Ylläs Ski Trip – Day 1

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

[[ Full write-up of our holiday now available: Ylläs Ski Holiday 2007. ]]

[A few minutes of /net access today, but it is unusably slow! Tried accessing email, couldn’t.]

The previous day is all rather dull really, on Saturday we caught the train from Watford to Gatwick (A direct train! I’d never have thought there was such a thing if it wasn’t for the fact that the Metro Line was being “maintained” yet-again). We overnighted in the Gatwick “Best Western” hotel, I wouldn’t generally recommend the place but just fine if you’re only after somewhere to sleep for about 70 quid (plus 10 quid worth of “courtesy” coach fares by the end of it too). Our plane left at midday on Sunday, we probably wouldn’t have had a problem getting to it from Ricky on the same day but who needs the hassle of early morning rushes when a cheap hotel can keep everything at a leisurely pace? (Alternatively there’s always the crazy-backpacker “sleep in the Airport” trick, stuff that.)

We flew from Gatwick to Kitalia (3 hours), then took a bus from Kitalia to Akaslompolo (1 hour). In short order we were sorted out with a room, meal vouchers (didn’t expect dinner to be included, even mass-feed buffet), and lift passes. This is all arranged by a company called Inghams, since we’re doing this trip with the transport, hotel, and skiing as a package — seems the simplest way, arranging holidays is so time-consuming (I’ve put together some pretty complicated ones). There’s a lot of “families” here, which means piles of middle aged poms with the precious disgusting little offspring. I haven’t felt much of an urge to eradicate any yet, thankfully they’re mostly here to see reindeer (I’m here to eat them), huskies (can you eat them?), and, of course, some fat paedophile in a red suit (spit roast?). We chose to avoid all these “outings” and other “safaris” (which all cost quite a bit, though not much compared to skiing) to focus on learning to ski, the actual purpose of this trip for us.

There seem to be very few “young people” in the group, as far as I saw there’s just one other couple about our age and a couple of girls around 20. I guess most not-yet-breds have a preference for the trendier ski haunts, the “apres ski” here is renowned for being quiet (plus it is really early in the season).
So, Monday, which I think of as “Day 1”. Up at 07:30, buffet breakfast at Akashotelli — bread (good bread here), hard-boiled eggs (eggs are eggs), and salami (cold meats are the norm when it comes to breakfast in European hotels) with a cup of filter-coffee for me. Bus to slopes, there at 20 to 10, quickly fitted for boots and skis. Have a filter-coffee. Lesson starts at 10, it’s only just daylight. We’re in a group of about 10, all “first timers” (but I have a suspicion at least a couple of people were just along for a refresher and the cheap combined lift-pass and ski-hire deal you get out of taking the “absolute beginner” lessons). We had four instructors, the lead instructor, called Ola, is 6-foot-something and probably 300 pounds.

Ski! I’m a slow learner, inhibited by my own extreme lack of co-ordination. First we learn to “snow plough”, meaning to slide down-slope pigeon-toed so that the ski tips are close together in front of you (don’t cross the skis!) and far apart behind you. The further apart behind you they are the slower you go, unless you’re me and it doesn’t seem to make any difference. I soon learn to shoot off the right side of the slope rather than the left, since there’s a road on the left and, after launching over a heap of snow, landing on rough ice is unpleasant. The instructor tells me that if I go on the road I’ll get ploughed. A valuable lesson, since shooting off the slope seems to be my favourite trick… it’s nice and soft on the right. I want to blame momentum, but the lead instructor (skiing backward half the time) puts the lie to that cop-out.

Next we learn about steering, though I suspect that the true purpose of the lesson is to make people realise that the ski poles are not for downhill use and you don’t need them. You hold your poles out in front of you with straight arms and “steer like a handlebar”. The idea here is that you turn your upper body and “the skis follow”, this doesn’t work so well for me. I’m told I turn too much of my body (from the knees) or not enough (just pointing my arms in the desired direction, futile, I crash into the soft snow to the left of the slope again.)

We’ve been up and down the slope a couple of times now. The ski-lift, which I think is known as a drag-lift, is something I manage without much trouble. Except for the first time, I let go too early on the final steep ascent then wonder why the end of the lift is suddenly getting further away. Ho ho! I dub this lift the “wang lift”, Kat prefers to just cackle and pretend she’s on a broomstick.

Our final trick for the day is “turn by putting weight on the leg opposite to the direction you want to go”, i.e. to ski left you press down on your right ski. This is, we’re told, “just like roller-blading”. A reassuring thought for me since I own a pair of roller-blades and Kat takes me out on them occasionally for a painful session of falling on my butt (and hands, knees, side, back, …). I have a little more success with this, though still manage to shoot off the slope half way down.

That’s our 1.5 hours for the day. We head back to the ski hut and they take our names. I’m asked if I’m on for the 3 day or the 5 day course. “The 5 day one, I think I need it!” Laughs, then in a serious tone, accent resonant to some Russian villain from a Bond film: “Yes, I agree.” I’m left feeling unsure as to whether he thinks it is good that I’ll be there for the full 5 days or he’s wishing he’d be rid of me sooner.

All in all I was probably the least able of the lot. Others fell over, shot off the slope, or came off the drag-lift. But none fell as hard as I, or shot off as fast, or as many times. My main problem, I think, is that I’m always concious of people in front of me, always worried there’s someone behind me, and just freak out if someone is next to me. My thought is “oh shit, I’m going to hit them, then they’ll break!”, next thing I shoot off the slope.

After a coffee and some water we head out to the slops again, sans instructors. I’m determined to, at least, be as bad as the next worst person in the group by tomorrow. Kat and I spend a couple more hours out there and I think I made a lot of progress, that final “weight on the opposite ski” trick was a major leap forward for me, I “got it” much better and by then I was also “snow ploughing” to a stop with more control (i.e. actually stopping). I still shot off the side from time to time though. It was starting to look kind of dark by now, yes, twilight setting in at 13:30. We popped back to the ski-hut and had something greasy for lunch (not really gourmet here), had some more coffee, some water, then headed back to the “very easy” slopes.

It was getting on to the properly dark side by now but everything is well lit by huge food-lights so this wasn’t much of a problem (the lifts close just before 17:00 at the moment). We tried out the next “very easy” slope over this time, “slope 3”. It was longer, narrower, and curved. But I managed to ski down it about 5 times and only fell over once (not counting the time I fell over at the top because my poles had got tied together going up the lift and provided a moments distraction after I set myself sliding down the initial steep slope, a moment is all it takes.

On the way back we went down the easiest slope one more time and I effected my fastest right-side-exit yet — knocking my mask off and face-planting right into the snow. Bloody cold. We headed back to the ski-hut to see the 16:00 bus leaving… so had to hang around and have a beer while waiting for the 17:00. Back to the Hotel, left my beanie on the bus (so much for Kat and I having matching beanies, gimp), change, eat, stuff — all feeling a bit of a zombie. Somehow it’s nearly 21:30, huh? Yawn