped tales of our derring-do. But the following weekend was a bank holiday, and I returned to the mountain for the first of my private lessons. My goal was simple: at the end of this series of private lessons I wanted to have skied every blue piste at the resort so that when I returned the following week I could try my first red run.
My new instructor, Lovisa, apparently had the same dentist as Nina, or perhaps skiing was somehow naturally good for the teeth. Together we worked to improve my technique in what I had already learned, and added some new moves to my repertoire. The first was the swing stop. To do this you start from a shallow traverse and, with your skis together, use your lower body to power the tips of your skis into a quick curve away from the fall line and dig your inside edges into the hill. You often see this flourishy little stop; it kicks up a tiny spray of snow and can look quite impressive when casually executed.
We also worked for the first time, seriously, with the poles. Since speed was now more of interest to me than I’d still been snowploughing around the green runs, Lovisa showed me a very aerodynamic stance, the tuck, in which I still leaned forward but crouched low enough that the front of my jacket touched my knees; with my elbows pointing down and hands pushed forward, I held the poles clamped tightly to my body and facing straight back. This certainly cut down on any wind resistance, but it was also extremely difficult to maintain for any length of time. Another stance, more upright, was much less tiring although only possible on smooth, easy runs. This was the pike, in which I leaned my upper body well forward but clasped my hands and rested them together behind my back, more or less dangling until I needed them.
Most of the time I spent in the usual ski stance, with my arms extended forward and my poles angles back toward the tails of my skis. Lovisa had showed me how to plant my uphill pole to help me turn more quickly, but in truth I was having great difficulty with the timing and kept planting too soon and releasing too slowly. At the speeds I was skiing it was not a serious problem, and Lovisa assured me that with practice I would find my rhythm. She skied circles around me all down the final blue run shouting words of encouragement and reminding me to lean this way or that, to keep my eyes on the piste and not on my skis, and to let my legs spring with the bumps like shock absorbers. At the end of that last run I was knackered but ecstatic; I had accomplished my goal, and I celebrated by sharing a celebratory toast with Lovisa—bottle water—at the base of the mountain.
All that was left was to discover if, when I returned in a few days’ time, I could make it down the easiest of the red trails without tragedy. And you know? I did. Sure, I fell the first time. And the second. But on the third run I made it all the way down, grinning and whooping like an idiot as I schussed down the final fifty meters and pulled up in a swing turn. I was ready.
To be honest, I don’t remember too much about the actual date. I’d been impressed when my friend claimed to be an intermediate-to advanced skier, strictly parallel and even learning to “carve,” yet the first time we took off down the red run I knew I’d been the victim of a gross exaggeration. When my date slunk off to the blue runs, shooting me an angry look for not following along, I shrugged. We went our separate ways at the end of the day, not even sharing the après-ski I’d been fantasizing about for weeks. But I didn’t care. I had found my true love after all: skiing.
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Prepping for the Piste
It didn’t take long to figure out that before I could hit the slopes, I first had to hit the shops. This was not an idea I relished—I believe it was Thoreau who said “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”—but I had little choice. My cupboards held plenty of outfits that would look adorable over après-ski toddies, but silly on the slopes; since snow sticks to wool and fleece, the first time I fell I’d be exposed for the fresher I was. And I had no equipment at all.
What to Wear?
I started with the clothing. The clerks at the ski shop were eager to help and surprisingly candid about which things I truly needed and which things I could buy later after I made it back from my “date” in one piece—and with plans to go back. The closer I get to forty the more pragmatic my decisions seem to have become, so I let the clerks woo me with their favorite bits and bobs as long as everything they showed me met two considerations: one, it had to keep me warm and/or safe, and two, it wasn’t so trendy that I couldn’t wear, use it, or sell it next ski season. That narrowed the choices to a more manageable list.
Base Layer—The idea of a base layer is to keep you warm without bulking you up like a sumo wrestler. Thank goodness the bulky, droopy waffle-patterned long-johns of my kiddie days have been superceded by a new generation of underthings so slinky and comfortable that it seems a shame to hide them. The best are made from a blend of synthetic and natural fibers designed to trap warmth but not wetness—the term “wicking” is bandied about quite often, and refers to the capillary action that sucks all the excess moisture away from your skin and distributes it across the outer surface of the material where it can evaporate and, in doing so, keep you from feeling and smelling like a wet dog. Fashion “timelessness” was not really an issue here, but even though I had a rainbow to choose from, I opted for one of the two stand-by colors and chose a black, curve-hugging two-piece ensemble made of one of those miracle fabrics that have names that suggest exactly what they are for (e.g., CoolMax® , Polartec® PowerDry®, Patagonia® Capilene®). If it turned out that skiing was not my thing, they would make wonderful pyjamas.
