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White World

February 28, 2007

Wednesday morning dawned snowy and overcast in the Austrian Alps and that’s just how we like it. More snow overnight promised a day of fluffy goodness ahead. Yesterday was the last day of lessons so today we were our own men. Dave and Flo decided to swap their boards for skis and become pricks on sticks for the day. Ant and I, remaining true to the cause, checked out our boards and headed for the cable car.

Rising up the mountain, the valley opened up before us as the fog cleared and the sun shone through. The view was amazing, the trees frosted over, the surrounding slopes dotted with small homesteads. The cable car moved silently, swaying gently through the air effortlessly lifting us higher. Early morning snow was still falling from branches as we cleared the treeline, heading upwards past Middle Station. After a journey of about 6 minutes we reached the top of Stubnerkogel (2250m).

Stepping from the cable car and into our bindings, it was time for a few minutes of reflection. To the south of us lay the way to Italy and the Adriatic, north to the great plains of Germany, east flows the Danube and to the west the Alps run without interruption to France. Feeling refreshed and inspired, it was time to eat snow.

Traversing (flat sections between slopes) on a snowboard is not the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had. Navigating a track little wider than a laneway with a drop off one side and a wall of snow the other side as more stable skiers whizz past is challenging. On more than one occasion I picked up my board and trudged along the flat.

If the flat traverses were unyielding hell, the steep pistes were powdery heaven. It was so easy to get a nice edge and the forgiving snow even allowed me to perform the odd turn. As the boys will testify, I do like my toe-edge and will quite happily glide down entire mounatins that way despite the burning in my calves. I was gliding sideways down the mountain picking up more and more speed and loving every moment. Comapred to the icey slopes of yesterday, falling was almost a pleasure. Wandering a bit off piste, I was quickly in deep drifts several feet deep. The shading from my goggles cast an orange glow on the otherwise endless whiteness around me. Were it not for the occasional other human, I could have been on another planet.

We did a few runs from the summit down to Middle Station, revelling in the deep snow, cursing the tiredness in our legs. On the last steep slope I treated Ant to the comic sight of me edging perfectly over a steep drop, snapping a salute and singing Danny Boy as I shot past some bemused skiers. Life was good.

Back down in the valley, we changed out of our gear in time to enjoy fully body massages at the local thermal spa. Then across the road for a late lunch where I had fantastic rack of lamb and a cold beer. This afternoon has been one of downtime and relaxation. Ant is snoring loudly on his bed as I type. A morning of enjoyable physical exercise followed by a hearty lunch does that to a man.

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A game of two halves

February 28, 2007

Our usual instructor today got called off onto skiing duties, so the four of us had to be assimilated into other groups. Dave and I went up one group, and Bingo and Osty stayed with a similarly skilled group. The new group was mostly made up of kids; even the instructor was only 18. The first thing we did was jump into a gondola and head to the top of the mountain. No main problem, but the gondola rises about 1 km in altitude. I was now somewhat scared.

When we got to the top, the difference between our heavily-bashed icy nursery slope and the powdery wonder created by 2 solid days of snow became suddenly apparent. All of a sudden, I could turn in both directions, and board really well on both edges. It was going to be A Good Day.

The morning session was pretty much how I expected snowboarding to be – really deep powder, long luxuriant turns, and soft landings. On one occasion, while heading in the direction the board points, the nose got stuck in a drift, thus catapulting me over the top of it. If I had attempted my particular choice of landing – a graceless shoulder-plant on the nursery slope, I would probably stabbed myself in the ear with my collarbone. Instead, I just dug into the powder a bit, got up, dusted myself down, and carried on. Life was good. I also wiped out a 6 year old boy in our group, but that’s not important.

