Survival: skiing, snowboarding and ice hockey

A small part of the church service which I went to in the Banff Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning was to exchange with the person next to or close to you something which you regarded as a  blessing during the last week.  This is not a feature in the church which I attend at home and the suggestion that we exchange such intimacies took me by surprise.  Being very reserved by nature I froze and tried to sink into the pew.  When the lady nearest to me smilingly asked what I had found a blessing I blurted out what first came into my head as being true – I don’t and can’t bullshit – and I said  “I survived” .  She thought this hilarious but I meant it.

She asked at the end of the service “are you a skier?”.  I answered, again truthfully, and said “No.  But I ski”.

What’s the difference?  I reckon that to be an “-er” or an “-ist” you need to be good at it.  I ski but I’m not a skier.  On the other hand I am a canoeist albeit rather rusty now.  Until I dropped out of the organisation I was an instructor. Similarly I would count myself as a paraglider pilot (I used to be a coach), a climber, a mountaineer, even a caver.  But I’m not yet approaching the level of competence to call myself a skier.

Which is why when asked I said I regarded it as a blessing that I survived the previous week.  I go out in the morning and am apprehensive and therefore pleased when I get to the end of a day on the ski hill in one piece and without major incident rather than being carted off on a meat-wagon.

Thursday was the first time that I reckon I made any progress in increasing competence. Snow conditions were near-perfect, 14cms of powder over a groomed base and my daughter and husband, both qualified ski instructors, spent the day with me on what was basically a 2-on-1 private lesson. I was conscious that for the first time I began to learn and improve and by the end of the day I was tired but felt more confident and skied more smoothly.  Not a lot but enough to work on over the next couple of weeks.

It was therefore a bit of a downer when, on the final glide to the lift to go back up to the top of the runs on which we were doing training laps, I was suddenly hit forcibly in the back by a snowboarder.  Again!!!  This was the third time in 10 days I had been in a collision and each time with a snowboarder.  First time the guy went over the back of my skis as we got off the chairlift leaving me sprawling across the unload area.  Second time a girl crashed into the back of me on the run down to the top of Easy Street at Lake Louise (like with cars the person behind is at fault).  On Thursday a girl on a snowboard came into the ‘merge’ of two runs at high speed and backwards, so not looking in the direction of travel.  In terms of statistical probability there is only a 12.5% chance that all three collisions would be occasioned by snowboarders.  Would you bet money on tossing a coin three times and it fall heads each time?  So is there a problem here?

I reckon that there is.  I have no beef about snowboarding as a sport.  It’s as legitimate as skiing.  But I’m afraid I go into Grumpy Old Man mode here.   Many of those who snowboard are youngsters who unfortunately have little consideration for others or appreciation of the consequences of their actions.  Furthermore, there is a functional disadvantage.  Because they stand on the board sideways they can only see one side of the piste and so have a very marked ‘blind spot’.  This combined with the inconsiderate attitude of youth means that snowboarders, particularly those who straight-line down the slope on easy runs in order to get somewhere else,  are more likely to be in collision with skiers, or each other, than are other skiers.

Not all snowboarders are guilty of inconsiderate behaviour but it is a generalisation which many skiers with far more competence and experience than me hold to be true.  Some ski resorts such as Deer Valley in Utah ban snowboarding outright.  Not that I’m suggesting that here.  I’m just making a plea that snowboarders should be both more considerate and more aware of others.

Thankfully, snowboarding is not a sport in which provision for testosterone–fuelled aggression is built into the rules …..  unlike ice-hockey, a contact sport if ever there was one. There is ice hockey on the TV screens in all the bars and restaurants in town most of the time.  It is quite legitimate within the rules of that sport to smash your opponent into the barriers and generally slam each other around.  It is even legitimate to have a punch up with another guy as long as it’s one-on-one and you keep helmets on and don’t use sticks.  Arguably this is  sublimation of aggression: if players do it on the ice others are not doing it in the streets or the bars.  Shades of ‘Rollerball’.

By contrast, on the ski hill ‘Alpine Rules’ apply which basically boil down to a considerate and watchful attitude to all other mountain users, rules with which, as a mountaineer, I’m well familiar.  Being wiped out 3 times in 10 days and each time by snowboarders to me indicates a generic problem.  It is not statistically probable.  Two of the three snowboarders apologized but that doesn’t heal the bruising on my hip.

Friday the snow was if anything even better and I spent the day practicing what I had been taught on Thursday.  It was the last day in Banff, the last day skiing Sunshine and Lake Louise.  Saturday morning we head off to Calgary, fly to Vancouver, meet up with other friends and shuttle up to Whistler.  Leaving behind good friends but a new and probably very different experience for me.

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