Most people have a “ski story” – an embarrassing fall, a near miss, or in my case an awkward encounter with the ski lift, having misjudged the distance between the seat and bottom. Skiing often involves some sort of drama, but there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as flying down the slopes at full speed with the rush of the wind in your face.
Although it was five years since my last skiing trip and my technique was undoubtedly pretty rusty, my memories of beautiful sunny mountains, thick carpets of white snow and thrilling red runs encouraged me to sign up for a two-day ski course offered by the Studierendenwerk. With all the stressful organisational aspects taken care of, ski lessons booked at Black Forest Magic Schneesportschule and having just had a two-week Christmas holiday, I no longer felt I had reason to complain about my upcoming Hausarbeiten and Referat. If a year abroad in Freiburg isn’t already cool, what can be cooler than a city that’s a mere hour away from the Feldberg, the skiing and snowboarding paradise of the region?
Aboard the 8:10 train, we waited in anticipation for the first sightings of snow – There was no snow in Freiburg, no snow in Titisee and no snow in Bärentäl! After a night of heavy rainfall, you can imagine our relief to see a thick blanket of white on the Feldberg, as the bus curved its way up to the Skischule through the dense shroud of fog. An hour later, kitted out in the latest ski fashion (me in a fetching, blue number with ginormous size 41 ski boots), we headed outside to meet our ski instructor. After ‚performing‘ the all-important pre-ski exercises – hip rolls, marching, hopping, arm-waving – more like a dance routine than a warm up!… we were ready to head up the slopes on the Doppelsessellift. It took me a few attempts to master the infamous lift – a rather strange experience involving a balancing act on a T-bar. After this embarrassing reminder of the perils of the ski lift, I was just beginning to feel my old confidence returning when, at the top of the piste, our poles were taken away from us! A slightly scary experience, which quickly and effectively taught us that good skiing is not dependent on ski poles for balance, you don’t face a steep slope by leaning back, or turn by rotating your body, but rather by bending your knees and pivoting your hips, whilst keeping your upper body steady, facing down the mountain and leaning forward. After the initial insecurity of leaning down the slope without poles, we managed to ‚feel the fear and do it anyway!‘ Somewhat to our surprise, it became easier quite quickly and our technique was soon put to the test by a series of agility and balance exercises, the classic lifting one ski, hands in the air, on the knee and finally some follow-the-leader skiing. I enjoyed following the perfect, effortless curves traced out by our instructor and didn’t even notice that we had made a detour from our usual turn off point and veered onto a new, unfamiliar slope. Half way down I realised that the red run had suddenly morphed into a hideously steep black run with worryingly thick snow. I (un)calmly promised myself that I would not repeat my last tragic episode on a black slope some years ago, where I stubbornly sat down and decided that there was simply no way down and I would undoubtedly end up having to camp out on the piste. By this time I had realised that even if you can get away with rotating your body rather than your hips to make turns on blue and red runs, as soon as you get on to the steeper slopes, it really doesn’t work and you’ll certainly be „found out“, like we were! At least I have proved one thing to myself, despite our earlier lessons on correct technique, there is always a way down a black run, even if it involves a mixture of bum-shuffling, sliding and uncontrollable bombing straight down the slope at full speed! One way or another we all reached the bottom and were either congratulated or consoled by the instructor for our terrible style but ‚courage in the face of adversity‘!
Our instructor on the second day was somewhat firmer, cracking down immediately on the bad habits I had acquired on my previous skiing trips. It appears that I might have had the impression that I was ‘doing it right’ and looking pretty good, but in reality my technique was far from the perfected style of the professional-looking skiers who come whizzing down the slopes in snazzy, slim-fitting, soft shell gear. Deciphering various skiing-related instructions through my instructor’s thick badisch accent, I was reminded to put my hands ‘on the knee’, to hold my ‘hands in front!’ and the most important lesson of all, skiing should hurt, and if it does, you’re doing it right. He got us to ski down the slope one by one and wait at the bottom, exchanging apprehensive glances before hearing his criticism –sometimes an acknowledgement of improvement, or maybe that things had got worse. But as the day went on, our concentrated efforts were rewarded and by the end I felt as though I was making some real progress with the stationary upper body technique.
Whilst skiing itself might be relatively plain sailing, a day on the slopes is never without some sort of unplanned episode; my two adventures both came in the form of transport…
Number one: the ski pass. If you go for a long day’s skiing on the Feldberg, I wouldn’t recommend buying a points-card. If you’re not familiar with this type of lift pass, you start with 50 points at the beginning of the day and points are knocked off every time you use a lift until you’re left with zero. Ideal if you only use the lift a few times – but not so great if you’re on the opposite side of the mountain, about to go through the barriers and realise that you have nil points on your card. The first time this happened to me, the man at the control desk was luckily not paying attention and I had just enough time to take off my skis, crawl under the barrier, put my skis back on again and feign confused-innocence. Our instructor called it ‘smuggling.’ But what can you do when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and you’ve left your purse on the other side of the mountain?
Number two: After recovering from the inconvenience caused by ‘technical issues’ with Deutsche Bahn that morning and escaping the wrath of the lift operator, I thought there could surely be no more transport issues. At the end of the last day, we handed in our rented ski gear and in high spirits enjoyed an hour of après-ski sipping Glühwein and catching up with the highlights of the weekend, before getting on the last bus back to Bärental. For the context of this story it’s important to mention that by this point, the sleety rain of the previous day had become a flurry of thick, heavy snow. We sat in the bus for about half an hour, raising our eyebrows at the strange creaking noises made by the suspension. It seemed to be almost crying out that something was wrong. In retrospect, we should have taken it more seriously, as sure enough, the bus suddenly came to a halt in the middle of the road and it finally dawned on us that the ‘funny’ noises were due to the bus trying to stop itself slipping off the edge of the hill we were precariously perched on. As half an hour turned into an hour, we realised that we were going to have to be a bit more pro-active if we wanted to get home any time soon. A few minutes later, anyone watching from the warmth and comfort of their car would have seen six cold, glum students trudging down the mountain. I’m not really the hitch hiking type – my intrinsic fear probably dating back to watching scary abduction films in the past, but accepting it as my only choice and with my safety-head on and the film Taken at the back of my mind, we began to scour the road for possible lifts. Spotting a large, black people-carrier slowly driving up towards us, we ran over and pleaded to hitch a ride towards Bärental. Luckily for us, we picked the right car – and the woman bravely offered to drive us the whole way back to Freiburg. After a pleasant chat about university, skiing and transport issues, we arrived safely home two hours later.
All in all, despite a few not entirely unexpected bruises, aching muscles and some annoying and uncommon transport problems, skiing on the Feldberg couldn’t have been a better experience. The combination of the exhilarating mountain air, great exercise, meeting new people, not to mention the ‘holiday feeling’ – away from work, lectures and the general chores of everyday life – made the weekend one of the best I have spent in Germany so far. I realised that no matter how good you think you are at skiing or any other sport, you can always learn something new – improve your style and technique, even over a two-day course. If you’ve never tried skiing before and are put off by the thought of cold weather or a few bumps and bruises, rest assured that it’s one of the few sports where you can improve drastically over a very short space of time from beginner to competent skier. With a bit of persistence and under the helpful direction of one of the Black Forest Magic ski school instructors, you will soon find yourself whizzing down the slopes with the wind in your face!
To take part in a winter sport course organised by the Studierendenwerk in February or March, follow the link: https://www.swfr.de/freizeit/sport-freizeit/ and if you don’t fancy skiing, there are several other exciting sports that you can try – from Snowboarding and Skilanglauf to Snowkite!