After a lunch trading insults with a 16 year old Dutch girl, we were off for the afternoon. Brimming with confidence from the best morning of the trip, I promptly got my arse handed to me by a T-bar lift. It’s less effort to walk up the sodding hill. The afternoon was more tailored to the advanced boarders, with a lot of steep, narrow red runs. I just went down most of them on my heel edge, as any mised turn would result in the mother of all faceplants at the bottom of a cliff. It was a bit much for a few other group members – I discovered that 14 year-old Dutch girls can still grumble while slipping backward down a mountain at 20 mph – my first ever Doppler moan. Another moment of stark realisation on a T-bar, and we were ready for the final descent of the day. As I was doing up my bindings, the instructor and group all pissed off, leaving me alone at the top of the mountain. A bad tempered-descent followed. When I finally found the group again, the instructor suggested we try something new. My shouted interjection was along the lines of “How about trying not fucking off and leaving me at the top of a mountain, you twat?” By this time, I was pretty shagged, so just edged my way down the rest of the hill, and that was it for the day.

Champagne Tuesday followed – more about that later – but for now, another day of great snow and blue runs follows. Our lessons are over, and now we’ve just got a bit of time to fool around, and work on some languid turns. There’s been another 6-8 inches of snow overnight at base-camp level, so I’m looking forward to seeing what has happened 1 km further uphill. I have every fear that today could end up being rather fun.

On a separate note, Bingo has chickened out and turned ski on us, and Dec thinks he’s broken his arse, in spite of it being padded by both a Norwegian striker* and 26 years of overindulgence. I’ve never wanted to kick anyone right up the arse as much as I do now. I’m down to my last reserves of willpower, which I fear may be eroded tonight at the first whiff of booze.

Peace out, my homies.

*An Aasgaard

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Sitrep – Day 3

February 27, 2007

Was today a good day? I’m not convinced. On the up side, we did a pile of runs – albeit down the same slope – but on the down side, I’m still not terribly confident on my toe side.
In a situation strangely microcosmic of my life, I find it hard not to have control of a situation. I’d rather take my time down a run, and do it technically well – my turns aren’t too bad now on either side – than go balls out at it and finish first. There were times today when I actually felt like a snowboarder.
On fairly tame slopes, I can actually turn pretty well, and manage the traverse on my toe side, but then I get terrified of going too fast, and travel uphill until I’ve bled off enough speed to make another good turn. There’ll be no roosters here, Pete…
Now Dec’s got his feet set right on the board, he’s improved by far the most today. As an almighty caveat, that’s only because he was pretty average yesterday, but I’m genuinely glad that he has finally found his balance. The heel side awaits, my friend…
Dave and Aggles are both doing well. Flo was pretty pissed off this morning. With a 6 inch snowfall overnight, he seemed genuinely upset to have to strap a plank onto his feet, and practice the art of the faceplant while lots of skiers were having powder-based fun. But as the day wore on, and we all increased in confidence, the mood of the group lifted.
Half way down the slope, on the final run of the day, we had a bit of a sit-down as a four. With no pressure, we had one of those where-else-would-you-like-to-be moments. We were high in the Alps, amongst friends, learning new skills and experiencing new situations together. The scenery was beautiful, my arse was freezing, and the sun was shining. We shared a few laughs, but mostly had one of those times that people would buy if you could just bottle it.
I may not be progressing as much as I’d like as a snowboarder, but I am having a magnificent time with my friends. Champagne Tuesday sees our final day of lessons. It’s been snowing now for the last 4 hours – I look forward to what it will bring.

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Work

February 26, 2007

Work sucks, doesn’t it?

6 inches of fresh snow here overnight. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

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I’ve got crazymadwicked skillz

February 26, 2007

Day 3 approaches after a surprisingly successful Day 2. The revelation is that I’m not actually shit at this snowboarding lark.

It’s my solemn duty at this stage to announce (or reconfirm, depending on your viewpoint) that I’m a natural left-footer. Going in a straight line is starting to feel quite easy, although much better when facing down the mountain. When I’m facing the slope, though, I tend to disregard Burton’s First Law, and put too much weight on my back foot, thus handily divesting myself both of control, and of the ability to stop sans faceplant.

