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The swish set

Plunging face down in the snow, only to get up and fall yet again, is worthwhile for the rush of zipping along a snowy slope.

travel Updated: Dec 07, 2009 17:08 IST

Powdery snow with pinpricks of glitter. A light breeze in your face cooling the occasional film of perspiration. The sun warming your back and reddening your nose when the sun screen wears out. Despite the strong sun, the air is so cold and crisp that it slices at the exposed skin on your face and whistles faintly around your ears as you skim straight down the piste on the path marked for skiing, knees bent, holding the poles parallel to the ground and under your arms, in tuck position.


Reaching the end of the piste, you transfer your weight on to one ski and, curving smartly, turn both heels outwards to brake. Simultaneously, your poles, tucked under your arms splay out with a flourish and you come to a halt -- leaning elegantly on one pole. You look around a bit furtively. But your pride cannot be masked. A fellow trainee raises his eyebrows to indicate he's impressed. You begin to beam when instructor Negi hovers into view and yells, "Go practise your parallel turns, silly!"

The downhill run is not taught during the course. But every trainee learns it by watching the accomplished local skiers, who are all over the slope, and everyone sneaks in a downhill now and then because it's so much fun. You ski straight down the fall line of the piste (slope) and pick up speed by crouching with knees bent and head and elbows close to the torso for minimal wind resistance (tuck position).

Learning curve
Learning to ski is fun. For the first couple of days, you will plunge face down into the snow or slide backwards helplessly down the slope whenever you bend to pick up a fallen ski pole. It is frustrating but there is no chance of getting hurt -- the ski bindings will have the release setting, called the Deutsch Industrial Norm number, set at 0. It is necessary for the ski to be released at once whenever you fall, otherwise you could break a leg.

You will begin on a nursery slope, with a gradient of about 15-20°. As you gain confidence, you will move to steeper slopes on your own. The first thing you will learn is schussing, moving straight down a gentle slope. The instructors cleverly do not teach the braking technique until everyone has mastered schussing! The basic course will also teach you the snowplough and stem turns, and you will be able to swing stylishly from side to side as you descend the slope. If you take to skiing like some people take to water sports, you can go on to advanced techniques like parallel turns and carving.

Skiing courses usually teach alpine skiing, which is done on slopes. But instruction for cross-country or Nordic skiing is also available. Alpine skiing is popular because it looks stylish and is more fun. Cross-country, which uses a skating technique, is laborious and requires lower body strength. In general, skiing requires flexibility.

Dressed for the occasion
What should one wear? Avoid jeans. They get wet and take forever to dry. Wear warm inners and either worsted track pants or nylon fleece pants that go over your boots. Knee-length thin woollen socks are essential; thick ones don't let you feel the ski blades through the boots. You will need at least three pairs of gloves because they will get sopping wet during your falls. Use a close-fitting woollen cap that will not hinder your skiing.

The most important part of personal gear is sunglasses or a pair of goggles. Never ski without them. In good weather, the sun will make you screw up your eyes; in bad weather, sleet or snow flakes will. Either way, your sight and safety are hindered. Having learnt the basic techniques of skiing, you'll feel adventurous enough to start your descent from higher up on the slope, where the gradient is steeper. Choose a spot and set down the skis side by side at the edge of the piste. Step into the bindings that lock onto the boots. Grasp your ski poles and look up the slope to watch for a gap in traffic as proficient skiers hurtle past. On finding a gap, turn slowly into the lane and set off.

Your poles will jab the snow as you swish from turn to turn. You can tell by the ease with which you control the movement that you've got the technique right -- savour the satisfaction. Suddenly, as you feel a stab of ambition, you swiftly tuck your poles under your arms and crouch low over the skis. Within moments, you've picked up speed and the skis are shuddering under your boots, as you fly over the bumps and dips. The piste has become your playground.