A spectacle of incompetence

Our school goes on two field trips a year, one in October, to a cheese factory, and one in February to a ski resort in the Alps. They rent a bus, work out pretty amazing deals on renting ski equipment, and even set-up kiddy class training, all at missionary-budget rates. The trip was in a far place in the back of my mind until it was pretty much upon us. School has been intense, and the trip to get a car was taking any extra energy we had.

The field trip was coming up on Tuesday, and as of Sunday, we still hadn’t picked up our ski equipment. We had decided that just Chris and Avonlea should ski, and I would just hang around the town and resort, and get Avonlea after her little lesson. Well, since it had snowed at a 40 year record level here (over 80 cm in the valley), when Chris went to get the ski equipment, there wasn’t anywhere to park; everything was snowed over. So he came back home, to try again on Monday. That night, I talked to my mom, worried about Avonlea and the little ski school, and she convinced me that she would love it. She grew up skiing in New York, and raved about it. So, I got a little confidence, and decided that I wanted to try to ski, too. It was the Alps! If a four year old will have fun, why can’t I? We are never going to have a chance to this again. The means for skiing outside this context will not exist for us. Oh, dear Donnette of the past, how I should have warned you.

We were told to bring vomit bags on the bus, but were happy to not have to use them, and were able to make the ride on the bus successfully. We even put on our ski boots successfully, and dropped off Avonlea with her friends, without incident. Then it was over, for me at least.

Once I put those skis on, all confidence left. In my mind, I was going to find a small hill, go down and up a few times, and be done. Just to say I did it and all.

So we started off. There was a little thing that you sort of hold on to and pulls you up, sort of like a chair on a pole, called a poma lift, and we tried to hold on to that to go up a little. I was promptly thrown on my face, and spent a good deal of time trying to get up. Chris made it up a little ways, and was able to ski down.

I wasn’t going to try that again.

So when Chris and I met back up, we found a little hill and went down it.

At the bottom was the chair lift, and that was about it. After asking if this was the direction to the most ‘debutant’ slope, ‘trés debutante, comme un bébé’, (1) I was told more than once, that, yes, this was the way. So, against my better judgement I got on it. For some reason, I thought it was going to stop at each tier, and give us the option to get off. I was wrong.

It kept going, higher and higher, to the top of an ALP! I was crying, sobbing, before the chair even stopped. My comrades in the chair lift kept pointing to the ‘bunny slopes’, that were crossing like an ‘s’ over the steep slope we were flying over. This wasn’t comforting.

So in our not so graceful exit of the chair lift, somehow Chris’s ski pole broke in two. Now my escort, coach and cheerleader was ski-disabled. We found a gentleman who gave us a map, and pointed us to the ‘baby’ path to get down. We began. Follow the blue signs, he said.

We made one small dip and I felt all out of control. Despite the mini lesson in making your skis into a ‘pizza’ to slow down, I felt like I’m shooting down the mountain like a bullet, destined to break something or someone. So at the first chance of a flat (I’m talking a very short distance here) I started bawling. Sobbing. Chris tried to convince me that the best way to get down the mountain is to ski, but I was a hot mess. Or a cold mess. Either way, a mess. It was about 11:00 and we had to pick up Avonlea at noon. We had to get down, at least one of us. I was pretty sure that I was never leaving the side of the mountain.

In our pretty pathetic state, our neighbor saw us, and came over to check on us. She tried to encourage us and asked how she can help. Her little four year old daughter was in the ski class too, so we asked if she could pick Avonlea up, so that Chris wouldn’t have to leave me in my pathetic state on the side of the mountain. She agreed and heads off. A short while after I decided to take my skis off and walk down the mountain, figuring I’d make it down eventually, Chris finally convinced me to do another leg. It is on this leg, that we realized what a disability only having one ski pole is. He slid into a snow bank and landed elbow deep in snow. I was moving, slowly, but not stopping. From his snow bed, he urged me to keep going. I agreed. and continued to trudge on, alternating between taking my skis off and walking down any decline greater than 25 degrees, and pizza-ing whenever I could. I kept looking back for Chris, who was wearing a bright orange hat and bright orange ski pants, but he was nowhere to be found.

As I was crying and looking down a particularly steep hill, trying to decide to ski or walk again, I heard a familiar voice: the husband of our neighbor! These sweet people live underneath us and have cared for us in so many ways. He showed up, in full ski gear, on a snowboard, with another one of the language students, to help coach me down the mountain. I asked about Chris, and they said they brought him another ski pole, but he was in another snow bank when they found him. He was behind them but coming down.

Now, with two escorts, I was helped down the mountain, still sometimes walking, but I made it.

Poor Chris, exhausted, also made it down the hill. We were both beat and beaten.

Feeling a little like idiots for letting me get anywhere near a pair of skis (I’m sure Chris would have done fine had he not been stuck with faulty equipment and an inconsolable wife), we made it back to the bus to de-ski.

The rest of the day was fine, the views were breathtaking, Avonlea had a great time, but couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed up the ‘big mountain’ to use her pink princess skis. Alas, young girl, you are going to need different parents for that.

I told Chris there must be a hundred sermon illustrations here, but here are some of the things I learned:

1. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

2. But even when you do something stupid, God is in control

3. Even though God is in control, it doesn’t mean it’s not your day to learn not to be an idiot.

4. When you are at your limit, you are going to need help. Alone is not the way.

5. Grace is so beautiful. All the time. Sometimes it’s obvious, like when someone is telling you it’s going to be okay, just keep going, instead of calling you an idiot for taking a chairlift up the side of an Alp when you’ve never skied before.

6. Kindness, Love, and Fellowship are beautiful sisters of Grace! How blessed to have people come along and care for us and our children. The brotherhood of the saints is so sweet!

7. If you’ve never skied before, don’t get on the chair lift. Ever. Don’t do it.

We are home and safe. And very sore.

(1) Super beginner. Like a baby. However, even the four year olds around here are all at an olympic level.

3 thoughts on “A spectacle of incompetence

  1. I can totally relate! I had a very similar experience in middle school, though it was with snowboarding. My friends didn’t tell me that there was such a thing as a bunny slope to learn how to ski/snowboard so I went up to the black diamond with them… yes, not a fun day, I lost my snowboard in the woods because I was so frustrated and upset that I thought it wise to take my snowboard off, not thinking to catch it as it careened down the mountain. Thankfully, someone from the ski lift above saw it in the woods and yelled down at us where it was. My two friends went off to get it. I ended up walking/sliding all the way down the mountain as I cried and raged and embarrassed myself as people whiz past me. Needless to say, I haven’t gone skiing/snowboarding since 🙂 I’m glad that you and Chris were kept safe during this whole ordeal! We have been praying for you!

  2. Donnette and Chris: It happened to me too when I was in Japan, on a vacation with friends in the region called the Japan Alps where the 1998 Nagano Olympics were held. I was told it was an “easy hill” — and it was for the people who’ve skied all their lives. Not me. After my seventh fall (near the top) the Ski patrol decided that I (or they) had had enough. We’re praying for you – Keep safe – and warm and dry! Jack and Hitomi

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