Outer Layer—I skipped right over the mid-layer, knowing that I could make do with the woolly jumpers I had at home, but I knew I needed help with the outer layer. I soon learned that there is a difference between “outdoor” clothing and “ski” clothing, beyond the fact that the latter can cost two to four times as much. Outdoor clothing is largely concerned with keeping out rain and wind, and not so much with actually keeping you warm. So while both usually have shells made of some synthetic fabric that sheds snow and rain such as polyester or nylon, skiwear adds insulation—often with removable linings so you can add or strip away layers to suit the weather conditions.
Now, my brother fancies himself a skier, so you might think that I could simply borrow a jacket and trousers from him and be done with it. But not only is he considerably larger than I, he is also shaped differently: while I am not the perfect hourglass shape of a pinup girl, I do need more space through the chest and hips, and not nearly as much through the shoulders and waist. When I wear a jacket cut for a man, even a small man, I can tell that I am wearing jacket; when I wear a jacket cut for a woman, it feels more like a part of me. The same is true with trousers.
I asked to see just the basic, warm, wind- and waterproof jacket, but soon found myself listening to a spiel on the relative merits of “audio pockets” and “pit zips”; discussing levels of waterproofing and vapour transmission rates; and even studying newfangled hoods, such as the “speed hood” with its one-handed operation and no dangly bits for the wind to whip into my face, and the “easy-turning hood,” which uses a tiny rail system, the better to turn my head as more seasoned pros go zipping past me on the piste. They all seemed to have miracle fabrics, clever little pockets, and concealed vent systems to keep my personal microclimate balmy and moisture free, so I based my final decision on how the jacket felt (or rather, how I little I felt the jacket), how it looked (no faddish colors, design details or unflattering styles), and whether it cost more or less than my monthly car payment.
Trousers—These can also be quite high-tech and complicated. On the basis that they were much less suited for everyday wear than a jacket, I opted to go for the bare minimum, which was a moderately insulated and padded waterproof shell with basic pockets and cuffs I could draw tight and anchor to my boots. While the white ones were attractive, I ended up purchasing the black ones, reasoning that a dark color might make it easier for the ski patrol to spot me should I end up face-first in a drift. I should note that while these shed snow, they should not be excessively slippery for reasons that become obvious the first time you find yourself sliding bum-first down the fall line.
Accessories—Actually, socks are not so much accessories as necessities. I have baskets of them at home, I told the clerks, but they just shook their heads and directed me toward a staggering display of haberdashery. I was advised never to wear more than two pairs of socks at a time, either for warmth or to compensate for ill-fitting boots, unless I wanted numb, blistered feet at the end of the day. As it turns out, while a great deal of sock preference is subjective, there are some qualities prized among skiers: that ever-popular wicking property, a medium thickness but with a little extra padding and support at the soles, and maximum comfort. The ones I loved best were merino wool on the inside and a wool and synthetic blend on the outer layer. They were adorable, too.
The same can be said for gloves. You can’t enjoy skiing if your hands are cold and wet. I would be better off, I was told, with one specially designed pair of ski gloves or mittens than with several layers of “regular” ones. The best ski gloves have multiple layers designed to insulate, wick, repel water, breathe, and enhance durability, and yet they are not so bulky or stiff that you can’t still wiggle your fingers and hold onto a ski pole. Some even have pockets into which you can slide little heat packs.
Although it is possible to ski wearing only sunglasses, many skiers prefer ski goggles. The best goggles provide UV protection and are designed with vents and double-layer lenses to prevent them from fogging up no matter how much you might hyperventilate. I had trouble deciding how much to invest here—again, they weren’t exactly a versatile addition to my wardrobe—and ended up buying a medium-priced pair that I was assured would suffice until I was ready for the Winter Olympics.
What to Hire
Few people enjoy queuing up for long periods of time. The staff at the ski hire shops onsite at the mountain usually do their best to fit people with the “right” ski according to the skier’s height, weight, and skill level, but often they are inundated with scores of would-be renters anxious to get onto the piste, and can’t take a lot of time to explain their choices to you. If you know you are going to hire equipment, you can save yourself time and aggro by figuring out what you need ahead of time and reserving it either online or by telephoning.
Here’s where I decided that as much as I wanted to look like an expert, I did not want to load up on actual hardware until I was certain this wasn’t just a fling but something more serious (the skiing, not the romance). For my first lessons, the cost of hiring skis, boots, poles, and helmets was included, but even then I had no idea what I should be looking for. Perhaps betting that I would come back after my lessons, account card in hand, and drop another bundle of euros, the shopclerks were again happy to oblige me with a lesson on equipment. That way, I could book my equipment online and stop by the hire shop at the mountain just long enough to have my bindings checked.
