I have been skiing twice in my life, once in Bulgaria and once in Romania.
My ski style can best be described as unique and I still bear physical and mental scars from the experiences!
As both of my alpine adventures took place in Eastern Europe, I included a few paragraphs in my book On The Beaten Track – Travels in Eastern Europe.
By the kind permission of myself, I share the extract of my own personal horrors this Halloween day below:
The following Winter I went skiing for the first time, accompanying Lang (my old school chum) to the Bulgarian resort of Borovets.
I was known as Mr. Bean on ice within my ski-school for my skiing prowess. To be fair, my skiing was OK, but my clumsy self could not get to grips with the drag-lifts, falling off constantly.
The stress of queuing up for ages, grabbing a pole with dozens of people watching and then experiencing the excruciating humiliation of coming a cropper part way up as the masses gawped and laughed. They would then whisper smart remarks as I was lambasted by my ski instructor, all of which made me shiver with fear then and has left an indelible scar on my memory ever since.
At the time, the humiliation I felt was only matched by the exultation & relief when I finally made it to the top!
On one occasion a chap dressed as ALF, the acronym of US children’s comedy character Alien Life Form, helped me to my feet. I was pictured with him after the helping hand, much to Lang’s amusement.
I was pretty pleased when it was too foggy one day to ski. We took the opportunity to take the long minibus journey to the splendid Rila Monastery high up in the Rila Mountains. It was well worth the five-hour round trip.
My second ski holiday was to Poiana Brasov in Transylvania. We all went gratis, as Hamish was official photographer for the following season’s brochure.
In my ski-school were two attractive albeit bimbo Brummie girls that we christened the Trouts. They were to act as the primary models for the brochure shots, posing in skiwear, swimwear and nightclub wear. Fifteen years later they still featured in the brochure and as far as I am aware, they still do today!
There was one notable nightclub come strip club called Big Apple. This featured some exotic dancers, some singers, a magician and some strippers. It was quite a cabaret, which we were to see four times, all in the interest of some good photos for the brochure of course!
One evening, the cheap cocktails got the better of Lang and I and we got up on stage and started to strip. Hamish managed to get two photos before security intervened!
One day we decided not to ski and instead visited Dracula’s castle in nearby Bran in the Transylvanian Alps. It was pretty cheesy to be honest, with an actor dressed as Dracula attempting to scare us by popping out of a coffin part way round. There were also plastic vampire bats suspended on string from the ceiling of the dimly lit corridors that bobbed about when you headed them.
They even had a puntastic café selling bats wings (chicken), stake and chips and garlic soup – fangs for the memory!
The shop also sold every item of tat imaginable from plastic teeth to black capes to crucifixes to blood wine. No purchase necessary and none made.
On the penultimate day of the trip I had an incident that was to prove to be my last ever day on skis. We had graduated to a Red run, Black in places. We had arrived by gondola, so no ski lift dramas thankfully and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I skied to the bottom without incident.
What I did not know was that there was no lower gondola meaning that the only option to get back up was a hideous drag-lift. Not only was it a steep incline needing immaculate balance to stay on, but half way up there was a wooden ramp and bridge that you had to ski over whilst holding onto the lift pole and your own ski poles.
This was mission impossible for me. As I approached the ramp my whole body froze with fear and part way up predictably my skis crossed and off I came, firstly falling five feet onto the snow and then sliding and rolling down from whence I had come, my head just inches away from the concrete and metal of the ramp’s struts as I tumbled spectacularly down the mountain, gaining in speed until I eventually came to a gasping standstill at the flat bottom.
It took me several minutes to come to my senses, before I slowly picked myself up and dusted off the powdery snow. Jürgen the German instructor came racing over, concern in his voice to shout out an inquiry as to my well-being.
To my (and his) relief I was physically OK, but mentally I was finished with skiing. Jürgen tried to urge me to continue, stating that I could do it, that I should get back on the bike, how he would help me. No Fucking Way!!!!
This left me with no option but to walk up the mountain with my skis and poles (thoughtfully retrieved by Jürgen from various parts of the slope). Furthermore the middle gondola station was out of action meaning that my upward journey was two kilometres away!
To my mind this was preferable to the bridge structure, as dizzying thoughts of concrete plinths and my near death experience came flashing before my eyes.
I waited until Jürgen was out of sight before I started my lonely, energy-sapping trudge up the mountain, stopping to look at the bridge and thinking what might have been when I saw the concrete and steel once more. I froze transfixed to the spot for several minutes and shuddered!
I swore profoundly and audibly as I passed the non-functioning gondola. I was positively apoplectic a few metres later when I went arse over tit and watched my skis slide back down the mountain.
Fortunately there was a small plateau about twenty-five metres down where my skis now rested a few feet apart. I begrudged every one of those extra fifty metres there and back. If they had slid the whole one kilometre back down I would have left the sodding things and wouldn’t have cared less about the fine!
Eventually I got to the top after about ninety minutes of effort. Quite honestly it was one of the most physically draining things I had ever done, right up there with school cross-country running.
I had stitch and felt sick, but thankfully held it all together as my ski group waved at me from their lunch table.
Despite my red face, I joined them. The Trouts both kissed me on the cheek when I recounted my experience. Jürgen said how worried he had been and had expected to be coming down the mountain with me in a rescue helicopter. That thought made me feel a whole lot better!
I waved the group farewell as they skied back down the mountain. I would see Karen and Sharon (the Trouts) later, having grown fond of the daft pair.
I bought a lunch of steak and chips and a glass of red – I thought that was the least I deserved in the circumstances. As I sat there waiting for my food to arrive, I realised for the first time the majesty of my surroundings.
I had been so pumped up and wound up before that I had been oblivious to it. Now the pressure was off – no more drag-lifts, no more Germanic ear bashing, no more anxiety and no more red face (at least until I made an unwanted pass at Karen that evening that was)!
The sky was indigo blue with just a few wispy white clouds; the sun shone brightly and made the pristine snow sparkle; the rugged mountains thrust skywards, their snow capped peaks glinting invitingly; snow covered fir forests stood motionless bordering the ski slope filled with multi-coloured winter sports enthusiasts; bouts of laughter, chatter and the odd playful scream floated on the air; a hovering eagle cast its broad shadow as it stared out its potential prey; a family of Canada geese swept gracefully past with a coordinated honk to mark the occasion. If only I could paint, I thought to myself.
An air of tranquility came over me; the world was a wonderful place again. Even the leathery steak could not spoil my mood. If this was to be my last ever ski experience, it was fine by me I concluded.