Skiing in the Cairngorms

By: Richard Adams

I have always wanted to try skiing, but was afraid of all the extra costs, like lift passes, ski hire and all the clothes - not to mention getting all the way to somewhere cold enough to try it. However this time was different.

I had a friend from the UK who had always wanted to have a go at it too, so we decided that next time we went away together, it would be somewhere cold enough for snow! Scotland in January fitted the bill, so we got it all booked - and I was quite surprised at how little it cost us....

I'd called the ski centre after finding their contact details on the mountains own website (?) to find a very helpful man on the other end of the line. He told me that the tuition price included all the essentials including free travel on the mountain railway, ski passes and of course a full days tuition and you could hire any extras if you needed them.

He also advised that due to the temperamental weather, if you turn up on your booked day and there is no chance of skiing, they will just move your lesson on to the next day for free. I don't know why I was so worried about all the extra costs - as so far, there don't seem to be any!

The accommodation we chose was as close to the mountains as you could get, and it turned out - the best place to be if you are an outdoor type. It was a centre for all the associations you would expect up here, including avalanche research, mountain rescue and training. It was also a learning centre for anyone interested in rock climbing, ice hiking, river and sea canoeing to name a few - and just by staying at the lodge you had free access to their climbing walls, gym and pool throughout your stay.

Anyway, on the first day, we read the weather and avalanche reports (!) for the mountain over a hot breakfast and it all looked like it was going to be a good day for skiing. There was no snow on the lower parts of the mountains, but as we pulled into the car park we could see thick snow just off to the side! Getting more and more excited we headed up to the equipment block and made ourselves known. It was only at this point that they took any money from me, I had booked us in so far on purely on a promise.

The staff couldn't have been more patient and helpful as we were shipped over to collect our boots, and were having some serious trouble getting them on, and then walking in them. Well, they take all the movement away from you lower leg, ankle and foot, so we were hobbling along on our heels. There was me, trying to carry my 4ft ski's (which were very heavy for me) under one arm, and the 4ft poles under the other! We must have looked like right newbies to all the regulars there - I can imagine they have some word for us as we head off in one big group towards the mountain train.

The morning session was nice and slow, on a flat patch of snow not to far up the mountain, with only 5 other beginners in our group. It was very strange to not have control of your own feet, and not able to step off them at any time, but it didn't take long to realise that you can't really fall off. The boots totally supported your body - I mean you could sit right down or lean right forward and touch the fronts of your ski's without falling over. This increased my confidence no end, and I was actually skiing down a little slope after about 20 minutes!

It was then that I found out I couldn't quite stop! I understood what the tutor was telling me to do, but my feet couldn't quite control the ski's. It was a very strange to be telling my feet one thing and have them do another. For the rest of the morning I enviously watched the girl who couldn't stop falling over earlier to be confidently turning left and right and stopping whenever she wanted to, while I was overshooting into the fence or way off down the hill! Needless to say at this speed, I found out that you could fall over quite easily in fact!!

We broke for lunch, with me still unable to master turning and stopping, and headed up the mountain where we ate in the highest restaurant in Scotland (apparently). The afternoon session was right at the top of the mountain, and when we got there, you couldn't see past the end of your ski's - there was a blizzard going on! We all wrapped up safe and dry in all our clothes, with only our noses exposed to the weather. The fresh snow made skiing so much easier and as the snow lessened we were slaloming between our skiing poles and were all 10 times better than this morning, and I finally mastered the whole stopping thing (I found it easier without the poles in my hands).

No joke, after an hour up here, we were all off on the ski lift to the very top slope and were all confident enough to ski down, following the tutor back to the bottom of the ski lift, then went up again.

All in all it was a great day. I can now ski with confidence, I wasn't cold at all at any time, I didn't get wet from all the falling over, I wasn't hurt from all the falling over and I had gotten to see a whole lot of snow!

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