After a relatively sleepless night due to snoring people (and in my case, the shushing because snoring doesn’t really bother me), we woke up on Saturday to find it still snowing. When we’d first arrived, most of the snow around the resort was on the slopes – probably artificially created – or piled in corners slightly melted and a little grubby. On Saturday morning, everything was sprinkled with new, clean, fresh snow, looking exactly like the movies. It was as if God had taken a huge bag of icing sugar and sprinkled it across the whole place. Walking on the fresh snow was even more fascinating than the day before. I’ve decided that snow has the texture of corn flour – it compacts and slides off itself and feels like it should squeak when you step on it. As we wandered down the hill for breakfast, I, while attempting not to slip and fall, snapped photographs of every snow-covered thing that I saw.
I was struck by the way it piled on the branches of fir trees. The green with white, against the snow on the ground and the dark trunks, was everything I’ve read about in books and seen on Christmas cards my whole life. It sounds strange to say but I don’t think I ever really thought of it as true. Rain doesn’t sit on the trees when it falls. The snow just sat there, on tree branches and cars bumpers and rooftops, looking for all the world as if it had been specially added for the photographs. I was bubbling with excitement at the prettiness. I still feel excited looking at the pictures. It must seem very odd to those who think of snow as normal that I find it so exciting and beautiful and intriguing. I keep thinking of the way I feel when I watch someone who is seeing large African animals in the wild for the first time. I love watching giraffe and elephants and kudu and all the others, but they’re a normal part of the environment to me. They’re beautiful but not strange. I think the kind of mild awe I feel about seeing snow is something akin to what other people seem to experience about the animals. I understand them more now.
Breakfast was Korean food – except for one person who braved the KFC again. The range of options was limited. Some people had the ‘peppery beef and vegetable soup’ and one person had the pork cutlet. I tried the hangover soup. That, for the record, is not a nickname or just something we call it; the sign actually advertised ‘beef bone and cabbage hangover soup’. It was too good to miss the opportunity to try it and it turned out actually to be reasonably good. I still find it a little weird to eat soup, rice and kimchi for breakfast but when in Korea it is sometimes a good idea to eat as the Koreans eat.
As we were leaving the cafeteria-place, we ran into two others from our group – Julie and Erin – who were planning to go skiing. I had been thinking of sledding with some others who hadn’t been the previous day, but most of them were looking to sleep a bit more and I was determined to try skiing or snowboarding if I got the chance, so I decided to join the skiing adventure. After they ate, we headed off to try our luck on the beginner slopes – which is decidedly where I belong. After walking for ages, we arrived back at the place where we had been for sledding. We discovered later that we had actually walked a huge circle to a point very near our youth hostel but at this stage we hadn’t realised it yet. Standing in the queue, I was full of the joyful anticipation of trying something new. When we reached the front, they told us they were all out of skis. Not daunted by the rebuff, we threw caution to the wind and rented snowboards instead. I was not sad, partly because never having tried either I had no reason to prefer one over the other and partly because John had repeatedly told me that I had to try snowboarding and here was the chance.
Before trying anything, however, we had to go through the process of acquiring and donning the rather large amounts of gear required for snow-related activities. First the snow suits. Thick, warm, waterproof pants and jacket to be put on over all the other clothes and which made me feel a little like a snowman myself. Next, boots – Korean size 250. They felt weirdly spacious once I put them on but were snug to try and get my feet into. They also forced my legs into a slightly bent position, which took some getting used to. By this stage, I was seriously beginning to be a little amazed by just how long and complicated the preparations for snowboarding are. The sports I’m used to, after all, tend to involve little more than throwing on some shorts and a jersey, and perhaps some appropriate takkies. Finally, we got our boards and were ready to try our luck at this new thing.
We headed straight for the ski-lift queue, asking someone in the queue how to strap on the boards along the way. In retrospect, it would really probably have been a good idea to figure out how to use the boards before we headed up – even if it was the beginner’s slope. In fact, it would probably have been better to find out from someone who knew what they were doing how to use the boards first. At the time, though, it didn’t occur to us. I did feel a little terrified as we went up the lift. I’m not all that good at trying things when I have no idea what I’m doing and the feeling in the pit of my stomach was vaguely similar to the feeling I got as we were driving up the mountain – still with no idea what to expect – to go paragliding.
We got to the top, got off the lift without incident, strapped on our boards and stared down what now seemed like an awfully long and steep hill of snow. Snowboarders and skiers whizzed past us. We tried to pick up tips by watching them. Then Erin tried it and got a few metres before she fell. Julie did the same. Then I tried and fell over backwards in fright as soon as the board started dragging me down the slope. I had absolutely no control. That wasn’t the worst bit – once down, I couldn’t figure out how to get back up. In desperation, I took off the board and trudged up the hill to try again. The same thing happened. Falling in the soft snow wasn’t a problem, especially because we remembered the advice of a more experienced friend and avoided falling on our wrists, but we just couldn’t get back up. All around us, people were happily heading down the slope, some of them occasionally falling but hopping back up and carrying on. We figured out that by rolling over onto our stomachs, we could get up again but the speed and the fear of smashing into someone else meant that we only got a few feet further before we landed flat on our backs again. Erin seemed to figure it out and headed off. Julie and I kept trying for what seemed like ages and still hadn’t even reached a third of the way down the slope. When I gave up and decided to walk further down and try some more there, she joined me.
There were three guys in our group who were competent at snowboarding – even though they hadn’t all been doing it for long – and were out on the slopes that afternoon. On the way up in the lift, we had spotted the three of them going down the slope we were now on. By some sheer, random and extremely fortunate stroke of luck, they happened to be walking up the hill as we were walking down. We accosted them and demanded that they give us tips – especially because they had been telling us earlier that snowboarding easy. Being the nice guys they are, they not only agreed to tell us what to do but offered to show us as well. We went with them to the practice area we could see from our hostel-room window and they explained the basics and let us try it out with the safety-net of them being there to give advice and catch us when we started to fall. I had been doing it all completely wrong. Apparently the trick is to use your ankles for control and keep your weight on your heels. I would never have figured it out on my own. Unfortunately, even with their help, moving from the sitting position (required to put on the board) to standing on the board was a feat that eluded me. To be honest, I think I may just be lacking the muscle strength. Alternatively there is some trick I haven’t figured out. The little bit of time I managed upright on the board was exhilarating, though. I think I’d quite like to try it again, if only I can figure out the getting up bit.
By this stage, the guys were eager to get back to their boarding. Julie decided to go with them, but I didn’t have the courage. Also, I had discovered that one of the bindings on my board wasn’t secure (or rather Tim had discovered it), so I needed to swap it. They headed off to the ski-lifts and I went back and changed my board. I looked around for Erin but couldn’t see her, so I found myself a quiet patch of snow and tried once more to figure out how to stand. When Erin found me, she helped me practice some more and, when I failed, helped me up so that I could try going down the hill a little. By the end of the afternoon, when we had to return our boards at 16:30, I was still unable to stand. I can’t even seem to manage the manoeuvre without the worry of a board that might slip from under me. I will have to practice and perhaps build up some more strength before I get near a snowboard again.
For now, however, we returned the gear and headed back to the hostel. When we found the others, it turned out they had all decided to try snowboarding, too. They had also found a place to rent the gear which was much cheaper, so all was good all around. Despite the fact that me snowboarding was a solid failure, I’m really glad I got the chance to try my hand at something so new and different and, in spite of spending most of the afternoon falling over, I really had lots of fun.