Date: 12 January 2016.
Location: Midway through a very German style breakfast of meat, bread and cheeses galore at Goldene Krone hotel in the alpine town of Innsbruck.
My knees. Surprisingly, my quads seem OK (but am yet to try stairs, so they're TBA). My ankles.The rest of me — from shoulders down to little toes — feels like it volunteered to take on Rocky for forty bouts and then got run over by a snow groomer. I'm mangled.
However, it's just wonderful to be back in a ski town, where everyone wears beanies and you can bond instantly over a discussion about centimetres of snow. I get chills when I rent my skis.
Innsbruck offers a selection of mountains. The town organises an 8.30am bus to each of them every morning, free if you carry skis or a snowboard. On day one we choose based on the recommendation of the French guys in the rental shop and head to Küthai (which sounds as though it ought to be in Japan but, I assure you, is very Austrian indeed). Under a brilliant blue sky it takes me all of ten seconds to find my 'snow legs'. They're still there, weakened by years off the slopes, sharpened by walking everywhere in London and, recently, by the odd yoga class. Bunky is a capable but cautious skier. Her boyfriend Tank is a slick and graceful skier, though he worries too much about her and, under his closely watchful gaze, she lacks confidence. I quickly discover that she's most adventurous when deliberately ignored, and most hesitant when babied.
Becoming foolishly confident too early I allow Tank to lure me well off piste and traverse out to a powdery bowl with him. Then we drop in. All goes relatively well until my skinny carving skis hit deep powder, I sink and then tumble. And then, one ski on, one ski off and buried under a foot of snow, I get stuck. Properly stuck. I'm lying flat on my tummy, my head downhill. Every move I make I sink deeper into this snowy quicksand. Retrieving my ski feels like doing gymnastics. Clicking it back in in deep, slippy snow is almost impossible. Eventually we escape the bowl and find safety again on the friendly groomed trail. I am suitably chastised. Don't underestimate us, the Tirol mountains seem to be saying.
On the second day we ski at Schlick 2000. This has to be the most regrettable name for a mountain I've ever heard. It's been named for its altitude though, not in some doomed bid to sound trendy, so it's forgivable. Around midday the snow starts to come down, heavily. Having learned to ski in patchy-at-best Australia, Bunky is unnerved by all the white stuff. Visibility is nothing and after a few runs where we find ourselves unwillingly airborne or suddenly a little too close to a cliff, we retreat into the snug restaurant and have strudel and jäger.
On the eve of day 3 we're joined by a friend of Tank & Bunky's from home. He's a mechanical engineer living in remote industrial town of Port Hedland. It's on Australia's north coast, a place you don't hear about much except in relation to desperate boat-bound immigrants and big sharks. It's also home to only around 14,000, 90% of whom are male miners. Tall, bouncy and super excited to be out of the outback, lets call him The Kangaroo.
On day 3, our squad now complete, we hit the big one: Stubai Glacier. It's a monster. Base camp, all high ceilings, metal walkways, piles of helmets and metal skis, feels like the International Space Station. Two closed gondolas take you up, high into the clouds, where myriad other gondolas and lifts await to take you to play wherever you choose. It's a Tuesday and we have corners this mammoth mountain utterly to ourselves. The Roo has made a Queenslander friend — with the most beautiful eyes we've ever seen in real life, Bunky and I determine in a hushed exchange — in the ski bus and we adopt him as our fifth (Bunky and I not at all based by those eyes, I promise) and set off into the whiteness.
Again, it's snowing hard. Lunchtime beers give us the confidence to tackle the back side of the mountain but, when we get up to the mountain's peak at a staggering 3330m, snow whipping about us, Bunky loses her nerve. We're all sympathetic — to a degree. But this is also like wonderland for us and so, quite soon, we set off whooping down the powdery slopes leaving her behind. I've shrewdly (well, so I thought, stay tuned for the next episode) upgraded my chopstick-like carving skis to boat-like powder skis and this is my first experience of true powder skiing. Oh, it's magic guys. I cut and glide down the incline behind the boys. We stop every minutes to look at one another, wide-eyed, our lashes dusted with snow, and exclaim how amazing it all is. We're the only people to be seen in a perfect, quiet, white wonderland.
Bunky sees it differently. It's a white fog of despair, through which she cannot see and in which she cannot turn with confidence. She encourages us to leave her with Tank and, guilt free now that we have permission, we promptly do exactly that, whooping again as we set off into the deep.