Making assumptions…

A few years ago on the slopes above Meribel I bumped into some of the RAF Telemark Ski Team.  They asked me if I had a light, I said no, but offered them a hip-flask full of Whisky.  One of them was a medical officer and noticed my shortened fingers. She asked “are you badly injured?” I explained my situation and within minutes I was having tea with a Major and stood surrounded by people shaking their heads in disbelief.  “You can’t ski telemark without toes!” they said.  It sounded like the same voices that said I’d never climb again after suffering severe frostbite. It was the start of a relationship that has seen me ski with the Army Telemark Ski Association, the GB Telemark Team, lecture at Sandhurst and the Royal Citadel in England, and Rauris in Austria.

These assumptions were based on little fact and early on I took a choice, a choice to prove people wrong.  How many of you were told that you couldn’t walk without your big toes?  Who told you?  No doubt people with toes.  This is the problem.  People base their assumptions an what they don’t know, rather than what they do.  Ask anyone middle aged what they think about teenagers and you’ll get all kinds of bad replies about hoodies standing on street corners causing trouble etc.  The question is, has anyone asked the teenagers? Anyway, lets get back to skiing…

My apparently simple journey to Rauris was almost thwarted by a coach breakdown, the flight being diverted from Salzburg to Munich and the train deciding not to stop at my destination, but the life of adventure travel hardly ever runs smoothly.  The important bit was that deep snow was dumping on the mountain!

I skied the first day with friends from the military on new skis, boots and bindings.  I’d decided to move from my traditional wire kit to NTN (New Telemark Norm) as many experts had advised me that it would be beneficial to me because of my injuries. I have to say it was a bit of a stab in the dark on my part, and a very expensive one at that, but you never learn by standing still.

What’s left of my feet struggled with new sensations and feelings, but there’s nothing new about that on my life.  At one point I did a headstand after falling at around 20mph, which brought huge applause (my shoulder still aches to this day).  Then again, if you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough!  The snow continued to fall and explosions echoed around the valley as cornices were blown clear to lower the avalanche risk. Day after day the snow kept falling, roads were blocked and for a time we were trapped in the resort. I wasn’t complaining…

The weather seemed to be making news back home in the UK and BBC Radio Derby called me for an interview one morning as I was out skiing. The world of modern communications allows people to be in touch around the world, and I always try to be available for the media as interviews are the best PR I know.

I was asked to present ‘Frostbitten – Turning Tribulation into Triumph‘ in the town hall and was greeted by a packed house. During the earlier part of the week people had been complaining about the cold and driving snow. I soon put them right with my stories of frostbite and mountaineering across the world. I’ve been doing a great deal of work in my presentations and skills as of late and it’s beginning to pay off. We must never assume that we always have everything right, or that nothing needs changing or updating.

I’ve never been one to turn down tuition and one of the big reasons I joint the team exercise is to learn. Compared to Alpine skiers, we Telemarkers are few and far between, so a gathering is always a place to expand our skills. I can assume nothing when it comes to how my injuries will react and take every day as a new experience. Because of my background, people assume I’m a great skier. Actually I’m not, so picking up new tips and ideas is great. Some are a little hard to master, such as feeling the pressure on your big toe, but I take it all with a good pinch of salt. I have to feel everything with my shins and base what I can on that information. It’s a difficult game to play if conditions are testing, but there was more snow than many people had ever seen before. This did mean that many of the higher pistes were closed due to high risks (there had been 8m deep powder avalanches), but the resort staff worked hard and soon the whole ski area was open. The sun began to shine and beaming smiles covered the hillsides. It was here that an old injury began to ache…

Last year I had skied hard, but had been knocked over on the piste and ended up with a knee facing the wrong way. Telemark skis don’t release as easily as Alpines and my knee begins to burn. I got up up, but the damage was done. Over the last year I have had physio treatment and strap the knee up before I even put my ski boots on, but after five hard days it was not happy. When I had flown out, I had assumed it was ok. I was wrong. Oh well, back to the drawing board…

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