Saturday morning was a bit of a rude awakening for me.
When we got to the ski resort (Hallingskarvet), those of us who needed to rent skis went to the rental center and picked up boots, skis, ski poles, helmets, and goggles. I was expecting something like what I use for cross-country skiing, but the equipment is entirely different.
First of all, downhill ski boots feel like a metal trap is enclosing your leg.
Seriously, though. Not the most comfortable things I’ve ever worn.
Cross-country ski boots only come up to your ankle to allow you to move freely. Downhill ski boots come up a bit past mid-calf, which makes walking really awkward because you can’t bend any part of your lower leg. It makes sense; when you’re skiing downhill you want your ankle to be stabilized, but it was rather uncomfortable for me at first.
I wasn’t entirely sure how tight the ski boots should be. I went with the ice skate approach–make ’em as tight as you possibly can. I did that and lost feeling in my right leg within ten minutes, at which point I realized the boots should be tight enough to stay on, but not so tight as to cut off one’s circulation. After adjusting the bindings, my legs felt a lot more comfortable. But still weird.
Second, the skis used for downhill skiing (both Telemark skis and normal alpine skis) are shorter and wider than cross-country skis. Also quite a bit heavier, which makes carrying them long distances awkward and unfortunate. The way downhill skis are shaped makes it much, much easier to slow down and stop–seriously, trying to snow plow (in which you push the tips of your skis close together to form a “V,” it’s a technique used to help you slow down) on cross-country skis does very little. Snow plowing on downhill skis can bring you to a stop in seconds if you do it hard enough. It’s also considerably easier to turn on downhill skis. I have difficulties turning easily with cross-country skis, but on downhill skis it wasn’t much of an issue. The ski poles used for downhill skiing are also quite a bit shorter.
Third, the bindings on the skis are way different. I was expecting this, but my expectations weren’t perfect. Cross-country ski boots have a metal bar on the bottom of the toe, which then connects to the skis. The heel is not attached to allow more movement. With normal alpine skis, your entire boot is locked into the skis. However, Telemark skis differ from alpine skis in an essential way–like cross-country skis, the heel is not attached in Telemark skiing. The bindings are different, though. Telemark ski boots have a lip around the toe which you slide into the front of a metal binding. The rest of the metal binding forms a stable tube that wraps around the boot. At the back there is a clamp which attaches to a groove in the ski boot. Then there is a wire and metal clip attached to the ski, which you clip onto your boot. This is so that if the binding on your ski releases, your ski won’t go sliding all the way down the mountain.
That would be most unfortunate.
After receiving all of our equipment, we headed up to the ski lift. We were told to take the ski lift halfway up the mountain for levels one and two.
It was at this point I started to sweat.
I have never been on a ski lift before, and this was not an easy ski lift to use. Oh no, it was the dreaded T-bar lift. Basically what happens is you move into the entryway of the lift and wait for a T-bar to come to you. When it does, you have to grab it before it goes past you, pull it down, and then put the bar behind your butt. You don’t sit on it; you just lean into it. It then pulls you up the mountain. Each T-bar can fit two people, and I’m told it’s easier to use when you’re using it with another person.
Sounds easy, right? Yeah, wrong. They’re actually pretty hard to stay on, and it’s not uncommon to fall off it, especially if you’ve never used it before. I even saw experienced skiers fall off it.
I decided to ride the lift with a guy who was getting off at the same spot as me. The T-bar came up to us, he grabbed it and pulled it down, and I didn’t adjust it quite right. So, I was totally unprepared and started falling off. Being the determined idiot that I am, I tried valiantly to stay on by grabbing on. I eventually gave up and let go, face-planting into the snow… but one of my mittens and ski poles stayed on the T-bar (really, I don’t understand this). The person running the lift saw what was happening and stopped the lift, luckily before my mitten and ski pole went too far. Then somebody came out to help people get on the lift. One nice Norwegian who was staying in my cabin, Martin, skied up and grabbed my mitten and ski pole, and said I could ride the lift with him. With the person helping us, we managed to get on the lift, and I managed to stay on. Admittedly, just barely, but it did work.
Still, that was quite embarrassing, especially since there was a large group of Norwegians standing in queue for the lift.
We rode the lift halfway up the mountain, and then I realized I had no idea how to get off. So, I just kinda fell over. We then had to ski across this icy path to reach the slope. I fell on this path and since I wasn’t wearing my mittens because of the ski lift dilemma, I cut and scraped my knuckles. Luckily it wasn’t bad; I didn’t even notice that I had done so until later.
I picked myself up and skied the rest of the way to meet the instructors and all the people in level one and two on the slope. The instructors then told us to ski down the mountain so that they could judge which level we should be placed in.
Wait a minute… you’re joking, right? You expect me to ski down that… that steep, steep slope? I’ve never downhill skied before!
I am going to die.