The snow this week prompted the son and I to remember a freezing February when he lent out of his bedroom window and broke stalagmites off the edge of the roof to suck on like lollies. We remembered building igloos and snowmen, and lying in the snow at dusk, flapping our arms and legs to see if our bodies could make the shape of angels. We could not. We generated a nondescript imprint that looked more like an accident than divine intervention.
This isn’t my only brush with the white stuff.
When I was six my parents introduced me to the ski slopes. We went to Klosters and stayed at the Wynegg Hotel where I met the legendary Ruth Guler. It was the sixties and everyone was glamorous. That is to say everyone except me. I was wearing a sort of baby pink bonnet affair and a pair of huge yellow goggles. My ski gloves hung out of the cuffs of my ski jacket on a bit of elastic. While others stood around on their ski poles looking relaxed, I mustered all the grace of a new born giraffe.
My parents were un-phased at the prospect of my learning to ski even though snow transformed every lump and bump and mountain into one huge flat white blanket. It was literally snow blindness. This was the moment I was introduced to sighted guiding. It happened by accident.
Ski classes were a no no. They were too tricky to follow and no one wanted to teach me so I had one to one lessons with Emma, who got increasingly frustrated at my inability to do what she demonstrated. In desperation she hit on the idea of describing what she was doing. She taught me how to position my body for the most basic of manoeuvres and off we went. Emma skied in front of me, shouting directions and descriptions over her shoulder.
The thrill of a perfect descent and Emma’s assumption that I’d know that I needed to stop before I hit the restaurant turned out to be my undoing. I hit the resteraunt. My humiliation was surpassed by a friends fully sighted son who skied off the slopes in Italy, into a car park where he landed on the bonnet of a Mercedes. It can happen to anyone.
I love the thrill of moving at speed on skies but it’s hard work. You have to concentrate and you need to have absolute trust in your guide. Without that rapport the experience can be a trial. I’ve skied in Switzerland, Italy and France with guides. I’ve never progressed beyond a blue run and a bit of cross country but that’s ok by me. So long as I can burn off enough to justify the chips at lunch time I’m content.
Let’s be honest. I’m no Olympian and I think my skiing days are behind me, but my parents did something wonderful for me. They set no limits. My choices need not be limited by my horizons. Much like everything else to do with sight loss, it’s not the sight loss that’s the problem but other people’s limited vision.
I once skied with a really grumpy guide in France. On the last hour before lunch we ran into a friend of his so they stopped for a chat. “What are you up to?” asked the friend in French.
“Oh I got lumbered with this. She can’t see so she can’t do much. It f…ing boring’.
He said that we’d better get going as the sooner we left the sooner his agony would be over. I said my goodbye’s in French.
I was asked by one of my fellow skiers if I’d enjoyed myself. I said that I’d found the guiding tough going so might look into going on a ski trip arranged through the Guide Dog Association. I thought the guiding might be better geared to people with sight loss. There was a slight pause and she asked the inevitable; “Do the guide dogs actually go down the hill?”
Viva the blind Olympic skiers. In 2014 Kelly Gallagher won gold for Britain. We have the same eye condition.
I could have been a contender!