On the piste

Posted on March 13, 2014


… so this trip was a month or so ago, but here, a share of an article written recently re how skiing turns out to be quite a marvellous metaphor for life. Who ever thought time on the piste was time wasted?! ; )

I’ve just returned to the sweat fest of Durban from a fantastic trip carving up the piste in picture perfect conditions in Cervinia, a wonderful little Italian ski resort, in the shadows of the mighty Matterhorn. I was due a little respite from the mountains… you see, 2013 threw me a few curveballs on the mountains and trails. On several occasions, they beat me down and showed me who’s boss. First up, I never made it to a race in Nepal last March due to Maoist road-blocks causing havoc on the road to Pokhara. The following month, I ventured to lovely Lyon in the south of France for my annual girls trip with the intention of running the Beaujolais Village Trail, a gorgeous 65k through  rambling wine estates. The race turned out to be wonderful but a scary car accident en route to the race could have created a very different ending. Next up, end May, I flew to Geneva with the intention of running the 80k Maxi Race in the mountains above Annecy, one of France’s most beautiful towns. On the eve before the race, even after registration, the entire event was cancelled due to snow and unsafe conditions. Needless to say, I was persuaded instead by my dear friends to drink grape till we dropped in a bijou wine bar and then attempt to hit the race route ourselves the following day. Think knee-deep in snow and sliding all over! Finally, in November, the now iconic Skyrun, was of course, abandoned mid-race after a truly unforgettable humbling experience. As AJ Calitz so aptly said, “Humbled by the weather, our mountains and our maker.”

So my recent Italian adventure came as a perfect reminder of how truly marvelous the mountains are when they behave… when obstacles don’t rudely interrupt our plans and the weather doesn’t cause havoc. Thankfully, I can now say that my faith in the magic of the mountains has been fully restored!

Cervinia, sitting at 6,726 ft / 2,050 m is a pretty accessible ski resort in terms of travel and distance. I flew from Durban, via Dubai, to Milan on Emirates and from Milan, it’s just a short(ish) hop to Milan and then two hours up the road. The ski area is enormous and the mountains truly majestic and utterly breathtaking. You can ski all the way to Zermatt in Switzerland but if having lunch on the other side, you just need be aware of leaving enough time to catch the lift’s up, to get back to Italy before they close. I learnt this many years ago, from bitter experience!

Italians know how to live la dolce vita… lunch was in chocolate-box chalets, all wood and chintz, three course Italian feasts washed down by warming bottles of red. Evenings were spent sipping Prosecco and playing games by the fire after yet another feast of gastronomic proportions.

The snow was perfect, as soft and fluffy as it gets with all around, 360-degree panoramic views of stunning snow-capped peaks. My days normally ended on such a high that no sooner had I returned to the hotel, did I swap my skis for my Yaktrax (crampons for running on ice) and head back out, this time to run on the snow. It’s moments like this that you feel so incredibly alive…treading where many do not and discovering pastures new, far away and up high.

On one particular afternoon, my dad, who I was with, had a mighty wipeout. Off piste, the snow was so deep that his skis, scattered perhaps 30ft above where he lay, were nowhere to be seen at first. “Dad, are you ok?  Did you hurt yourself?” I asked him. “No, no, Victoria, I’m fine. Just my dignity…”

I immediately shot him down. “Don’t be silly Dad”, I said. “There’s no shame in falling. If you don’t fall, then you’re not trying hard enough.”  How true it is after all, that in skiing as in life, if we don’t fall every now and then, we’re not trying hard enough. And then of course, it occurred to me that skiing holds a few good metaphors for life.

  • It epitomises the strength, courage and endurance that life requires. Life asks us to zigzag right and left around obstacles, as if we’re on a slalom course but all too often, we try to proceed fast and straight. Perhaps, it’s no wonder then that we so often plough headlong into problems!
  • Ski conditions vary. There can be bright sunshine, clouds, rain, sleet, fog and sometimes, huge snowstorms.  The wind can be howling or calm and the temps can range from sub-zero to spring skiing t-shirt weather. The slope surface can be frozen firm or feet on feet of soft powder.  Sometimes the slopes are groomed to perfection whilst other times there are moguls galore. Similarly, life conditions vary. At times, all things are going well, like the perfect day on the slopes with the sunshine beaming down and the skis running true. Other times we have trouble and strife.  Skiers however, have a way of finding joy on the slopes in spite of the conditions. The joy is heightened with good conditions but conquering the difficult conditions can become a joy in itself. And I think this is true of life too.  Whatever the situations we encounter, there is always opportunity to find joy!
  • The only way down is to ski down the hill. Once you’re off the chairlift, the only way “out” is down! You have to just turn your skis down the hill and go. There’s a big element of trusting yourself and what you’ve practiced to instinctually do the right thing. Likewise, in life, sometimes we just need to put ourselves on the top of that hill and conquer any doubts… it doesn’t matter if we’re not always going at lightening speed or looking super suave and stylish. What matters, is that we’re moving in the right direction.
  • Taking a fall is also a reflection of life because you never really see it coming. And when it happens, it is, at times, easy peasy to get back up again, or at others, not at all. You might have lost a ski halfway up the hill and feel your confidence battered. But in skiing and in life, you just need to take the time you need to put yourself back together again, without pressure from anyone else and most of all, from yourself.
  • The final life lesson of skiing is to know your limits. Sure, we all like to talk of diving in and pushing our limits but we also need to evaluate the risk of a situation. If you’re not a kick-a** skier, you don’t want to find yourself at the top of a lift where the only way down is on a double black diamond! So it’s important to plan ahead and raise the bar with new limits that are achievable and not going to end in disaster.

On my last evening, the sunset on the Matterhorn left me speechless and I left with a heavy heart. Touching down back on SA soil however is always a joy and our summer climes certainly came as a warm welcome home!


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