I made my skiing debut at the accomplished age of 29; having seen snow from an aeroplane, a cinema seat and once, very briefly, in person. As I was three at the time it wasn?t my most vivid of memories. But I?d always wanted to give it a try, quietly certain that an hour or two on the slopes would unearth the slumbering Alberto Tomba within.
Stand up, push off, and carve your way gracefully down the piste ? it all looked terribly simple. By day two, I?d probably be doing outrageous ski jumps, and fending off offers to become an instructor?
By day two on the slopes, I had indeed learnt a lot.
The taste of snow. The feel of snow down the back of your neck. The helplessness of losing control and collapsing repeatedly in a heap. The sheer ignominy of being passed by a blur of five-year-olds, gliding across the same white expanse that I was negotiating with the ease and grace of a very drunk giraffe on roller skates. Skiing, it appeared, was slightly more challenging than it looked on television.
But offsetting my greenhorn status was my twin trump card. My skiing debut was being made under the guidance of two Argentinean skiing champions; veterans of the South American, North American and European slopes and experts at introducing a slightly hesitant African to the pistes.
Eminently qualified, endlessly patient and full of useful advice, the Solsona siblings gradually got me up and away; nudging tentatively down a steep and terrifying slopewhich was, on reflection, almost perfectly flat. Still, I was skiing, and confidently so ? a sentiment I thoughtlessly gave voice to in the presence of the Solsonas. Rarely have I made a graver mistake.
"? a flamboyant and exhibitionist form of suicide?"
I?m no doubt generalising here, but the South Americans I?ve met have by and large been complete lunatics, and the Argentines are top of that adrenaline-stoked pile. My skiing instructors, it transpired, were no different. Which meant that on day three, when I had set my sights somewhat ambitiously on staying up for an entire 10 minutes without falling over and then finding a nice glass of vin chaud, I was instead plunged into skiing hell.
For all you Zimbabweans out there, ski slopes have four categories.
Green; peopled by small children, unwieldy pensioners, and Zimbabweans. Blue; for the modestly capable with a week or two?s experience. Red; for the practised skier with an accomplished feel for the piste. And lastly black; for Olympic skiers, mountaineers, and people looking for a flamboyant and exhibitionist form of suicide. Oh, and two homicidal Argentineans. And me.
"At which point we were roughly the height of Everest"
They kept very vague, did the South Americans, about day three's plans. I thought I caught a whisper of skiing to Switzerland for lunch, but put that down to my rudimentary Spanish and grinned happily as we unloaded for the day.
Up a ski lift, and a second; then across to a third, at which point, by my calculation, we were roughly the height of Everest. Mounting trepidation wasn?t helped by a blur of red markers, and nothing else. Trepidation turned to abject terror when one of the wretched South Americans gave me a helpful shove down the first red slope?
My therapist has since helped me to block out most of the details, but I do remember going down slopes both red and black firmly on my derriere (not terribly dignified), losing both skis frequently (and on one occasion, a boot), cursing Maradona, Evita and all things Argentine as loudly as possible and, at one point, trying extremely hard to phone my mother. The Solsonas dragged me along, highly entertained at my misfortune and taking turns to film me for the greater glory of YouTube.
We did get to Switzerland, somehow (it looked exactly like France), where fondue and beer took the sting out of my determination to file charges of attempted murder the moment we got back. On the gentler trip home I actually managed what I?d like to think looked vaguely like respectable skiing, albeit on a blue slope of great benevolence.
And a week later ? as the bruises faded, my touch got surer and my hands had stopped shaking at the sound of Spanish ? I?d almost forgiven the pair of them. And felt a little sympathetic as well, I suppose. After all, I can now ski but neither of them, I?m quite sure, can tell the difference between hippo and elephant dung.