Monday, 27 July 2015

that time I got lost in the Austrian Alps

When I was 14 the most ambitious school trip our teachers had ever organised was organised. No more Thwaite Mill! Goodbye Eden Camp! We were off ABROAD. To AUSTRIA. To SKI. If we had a spare £400. 

My family didn't, but you could pay in installments, and my Dad, who I didn't live with, was keen for me to experience new things so he proudly passed £50 a month to me until the trip was paid for. My mum footed the bill for a hired ski suit reminiscent of my early 90s shell suit, but with goggles and a beanie on top. I was kitted out and mega excited.

Thing is, I have no idea why. It was like I'd had a personality transplant. The buzz about 'going to Austria' was phenomenal, I got so wrapped up in it all I didn't stop to think about how utterly rubbish I was at any physical activity and how unsure I was of my body at that age. The social aspect of the trip was far more important. What clothes we'd take for the evening activities. Who was sharing with who. Making mix tapes for the 24 hour coach journey.

So yeah turns out I was a terrible skier. I had been the toddler who took ages to walk, the ten year old who couldn't climb out of the swimming pool without being hoisted, the last person in my year to learn to swim, the champion of the 'sausage roll' in gymnastics class (lay on your side, roll as gracefully as possible along a smelly mat). All this historical evidence! Along with that, all my old body fears resurfaced. I was an overweight child but I'd recently lost my 'puppy fat' from a mix of puberty, five salads a week and an unhealthy interest in going for a poo. But it didn't matter that I was a size 10 now, I couldn't – or wouldn't let myself – ski.  

I could snow plough very well though. For the uninitiated, this involves pointing the front of your skis together and going as slow as a milk float. Really, it's a braking manoeuvre. But it took me three days to master that – before then, on any kind of a gradient, I was zooming past the rest of my group and our instructor Markus (pink ski suit, all the girls fancied him in the way fourteen year old girls fancy anything), hearing their distant cries of "Snow plough, Teresa!" until I'd just give up and throw myself on the ground to stop. 

I was a constant source of worry for Markus. He had to accompany me on the ski lift every time we used it (I'd fallen off several times) but things really got tricky for him around day 4 when I went missing.

Yes, that's right: MISSING. 

We'd all finished skiing for the day (aka best time of the day) and were making our way, on our skis, on snow, back to the Lodge. I was, as always, at the back of the group but I knew the route we were taking, until I fell over (not uncommon), disorientating me a bit and making me miss a turning. Two of my classmates stopped to help me up, which was nice, and I thanked them and confidently pointed ahead to the direction we needed to keep going in.

Turns out I was wrong, and as we skied down on an unfamiliar slope, we couldn't see anyone from our group, nor the pink of Markus' ski suit. We'd been told explicitly that if we ever found ourselves alone without an instructor we had to get off the snow as soon as possible - not for our safety, but for insurance purposes - so we found a road where we could de-ski and walk back up the hill, alongside the slope we'd skied down. 

We knew the name of the place we were staying and managed to ask a passerby for directions. Soon we recognised we were in the right neighbourhood. Phew. It wasn’t long until we were turning the corner of the road where the Lodge was, to see our classmates cheering on the balcony as we came into view (second best moment of the holiday).

We'd probably only been gone an hour - but the nervousness about what the teachers would say was immense. But in fact, on our walk towards our lodge they came out to greet us and almost fell on us with happiness – clearly they were imagining the shock newspaper headlines. There was also a small search party out looking for us, which consisted of Markus and our passports.

Some of my friends actually cried at the end of the trip when our coach revved up to take us home (first best moment of the holiday) but all I can remember is the relief.


If I could go back in time to my fourteen year old self, I'd love to tell her not to worry about any of it and trust herself, and her body, a little more. Something to remind yourself (well myself for sure) at any age, I think.



8 comments:

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

What a sweet post. And what great memories. Glad it all turned out well and that there didn't have to be horrible headlines.

Karen Jones said...

Ah, I love this, Teresa. Made me think of myself at that age, though I have remained pretty crap at sports and still have no sense of balance.

Especially loved, 'all the girls fancied him in the way fourteen year old girls fancy anything'. Ha - yep, anyone older, but not actually old, was suddenly gorgeous.

Rachel Fenton said...

Ah, this brought back memories and I wasn't even on the same trip! Your being "the champion of the 'sausage roll'" makes me envious - I'd always feel sick after that! But what a calm head you kept in the face of possible piste peril.

And my fourteen year old kid does indeed "fancy anything", and as Karen notes "Older but not actually old"...I think she should read this!

Teresa Stenson said...

Thanks Elizabeth - yes I think we were quite lucky really - like in so many situations you recall being in when you were younger. Thanks so much for stopping in, hope things are going well with you and your writing.

Hi Karen - ha yeah, poor Markus, flavour of the week he was. Me and you would have been friends at school, running out of the way of the rounders ball when we were supposed to catch it etc.

Hi Rachel - when I say 'champion of the sausage roll' - it was basically the only thing I could do, so when we had to 'showcase' what we'd been doing that session in gymnastics, and everyone else was springing around off of apparatus or shimmying up ropes, I was doing THAT. Ah. Sigh.

Katherine Jakeman said...

I am totally jealous, I was never allowed to go on the school ski trips and I've still never been skiing. Mind you I hate being cold so maybe its 'a good thing'. I always enjoyed sport at school, I was in the - quite good but not good enough to be anywhere near the best - category which was frustrating. I think 'enthusiastic' probably describes my sporting efforts so just be pleased you were champion of something.

Teresa Stenson said...

Ha, oh at least you were enthusiastic Kitty. I don't think I saw anyone else Sausage Roll (verb) so my title was never challenged. I'm sure the PE teacher took pity on me and asked me to do it because it was the only thing she thought I could do. She was right.

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you get to go skiing someday, maybe not too enthusiastically though.

Dunmada said...

A wonderful journey back in time. I found it very funny (the giving up and diving to the side is such a sincere and 'final' act in it's physicality and simplicity of surrender ) and touching with all those unnecessary body concerns, and then especially at the end when you speak about telling yourself (and anyone really) not to worry about any of it and to trust yourself more.

And I love the bit of you just falling over, been helped by 2 colleagues which is nice and then confidently jumping to your feet and pointing the way. Just feels like a lovely multi-sybiotic moment, you fell, you were helped, you didn't dwell on it you just took charge, offered hope and everyone was happy. Simple.

Thanks for sharing.

Teresa Stenson said...

Thank you, Dunmada, really appreciate your comments and connections.