Venturing off-piste for the first time

Zell am See

The view away from the piste.

It was the third day of the holiday and I finally felt as though I had gotten the hang of this whole skiing lark. I’d boldly followed my instructor all day, taking a (junior) fun park in my stride and even – gosh – trailed after my ski group with only slight apprehension as we took a little bump through the trees right next to the piste.

By the end of day three, my legs were aching and my brain was gradually descending into ‘shut-down’ mode thanks to the deep level of concentration that is required as a beginner skier. I opted to do just one more run (“just one more… come on, you know you want to…”) and was happily trailing after my instructor and the last brave remnants of my group when I realised, too late, that the instructor had dipped off to the side of the piste and was holding up a barrier, gesturing for us to go through (with a large grin, might I add).

Like an idiot, I went like a lamb to the slaughter.

This, I soon realised, was to be my first real taste of ‘off-piste’. We emerged into deep powder that made skiing feel like sliding through a vat of treacle and we all stopped, staring hopelessly at the sharp drop-off in front of us.

Upon joining us, the instructor (Youko, you know who you are!) gave us some helpful advice. “You know what we have been doing all day? Putting all the weight in the downhill ski and getting a nice edge in?” We all nod enthusiastically. “Forget all of that.” Our faces fall. This was going to be a challenge.

We set off timidly and attempt our first turn in powder. The first two guinea pigs collapse into the snow and flail their arms and legs around. Soon, it was my turn. Miraculously, I stayed upright and joined my fellows. We then traversed along, right next to the drop-off, before curving someway down it. We paused for a few moments to admire the view of the lake of Zell am See. What struck me most was how nice it was to be away from the hectic madness of the pisted runs. There was no one trying to cut you up, and there were no snowboarders falling over right in front of you – we had the place to ourselves.

However, after taking in the view and enjoying the peace, the reality of having to get back to civilisation presented itself. We set off again, and one of the team somehow tumbled down into a big basin of snow. Hopelessly, we gestured to where her skies were sticking out of the fluffy powder while she vainly attempted to regain her footing. Once her skies were reattached, we cruised along until the madness of the piste came back into view. Finally, we joined the welcoming blue run we had left behind and we could celebrate our bravery and sheer awesomeness. Sure, we tumbled and toppled, but it wasn’t a bad start for a group of newbies.

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