Boots—Most people assume the skis are the most important piece of equipment. My man in equipment, Gareth, thoughts otherwise. Boots that don’t fit right, or are too unforgiving, can make a run down the mountain into a painful ordeal—and a dangerous one. So much of skiing depends on telegraphing your instructions to the skis—Dig in this edge! Lift and turn!—and this all happens through the Frankenstein footwear between your body and the ski. In hiring boots I might now have too much choice in make and style, but if I were to buy them later, he said, I should start by having my feet measured not just for length but for width and the height of my instep. I could buy boots with innersoles that would conform to the shape of my feet—many of these involved heat fitting at the shop—or, if I were really particular or had a high instep (which I do) purchase a custom liner, injectable, that would mould itself exactly to my feet.
I was amazed at how different the same size boot in a different brand could feel. Even with my newly purchase ski socks, some were downright uncomfortable the moment I put them on. Gareth advised that as a beginner I should start with a more flexible boot. When I stayed only on the red and black runs I could move to a stiffer boot. (Some boots actually designed in an adjuster that would allow me to make them more or less relaxed.) I could buy beginner-level boots for a little more than €50, or I could drop ten times that on expert or racing boots.
Skis—If I were purchasing skis, I was told, I would buy the bindings and the skis separately (and, ideally, buy the boots at the same time since not all boots connect correctly with all bindings). Since I would be hiring my skis at first, I’d have little choice there. As a beginner, said Gareth, I should have skis that when standing on their tails reached to appoint between my chin and my nose; when I was more advanced they might reach as high as the top of my head. Almost all skis are “shaped” these days, but beginners should start with skis with a less pronounced hourglass shape since the extra width at the “waist” of the ski would lend stability. As my technique improved, I would prefer skis with a deeper side-cut (a narrow waist) for better response and quicker, tighter turns. I should also start with a “soft” ski rather than a stiff one.
Helmets—In my skiing fantasies, I pictured the sun glinting off my flowing blond locks, unmarred by anything more than a cute headband that color-coordinated with my goggles and rosy cheeks—not wearing what Gareth referred to so ingloriously as a “brain bucket.” Nevertheless, it didn’t take long to convince me that a helmet was the way to go. There were a confusing number of options, from austere to excessive. I tried on almost everything in the shop and immediately discounted the ones that make me look like Third Reicher, a half-pint half-piper, or a newel post, as well as those featuring fake fur and gemstones. I was rather taken with the ones with the built-in wireless capabilities, especially one the ones that would work with both my mobile and my iPod. Gareth assured me that if I were to drop the considerable number of euros it cost I’d have no trouble selling if off if I changed my mind, but in the end I decided to start off with a lightweight, durable, basic model that afforded me great peripheral vision and fit well with the goggles I’d bought.
What to Bring
There are of things you should not be without when skiing. The first is so obvious that many people forget it: water.
Another is protection for your skin and lips. Make sure that even on cloudy days you wear sunscreen (SPF 30+), and carry a tube of lip balm with you at all times—put those clever little pockets in your parka to good use! Although it’s a good idea to bring along a snack (energy bars, for instance), I also suggest bring along a little cash; even though the things you can buy on the mountain will likely be outrageously priced, it is better to be prepared.
Some little things that help make the skiing experience easier: ski straps to hold your skis together while you carry them across your shoulder (skis are designer to be slippery, after all); hand/toe warmers; (when you get to the point where you’re going somewhere the lift won’t take you) climbing skins—strips that add traction to your skis; and ski and boot bags for carrying the things you own from home to mountain and back again.
Although not everyone agrees, I also decided that another think I did not want to be without was ski accident insurance. There is no ski patrol in France, and should the worst happen and my recreational skiing turn to extreme stunt skiing, rescue would be at my expense—including the very likely need for being lifted out by helo to some medical facility many kilometers away.
The most important thing to bring, however, can’t be bought or hired. You just have to have it: a positive attitude and the ability to laugh at yourself when you find yourself flat on your bum for the Nth time, covered with snow, in full view of strangers and mates alike. Just think of it as a good story to share when you rack your skis for the night and tuck in around the fire with a toddy and a few dozen of your new chums, all with stories of their own. —MM
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MAX GORDON probably wrote and illustrated her first story the day she learned to hold a crayon—and she’s been scribbling ever since. After earning a master’s degree in writing and publishing from USC, she worked in publishing, typesetting, marketing, design, and procrastinating, but has never stopped being a writer. She has one son (the light of her life) and a partner (the soundtrack of her life), and lives contentedly wherever there’s waterfront, WiFi, and great coffee.
Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.