It’s been an extremely warm few weeks out in the Alps and as nice as it was skiing around in a tee-shirt before working on the the goggle tan at apres, it is concerning how hot is has been. February is usually the coldest month with the lowest temperatures bringing in lots of snow but this year it’s felt like spring as the blazing sun slowly melted the snow. This alarming weather has not only lacked any fresh snow but has also started to make the previous dumps disappear and a few rocks and tufts of grass have began to sprout up on the side of the piste.
Today was the first day on snow for my new group of skiers and it was taking one boy a bit longer to rediscover his ability as he took a few tumbles and looked slightly unsteady. As it was the first day and it is only an intermediate group I thought that bare lumps of mountain off to the side of the piste wouldn’t cause an issue as we’d be staying on the groomed slope, but this boy was keen to prove me wrong. We were coming down a medium level run and everything was going well. It was a challenging pitch in the middle, but the group were all concentrating, performing solid big turns and managing to control their speed. At each turn I’d look over my shoulder and count six stable looking kids. Half way down I turned my head and this one boy wasn’t looking quite so stable. He was picking up speed and slowly losing control over his stance and his skis. He started to lean back and spread his legs wider and wider and eventually reached the point where he didn’t trust himself to turn back across the slope. As the edge of the piste got closer and closer, so did a singular but sizeable rock on the other side of the piste marker. Either side of this rock was endless snow for my student to slow down in or to turn into, a huge area for possible routes back to the piste. Inevitably though, he was drawn to the rock. He could turn up the hill to a stop. He could turn down the hill and go around it. He could fall over on the snowy piste. But no, he tried to ski straight over it.
Panicking, he felt he was so close to it with no time to change course that the only viable solution was to commit to riding right over the top. I watched it unfold. He crept towards it in slow motion, gradually edging closer and closer. Finally, the wince inducing sound of a ski base scraping over a rock echoed in my ears. Due to his lack of speed, however, he didn’t quite make it over the rock. He stopped halfway, paused for a second and then began sliding backwards off it. Unfortunately he hadn’t practiced much in the area of backwards rock skiing and on his reversing journey he rolled of the small edge of the boulder and into a surprised bundle on the floor.
I was laughing at the leisurely sluggish stumble until I considered the consequences. Rocks are not the intended thing to ski over and their hard, sharp exterior can be extremely damaging. As the kid lay motionless at the side of this slab of Earth, a belated sense of concern crept over me. I hadn’t even checked if things were okay whilst I chuckled at his mistake. I’m sure the kid was fine, but what about the skis. We rent all of the ski equipment from a retired Swiss special forces man who is as serious as an avalanche and twice as scary. He is the most no nonsense man on the planet and any rental procedures are orderly and nerve racking and if it’s not done perfectly he will let you know with a bone rattling shout and glare that would turn Medusa to stone. Despite always having to change the bindings he sets or scrape off wax he’s missed, any damage (including a hole in the base from a rock) would most likely end in him using his special forces training to hide your corpse. There was a fear that this military man who probably survives off drinking raw eggs and feasting off children’s fear was already watching this kid’s fall through the sights of a sniper rifle and that he was ready to pull the trigger. After laughing at this boy managing to hit the only rock in sight at the top of mountain I then quickly realised the consequences of any damage and had a look at his battered ski. The skis provided by the only person in existence to have muscley elbows are ancient and there was no way to tell if the destruction was fresh to the old deteriorating bit of kit so I hope that after they are returned my student and I both escape harm free.