Only a game

The child looks up at me, wide-eyed.

Never before have I considered myself to be quite so terrifying, but now I find I have to do my best to counter-act this rather unwelcome character trait: I crouch down, take off my sunglasses and introduce myself. ‘What’s your name?’ I ask.

A small, somewhat muffled voice responds from behind the scarf.

It is Sunday morning: the beginning of the ski week. A crowd of children and parents crowd around me, demanding my attention. Shall we put our skis on? When do we pick up the children at the end of the day? Are we going all the way to the top?

To the very top! We pile into the gondola and the children talk over each other excitedly while I do my best to match names to ski jackets. As we approach our destination, however, the chatter gradually subsides, and I hear one nervous voice clearly in the sudden hush: ‘Are we going all the way to the bottom?’

The fear doesn’t last long. In fact, it is rapidly replaced by delight: ‘Skifahren macht Spaß!’ one child whispers to me on the anchor lift, while another expresses his satisfaction for the whole mountain to hear. ‘Skiing is only a game!’ he says, and speeds into the witches’ wood, driving an imaginary Lamborghini.

Stop. Let us rewind. Skiing is only a game, he said. I’ve heard those words before.

I was twelve, and although I could ski, and was every year immeasurably excited by the prospect, I couldn’t yet ski well. As a child, I had refused to go to ski school and instead had benefited from occasional private lessons. I only remember one ski instructor, a French girl called Françoise who we nicknamed Framboise. I remember in particular sitting down in the middle of a red slope because I was too scared to go any further, and Françoise telling me that if I only leaned forward I would have more control: ‘You ’ave space for an apple in ze front of ze boot,’ she told me. ‘It is better if we put ze apple in ze back of ze boot.’

In spite of Françoise’s undoubtedly excellent instruction, I suppose private lessons hadn’t had the result for which Dad had been hoping. When I was twelve, we went to Scheffau for the first time, the resort in which I am now working, and my dad became my ski instructor. We drove motorbikes, we popped balloons, we experimented with the gearbox: and meanwhile we had made it to the bottom of the slope without a problem. ‘Learning to ski is like learning to walk,’ Dad said. ‘It’s easier if you don’t think too much about it.’ We played games to distract me from what my skis were doing; and sure enough, my skis did the right thing.

‘Skiing is only a game,’ he said: and before long I had fallen in love with this unique and wonderful game. The child’s words lead me to hope that perhaps I, too, have succeeded in sharing the immense joy of skiing with others.

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