After an afternoon of snowboarding fail, I was quite keen to go sledding and soothe my bruised ego with something I was reasonably competent at. After a pseudo-Japanese dinner of chicken, cabbage with ramen noodles at the pseudo-Japanese restaurant, we were all sitting in the room resting. Everyone was talking about snowboarding and planning their runs and Julie caught the excitement and announced that she was going skiing. I was not going to miss out on that chance, even if it meant feeling even more useless. So, as the rest went off to brave the intermediate slopes on their snowboards, we went down to the cheaper rental place and acquired skiing gear.
As an absolute beginner, it was interesting to note the differences between skiing gear and snowboarding gear. The first difference is obviously that instead of one board you have two skis and two ski poles, which are a mission to carry up hills – as you invariably end up doing a lot of the time. The boots are also different. I found the snowboarding boots uncomfortable because I felt like I was constantly leaning forward. The ski boots, on the other hand, were actually pretty easy to wear. We didn’t try and wear them walking up from the off-resort rental shop to the slopes, however. Instead we carried everything and then changed at the bottom of the slopes and put our own shoes into a locker.
As usual, I had no idea what I was doing, but Julie showed me how to clip the ski boots into the skis and how to take them off again. That seemed reasonably easy. We headed up the little “bunny-hill” under the bright flood-lights and I tried it out. It did not seem impossible. We then to the beginners slope, having by this stage discovered that we could join the slope half way down just near the Youth Hostel. Skiing was much easier than snowboarding. Much, much easier. The technique was instinctive and there were ski-poles for balance and crossing the skis meant being able to stop. I was much happier. We started off down the hill, going a few metres at a time. I was completely absorbed in concentrating on keeping my skis close together so that I could stop when I needed to, but I was much more relaxed and happy than I’d been in the afternoon. I was also having fun. Julie was struggling a little but we eventually got down the slope.
At this point, we had two options: we could walk up the hill a little and practice again or take the lift to the top – where we’d failed at snowboarding that afternoon. I’m clearly a slow learner. We took the lift without knowing how to get off at the top. Luckily, we managed to get onto the same lift-seat as a ski-school instructor who was able, in broken English, to tell us what we were supposed to do. Of course, we both still fell down, but no injuries, so no harm done. The slope again looked a lot steeper and longer and more scary from the top than it had from the bottom. The snow also seemed more slippery, although that may just have been in my head. We went down a way, both falling over a few times. I had one fairly spectacular wipe-out when I discovered that it is possible to cross the skis to far and went over them head-first, landing rather heavily on my hands. I was a little shaken by this, so I didn’t mind walking for a bit. We turned off the beginner’s slope through a short-cut to the central practice area, hoping we’d run into the others. I got back onto skis as soon as we hit slightly less steep ground with something a little like glee. We still hadn’t found the others by the time we reached the bunny-hill but I had great fun going up and down a few more times. Although I need lots more practice before I try a big hill again, I am really quite taken with skiing.
Around 11pm, they started clearing people off the bunny slope, so we headed down – me still on skis because I was determined to get the most I possibly could out of the experience. When we saw Tim at the bottom, he told us that most people had gone back to the room after a long and difficult run down the hill on their snowboards. We got our things together and returned the rented gear, catching up with the others on the way. Some people wanted food – hotdogs here we come – so they got that while two of us headed to the little shop and picked up some supplies – mostly in the form of maekju, soju and chips – before heading back to the room.
Everyone gathered slowly in room 301, in between hot showers and related attempts to avoid the incredible stiffness which was inevitably going to set in in just a few hours. Outside it was freezing cold and midnight skiing was just beginning. Inside the room, however, it was warm and congenial and cosy. People sat around in little groups. Some played games, some did magic tricks, some just chatted. The guitar came out and provided the background music we’d all been missing as a result of everyone forgetting to bring speakers. As the evening progressed, randomness ruled. Eben’s game kept everyone entertained for ages but not for nearly as long as Zanzibar, the ladybird. The beer half-froze on the balcony. There was a long discussion about cotton from sheep.
Much later, we all crawled into bed, most of us already feeling the soreness from the skiing and snowboarding attempts, and slept warm and comfortable (at least I did) in our cocoons of yellow on the heated floor.