I could manage one child. Three was a little tiring, as they spent most of their time falling over. But twelve? How am I supposed to keep control of twelve children on skis?
As it turned out, I didn’t have any choice.
I counted them once, twice before we set off; I counted them in the cable car on the way up the mountain; I counted them at the top; I counted them consistently as we snaked our way down the piste. And when I suddenly realised there were only eleven children following me, I started to panic. Had I lost one already? But then I saw him, meandering aimlessly down the far side of the piste, oblivious to my concern.
The trick is to pretend you know what you’re doing. Children are none the wiser as to whether you’re doing it right or wrong; they just follow you (most of the time) as you weave down the cold, white mountainside. The most important thing is to bring them safely back, smiling and on time to their parents at the end of the day.
Far more difficult to handle than the twelve children are the twelve sets of parents. I have never before realised how terrifying mothers are. Twelve protective mothers to reassure and to inform regarding their child’s progress. I can see the worry written in their eyes; and if their eyes are hidden behind their sunglasses, there is no differentiating between worry and anger, and I am all the more terrified.
Ski instructing can be stressful: children sit down in the middle of a slope and refuse to go further, and you realise you’ve foolishly taken them down a slope too challenging for them. It can be tiring, physically and mentally. But most of all, it is rewarding.
It had been my dream job to work in a ski resort. In the weeks before I arrived I was well aware that the reality of a dream job might not live up to my high expectations: yet somehow, this one does. Being paid to spend all day every day on skis in what is surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth…
And then I fell.
On Friday morning, after two days of much-needed heavy snowfall, the clouds lifted, the sun came out, and my colleague Barbara and I went up the mountain early to ski before work in the freshly fallen, untouched snow. Is anything so beautiful? Otherworldly – and somehow fragile. Perhaps it is the knowledge of its transience that entrances you; if it were permanent, after all, you would cease to appreciate it.
It was too good to last. And I was not good enough. Skiing back down to work, I fell in the deep snow beside the piste and twisted my knee.
Mountain rescue. Ambulance. Hospital. And finally, heart pounding with anxiety, came the doctor’s orders: a week off skiing. I suppose something had to go wrong, didn’t it? And it could have been considerably worse.
The dream remains a long way from the realm of nightmares.