What do you do in a ski town when you’re not skiing?

The last time I went skiing before this Canada trip was in Verbier in Switzerland in 1991.  I know this because I happened to find the lift pass just before I came away.  It cost an arm and a leg.  Metaphorically. My skiing was abruptly cut short in the evening of the third or fourth day when we went curling on the local ice-rink and I got struck in the heels by a stone which imparted all its energy to me, Newton’s Cradle style with the result that my feet flew up and I fell in a horizontal position onto the handle of the stone fracturing my ribs.  Because curling is basically bowls on ice, that incident has ever since been a source of both incredulity and amusement to others.  Go on an extreme-sport holiday and get injured playing bowls!

So what do you do in a ski town when you can’t ski?  The next day in Switzerland I went paragliding. We had taken our ‘chutes and other equipment with us, that’s the advantage of travelling by car.  Temperature at take-off, the lift Mid-Station, was -26oC, it said so on the side.  No doubt about it, paragliding in -26oC with fractured ribs is not to be recommended.  Both the take-off and the landing hurt.  A lot.  That’s what decided me to go to the clinic where the x-ray showed the fracture and I was warned in the strongest terms by the doctor not to ski or paraglide again until it had healed up or risk a worse, potentially fatal, injury.

So the same issue now.  What do you do in a ski town when you can’t ski?  Now feel I have to expose waht I perceive as the unspoken snobbery which seems to underlie such towns.  There are two lots of people, the ‘action-men’ and the tourists.  Remember the ‘Eiger Sanction’?  The distinction drawn between the climbers and those who gather like vultures to see them fall off and get mangled.

In Winter the main reason for being in a place like Banff is to ski or snowboard.  It really is a great ski town. Those who do, no matter how badly, have the bragging rights.  You don’t even need to be carrying your skis or board, you clothing and the way you strut your stuff, head up, sets you apart.  Admittedly there are many subtle differences even within this ‘action-man’ group: ‘ski-bums’ here purely for the skiing and with little money;  top skiers with an aura of calm and superiority; those who can afford the top designer gear and are here for the show; locals for whom this is just part of the fabric of life.  But these differences are endogenous, internal to the group.

Those who are merely here for the scenery or the shopping are quite different, clearly identifiable.  They walk less purposefully about the town, gazing in shop windows, head slightly down, avoiding eye contact, sometimes draped head-to-toe in furs.  Well that’s my biased, head-up view.

And those who are not skiing because they are injured?  They come somewhere in between, classed as incompetents.  It helps to have a good limp or an arm in a large plaster-cast held out at right angles from your body by a supporting strut.  That way you avoid being lumped with those here for the shopping. Better to be classed as an incompetent action-man rather than a tourist!  But don’t hold your head too high, you might slip on the ice.

Believe me it is frustrating hanging about.  The physio prescribed a simple exercise regime to be carried out 4 times a day with short walks of up to 15 minutes on level surfaces, definitely no ‘trails’.

I just can’t be doing with sitting around inside.  One thing I like about Greece is that it is essentially outdoor living.  At home we have for many years eaten and sat outdoors whenever the weather has been sufficiently clement.  So it is here. The temperature might be down around -30oC but I like to be out in the fresh air as much as possible.  The controlling factor has been trying to keep my hands warm.

So, I have been doing my exercises and then walking to the far end of Downtown Banff.  Doing bits of shopping.  Having an espresso.  Walking back.  Doing exercises.  Walking …. A bit like Greece in the summer.  Walking to a secluded beach.  Having a swim to cool off.  Lying in the sun to dry.  Getting too hot.  Having a swim to cool off …… Same kind of pattern but the obverse.  I think I must conclude it’s because I’m not content to ‘be’, I’ve got to ‘do’.  That’s why I guess I’ll never be contented like Enfys was.

Friday and it really started to get to me.  My knee was far more uncomfortable than either of the last 2 days.  I did the exercises and iced it and went for walks but it seemed to ache and be on fire.  I concluded that the likelihood of my skiing again this trip was just about zero.

I can’t walk around aimlessly so I had set certain purposeful tasks.  Yesterday I had gone to research and buy a new pair of gloves.  On Monday when I finished skiing I had gone back to the locker, taken my gloves off and put them on the bench behind me while I operated the combination lock which took barely a minute and in that time someone had pinched them.  Today I researched (ie trawled around all the appropriate shops) and bought presents to take home.  Then I walked to a Greek Fast Food place for dinner (lunch to the middle classes), had spinach pie and tzatziki (πολύ νόστιμο) and chatted to the guy in Greek.

My knee was very uncomfortable.  I seemed to be getting worse not better.  So I thought “stuff it!  I’m going to take the camera for a proper walk”. The physio had explicitly said not to go up Tunnel Mountain again so I walked down by the river and then up to ‘Surprise Corner’ on the flank of Tunnel Mountain which, no surprise at all, gives a good view of the Gothic opulence of the Banff Springs Hotel.

Sometimes you get to feel that you are being watched.

A balmy -3 degrees and the ice begins to crack as the rapids continue to run underneath

It is so cold that the sap freezes as it seeps from a damaged tree

Gothic opulence of the Banff Springs Hotel

It took me about 1½  hours, so only slightly longer than prescribed by the physio, but I felt I had done something. I have to admit it hurt but I was feeling aggressive and walking accordingly.  What was more it was part of researching the start of a walk I am determined to do if I can’t ski again before I go home.  The Hoodoos Trail.  Now watch out for that one.


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