Date: 14 January 2016.
Location: onboard an easyjet flight from London Gatwick to Innsbruck, Austria. It's time to put a pin in the first new destination of 2016. Strudel! Schnapps! Sehr gut!
Guess who I'm about to meet up with?
I'll give you a clue. In grade one, she taught me how to make really good, firm, round mudballs. Another? In grade 5, she and I surreptitiously looked up the mysterious F-word we'd heard on the playground in my children's dictionary (no joy). We've unwittingly matched our outfits many times in the 28 years we've been friends — we shared a love for denim overalls. We've been netball team co-founders, pen-pals, joint amateur theatre producers at the tender age of 10. Still no?
It's Bunky! (And her boyfriend Tank. Sorry, Tank, through absolutely no fault of your own, I'm less excited about seeing you. I have seen no references that attest to the calibre of your mudball-crafting skills or any indication that you too nurse a penchant for cutoff denim atrocities.)
I am so hoping not to be a third wheel on this little sojourn but I'm honestly not that worried. In my limited experience ski holidays are all about the S-word: Snow. How much is there? When are we getting more? How much more? How crunchy is it? How powdery? Groomed? Wet? Dry? Sticky? It's the last thing you check before you go to bed and the first thing you check upon waking. Between obsessing over the different forms this flaky frozen water can take, a few aprés Aperols, collecting / carrying / caring for / customising all of the gear you need, whining about whichever bit of your butt or head you fell on that day, doing all the actual skiing, reliving all of the above by a crackly fire and then, finally, sleeping the blessed sleep of the truly tired — you have time for little else. You make a bit of lively chit chat on the lifts, sure. Otherwise, it's all about the white stuff.
What I'm more worried about is my unreliable body. It's been over three years since I was last on skis and it's the reason why.
My love affair with the snow started slow.
I'm told I had a Canadian white Christmas as a toddler but my first memories of snow are later. I remember a winter family trip to Lake Mountain in Victoria, Australia, and a toboggan. I also remember a summer at Mara lake in British Columbia when we drove up a mountain called Silverstarand there, in the summer sun, were dirty lumps of ageing winter snow that utterly delighted us in their novelty. Little did I know then how important this mountain would be to me in later life.
In 2008 I had a terrible breakup that cracked something deep inside of me. By early 2009 I'd become a terrible vixenish version of myself, partying hard, eating little except vodka and beer, coming home at all hours, sleeping all day and working in a mindless retail job at Sportsgirl, drifting and alarmingly aimless — save my bloody-minded focus on self destruction. My parents sent me off on 'holiday' to Canada. As far as extraditions go, I got lucky indeed. In Canada I practised, extended and varied my bad habits during 2 weeks spent with my friend Joey who was living on campus at the University of Toronto, then, reluctantly, I said goodbye to her and joined my aunt, uncle and cousins for some wholesome family 'fun' in Golden, British Columbia where they have a ski condo at Kicking Horse ski resort.
All I really wanted to do was loiter in the bar and then take my cousins off to get drunk. My incredibly generous aunt and uncle had other ideas. They trundled me down to rentals and insisted that I get kitted out and give the slopes a try. By midday we all regretted their generosity. Ski resorts come in all shapes and sizes and Kicking Horse is an XL, in all black. It prides itself in offering 'champagne powder' and steep and deep terrain. Trees are sparse at its altitude — as are green runs. In fact, there's just the one green run: 'It's A Ten', a 10km cat track that curls it's way slowly down the mountain, crisscrosses by the more direct, more vicious, black and blue runs. I snowplowed, screamed and snivelled my way down all 10km, chaperoned by my poor aunt and cousin. It was a long day. I hated it.
However, I had a two day hire on my gear so, utterly undeterred, my aunt and uncle packed me off again the next day into a ski lesson. Somehow, during those 3 hours in the blinding cold, I started to get it. By the end of the week I was comfortable on an easy black run. And I had started to fall in love with it.
What (rather predictably, now that I look back at it) happened next was a few months at home in Australia pining for snow then a whole ski season in Silverstar which is probably currently ranking in first place for 'best months of my life', followed by a return home to start work as a lawyer, snatching days to ski Austrlia's meagre snowfields wherever and whenever I could. My love of skiing extended to the whole ritual, from scampering around in your dorky thermals and long socks making morning coffees to the clack of stepping into your skis to that last golden run of the day where every turn makes lactic acid burn your muscles. It burned bright, like an addict's love of cocaine.
Then, in July of 2012, on a perfect winter holiday in New Zealand, I had a bad fall. My knees had both been funny for a while, ever since an awful accident back in Canada which had left both knees weak, wobbly and horrendously swollen — but to which I'd refused to pander, instead having my boyfriend at the time duct tape up both knees and continuing as usual. That run in New Zealand was called 'Exhibition' and exhibiting I was. I was showing off in my flashy yellow ski jacket, tackling very steep moguls with too much confidence and not enough attention to detail when I managed to dig the tip of a ski into one mogul and, while it stayed firmly embedded there, the rest of my body continued to hurtle down the mountain at great speed. I feel sick to think of it, even now. There was a twist and a tear and a pop. In August that year I had a knee reconstruction. I haven't seen snow since.
So, this is to be our renunion. It is like going back to Disneyland; like having dinner with an ex you never got over; like rewatching the first episode of Game of Thrones with someone who's never seen it; like finally getting back to that tiny place is Rome that overlooks St Peter's and has the pizza you've craved since you first tried it in 2006; like second date after a bewilderingly great first date in a French wine bar in Neal's Yard. You hope it'll be the same, that the magic will still be there. But there's no guarantee. It may have changed. You might have remembered wrong. You may have changed.
In contrast, Bunky's love for skiing is a new one. She's athletic and stubborn as a mule so I expect she's gotten quite good in the year or so since she started. And I know Tank is adept indeed. I'm nervous I won't be able to keep up or, worse, that I'll try and then find myself back in front of my orthopaedic surgeon once more, explaining myself, and wishing I hadn't tried to show off.
I'm for the bunny runs and milk runs tonight.