Turning is starting to come to me, too. From toe-side to heel (sorry Xtreme – I don’t really know much of the terminology, and one feels that one will never be rad enough to use it in a proper sentence) is starting to become quite a manageable transition. Back from heel to toe, though, still seems to get me. Maybe it’s because I’m conscious that once I complete the turn, I’ll have to do one whole traverse on my toe side, thus opening the door to Mr Faceplant.

This morning, we’re going up a chairlift, which is good in one way because I don’t have to walk any more up that sodding hill, but bad in that I’ll have to get on and off of a chairlift without bumping into Señor Faceplanto.

Today, I shall be concentrating on even weight distribution when my toes are facing the mountain, thus starting to spend less time with my toes facing the sky. There’s been a 15 cm snowfall overnight, and visibility is picking up from an early morning mist, so there’ll never be a better time.

I shall report back tonight.

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After Action Report (Day 2)

February 25, 2007

A quiet calm has descended on the picturesque spa town of Bad Gastein. After a hard day on the board, and a surprising amount of it vertical, we have retired to our hotel rooms to count our losses and regroup.

After 4+ hours sur la piste, there are few injuries to report. In fact there are none whatsoever meaning our numerous wives, sweethearts and graduates will have to wait at least another day for the telegram and Death In Service payout. In true Gays on Trays style, lets do this boarder by boarder.

Dave
The ladies’ favourite is also a dab hand with the ski instructor – Gunther. When not sweetly carving his way down the slopes, Ginger can be found garnering some extra tips from our Ski Lehrer. But it appears to be paying off because after Day 1, Dave has made the most progress, switching sides like an opportunistic Italian at the first whiff of defeat.

Dec
At the other end of the spectrum we have our plucky Irishman. His footwork is so fucked-up that no one knows whether he’s a natural, a goofy or just inept. Having shown him how to ride goofy all afternoon, the instructor realised that Dec’s board was set for natural. Having sorted that out, Oddball shot down the mountain, pulled off a turn, shouted “Look at me Ma, I’m king of the world” and promptly did a face plant. On the plus side, he does walk up a hill like a demon. Well that’s something, isn’t it?

Mushy
The good doctor is a revelation. Despite his considerable girth, he’s been been turning like a pint of milk in a thunderstorm. He quickly clocked that standing up was a good way of not falling down and it’s been downhill from there. But it’s not all been sweetness and light from Ant. The day kicked of with him grabbing two handfuls of female ski instructor bosom despite the fact that she was profering her arms to a wildly flailing Ant. He was swiftly transferred to another group and is now on the Austrian sex offenders’ register.

Bingo
Last and by all means least, we come to Aggles. Not in the same league as Dave and Ant, but better than Dec, Bingo has been cutting a mediocre dash through the field. Resplendent in his blue elf hat as he face plants his way down the mountain, he’s nothing if not a good slider. One of the day’s highlights was Bingo sliding down the hill on his arse in a slow tragic pirouette. The first 100 metres were funny, the second slide-splitting, the third the stuff from which legends are made.

Off into town now where Dec has promised to glass the first under 5 he sees. The little brats are pretty impressive on the mountain. Ah the mountain…

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Day one – a synopsis

February 25, 2007

After over 5 hours in the beautiful hamlet of Bad Gastein, all is well. I say well, but could be mistaken. Ginger is back on the sauce. No major contraindications as of yet, but time is the cruellest of mistresses. Although saying that, there is one who works out of a basement in Hamburg. In light of this revelation, it’s probably safer to say that time is amongst the crueller of mistresses.

The major ramifications from the day seem to be that Declan is homicidal after last night’s snore-a-thon.

In light of our sombre, responsible roles at work, Dec and I decided to play Dressing Up once we got back to our room. My East-side gangster is second only to my fireman, although saying that, Dec’s Interpretive Dancer is also pretty special.