First Impressions of Skiing
“Seedha aao Seedha aao, vaahan mat dekho” I could hear the sharp voice of Vicky cutting through all the noise around us.
I’m surrounded by different shades of shoes. Atleast 4 pairs of them.
“Here. Give your hand”
“Look at me”
“Can you hear? Your hand”
“Are you alright mam?”
Amidst all the voices that poured in, I could hear a faint mumble from a distance that I immediately identified with. It was Vicky. My instructor. He must also be one among the four people standing in front of me. My vision gets blurred as I try to look up.
I hear the ski blades being released. Both my knees are twisted in opposite directions with each leg anchored by ski shoes weighing atleast 2 kgs each.
“Lift your right leg mam”
Though I could clearly hear the instructions, my knees didn’t follow the same. There is a stinging pain traversing from my knees all the way to my spine.
I clench my teeth, drop my head, place my palm on the hard snow floor, balance my weight trying to get up while moving my leg. I lose balance. The pain is excruciating. Tears well up my eyes. I dare not to look up, mostly in the fear of being caught in tears.
“Give me your hand mam, slowly…..slowly”, I could hear someone saying.
After what seemed like forever, I was finally standing on my legs, my knees still bent and shaky from the fall, both my hands being held by 2 other people whom I had never seen before. Inch by inch I can see myself moving. They make me sit in a corner. Vicky is slowly moving my feet up and down, left to right. I let out a sharp squeal of pain. I wipe my tears and tell him my knees hurt and there is a burning ache at the tail end of my spine. The other guy nods his head, bends down, replaces my ski shoes with my gumboots.
“Let’s take you to the hotel. You take rest. We shall try again tomorrow.”
There ends my first day of Skiing.
The lesson I learnt from day one is the fact that skiing is an adventure sport in its true spirit. It is not for the faint-hearted. The sheer number of times we fall on snow is indirectly proportional to nailing the art of ski.
It’s 11AM the next day, I’m clothed in candy pink ski pants, a matching mosaic patterned pink, cerulean blue and white combo ski jacket with earl grey ski boots and black-rimmed ski goggles. We are at the baby slope in Gulmarg, one of the most basic slopes to try skiing.
My knees have black patches; blood clots from the previous day; my ankles still hurt when I move. Adding to all this, I’m on first day of my periods. Sigh!
I look around. It’s a canvas completely bathed in white with mounds of snow everywhere. The pine trees are glittering in emerald green under the sunlight with specks of snow rimming their edges. There is a row of houses with red roofs covered with a thick layer of snow on them. If a painting were to come alive, this would be it. Kashmir is truly heaven on earth. I take in a deep breath.
“Chalo, let’s start. Bend your knees and move your blades in v shape” the instructions come clear as a crystal through my instructor’s voice. Vicky is a professional skier from Tangmarg, who’s been teaching for the last 5 years.
I look around to see so many local kids as young as 4-year-olds learning to ski. For Kashmiris, skiing is a part of their life and lifestyle.
Though I want to kick the fear out of my head, the black patch in my knee is threatening otherwise.
“Nivi, concentrate…” Vicky brings me back to reality.
I nod my head in unison with what he is saying. I feel more determined than ever to learn skiing even though I know falling is inevitable.
The call for aazan wakes me up from my deep sleep. It’s only 4.45 in the morning. I look through the window and the day is yet to break. I sigh and get back under the cozy warm blanket to score an extra couple of hours of sleep. Alas! Falling asleep is a task. My mind constantly wanders to the powdery white lanes with bright blue skies and the ever-gorgeous Apharwat peak welcoming us all.
I get ready, tape the bandages on the bruises, wear my ski jacket and comfortably walk out of my hotel in ski shoes.
The snow lane looks deeper than the day before. I could feel the adrenaline rush everytime I whizz past the other skiers in the lane. My heart races when the cold breeze caresses my face, making my hair fly. Slowly and steadily I’m falling in love with my earl grey shoes, black ski blades, and this entire art of skiing.
Days 4-5-6 were pretty much spent in me trying to ski without having to fall on my face each time. The golden ticket to this entire ordeal was the gobsmacking Himalayan views, a hot shower at -10 degrees, and warm Kashmiri food to end my day. Life I guess is always filled with bruises and brownies along the way!
“This is the 85 slope” Vicky exclaimed pointing towards a precariously steeper slope. The slope is at an angle of 85” with a deep drop.
I stood there puzzled. A skier sped past me onto the slope, taking turns with so much ease. When I thought I could handle it, I saw him fly and land on his back. I gulped and looked at my instructor. My terror-stricken face would have said a thing or two to him.
“Move forward and take it slowly” and “Don’t look around”
I slowly moved my blades down the slope and started skiing. The blades gathered speed rather quickly than I expected and the downhill move was going out of my control.
“Plough…plough…no parallel turn”
My heart rate was skyrocketing along with the speed of the blades screeching through the snow. I shifted the weight of my body to one side trying to balance the blades and slow down. What seemed like a herculean task at the beginning, seemed like a piece of butter on a croissant at the end. I melted and moved on the snow along with the undulations of the slope just like the way the butter glides over the croissant.
I reached the base waving at Vicky grinning ear to ear. The inherent happiness in my heart is unparalleled to anything I felt in the recent times.
To Ski or Not
If the past 7 days has thought me anything, it is that sliding and moving in life is essential irrespective of the number of times we fall. Skiing taught me agility, to fall a little less, to balance a little better and to glide a little smoother, all this while the Himalayan ranges stole my heart a little everyday.
“Next year you come, I’ll teach you in Phase 1. Insha Allah” Vicky spoke smiling at me.
I smiled back confidently nodding my head, “It’s a promise”
That’s the thing about skiing – It’s more than just an adrenaline-pumping activity, it teaches you discipline, strength, and the courage to pick yourself up after every fall no matter what. It teaches you TRUST, especially in yourself.
If you’re keen to travel to Kashmir but worried about the safety aspect, read the article on “How safe is Kashmir for Tourists?” and plan your trip accordingly.