I hadn’t touched a set of Telemark skis since my trip to Greenland in April 2014, so it was with a little trepidation that I once again ventured to Rauris in Austria, for the Army Telemark Championships. You expect snow when you go skiing (after all it is a tad useful), but when I touched sown in Salzburg it was 17C. Though the highest peaks were clad In white, the valleys were almost tropical. Higher in the mountains the view was the same as heavy rain had poured for 24 hours. It wasn’t the start I’d hoped for…
The championships start with an evening meet in the Shakesbeer Bar, which is legend in the village. It was packed to overflowing with faces, old and new who had come to ski our unusual style, which makes people either wince, or look on in awe. There were many new faces, which always fills my heart with joy as the event cannot get stale, but a few of the old stalwarts were there. As I looked across the crowded room, I stood alone, not conversing, not communicating with the masses, but watching the excitement of youth accelerate their adrenalin in readiness for the coming days. They talked of skiing, of racing, of dare and of fear. I’m too old a bunny to get all excited about all that, as I’m here to ski, but more importantly to have a good time. A few old faces commented on ‘great to see you again’ and ‘we heard your epic in the Himalayas‘, but one comment really hit a nerve. It was ‘I wish I had your life’. You can read more about my life in 2014 here, but after the comment I had a quiet moment to myself, smiled and moved the conversation on. ‘After almost burning myself out during the last year, it would hardly be the life you imagine’ I thought.
Perceptions are strange things. Do most people always think that everyone else has a better life than them..? Is everyone enjoying their life more..? Who can tell…
When we did get on the hill, we were greeted with the one thing that all skiers hate – rain. It poured for the first hour or so, soaking my kit and turning the slopes into a mushy porridge. Height gain at least turned it into snow, but driving winds brought blizzard conditions. I’m not really selling this to you, am I..?
So what keeps a man going in such awful conditions..? Fellow skiers, good instruction and singing to Earth Wind and Fire usually does it for me. You see, I was a DJ for almost 15 years in my youth, and I love music. Whether it be classical, metal, house or lift, music has got me through more situations in my life than I can count.
The sun appeared more and more as the week progressed, brining out skiers in droves, but also softening the snows. Snow cannons ran day and night, trying to keep the pistes open, as for a small village like Rauris, skiing is the major source of income over the winter.
I’ve always accepted coaching at every level in my life, and skiing is no different to any other. I got the usual feedback – feel with your toes, stand on the balls of your feet etc. Well, these are never going to work for me, but I’ve always tried hard to gauge and remember what it would have felt like. That’s no easy task after fifteen years without toes. What I’ve never really taken on is the amount of respect people have had for me, committing to ski a discipline, which has been regarded as impossible without toes. I haven’t given it with much thought, as my feet are all I know now, but talking to fellow skiers and the instructors, they really are impressed. I’m not in to let all the go to my head, as the last reason I ski to gain attention and praise. I do it because I love it.
The weather has played an important part in shaping my life, and high winds began to blast spindrift across the slopes. Some people tried to hide, whilst others complained, but I screamed with joy and laughed like a child when it came. I skied so much better in the spindrift, or was it that everyone else was struggling..? Why does the worst of the weather make me smile..? After all these years i still don’t know, but I delight when nature does her worst.
I spent the final day on the hill, climbing on my skis and skins. Though I have good friends here, I need time alone on the mountain. It is perhaps one of the few places were I can truly think. I slid silently up the slopes, joined only by the wind as it whistled through the trees. I adore the mountains, their purity, their honesty and their challenge. I sat alone in the trees, way above the slopes, listening to two very important things in my life – my heart and my soul. Both have been battered over that last year or two, and only emptiness allows them to breathe.
I had hoped to climb higher, but the wind was strengthening and a threatening weather front was coming over the horizon. It was time to head home and call the trip to an end. I skied down and packed away my gear for now. I have many more mountain trips ahead this year, and there’s no need to put everything away just yet…