In an idle moment today, I found myself wistfully remembering the ski-lifts at Méribel. I love sliding up a mountain on a chairlift. It’s so quiet and peaceful, at least it is when you’re not sitting beside a Haxton, and you can just drink in the beauty and wonder of the snow-covered mountains. The ascent of a mountain on a chairlift being a somewhat longer and more controlled experience than the descent, it also gives you time to ruminate and cogitate on (and possibly even discuss, should you be blessed with suitably-erudite liftmates) some of life’s mysteries. I would warrant that Hutchison could compose an entire Monologue on the way up the Golf chairlift from Méribel Village, it being longer and slower than most. On one journey I engaged DC in a discussion on the significance of the Transfiguration, although we didn’t get very far. My memory isn’t infallible, but I suspect Tim might have interrupted with a comment about his hair or other matters relating to his personal grooming.
Tim, you see, is a snowboarder. Snowboarders are very concerned with their personal image and ‘looking cool’. That is why they use snowboards rather than skis. Being a close relative of the skateboard, the snowboard entitles them to ooze attitude and appear hip and laid back. In reality it entitles them to spend a lot of the time laid back on their butt. Sometimes this is after a fall. Falls by snowboarders are always attributed to [choose your own expletive here] skiers, or moguls created by skiers, or bad snow conditions (caused by skiers scraping all the good snow off). In addition, boarders, being strapped onto their board, can only look in one direction, and so tend to swing blindly out into the path of skiers hurtling downhill behind them.
However, all of these on-piste skiing offences pale into comparison with what a boarder has to put up with in getting back up the mountain. Ski-lifts, you see, were designed with skiers in mind, as no-one had the foresight to design a lift which perfectly suited someone with a large plank of wood strapped to their feet. *&!%£* ski-lift designers. Chairlifts are bearable for our mono-planked friends, but button lifts and T-bars are horrible. They must twist themselves into all sorts of contortions in order to be hauled back up the hill safely by either of these contraptions. I know a thing or two about twisting oneself into contortions on a T-bar myself, and I’m a skier.
Once off the lift, boarders spend a bit more time on their butt, sometimes because they’ve crashed into a *&!%£* skier coming off the lift, but mainly because they need to strap their board back on. Five minutes later they’re strapped in and ready to ooze cool on their way down the mountain. But more about those T-bar contortions, and less about oozing cool. Three years ago, in Switzerland, I encountered my first T-bar, and not a lot of cool was oozed.
For those of you unfamiliar with these monsters, study the pic on the left. Try and pretend there’s some snow in the picture. The idea is that you and a skiing mate catch one of these as it swings round the bottom terminal, and get the branches of the ‘T’ behind your butts. The thing then hauls you up the mountain. Unfortunately, on this, my first attempt at using a T-bar, I had to go solo, as there was an odd number of us skiers in our group. This proved hilariously disastrous. Having a skier (ie me) on only one side of the ‘T’ meant that the thing was forever pulling itself out from behind you. From behind me, in fact. After a number of false starts, I finally got moving, only for the whole lift to grind to a halt after a few hundred yards. Looking back, I saw that my friend Esther, whose own trials and tribulations on ski-lifts should be available in paperback before long, was having similar troubles, despite having a partner on the lift. So the lift operator had stopped the lift and was giving her some instruction. This gave me some time to think – not always a good thing. I realised that my solo T-bar trip up the mountain (and it was quite a long one) would be significantly easier if I straddled the T-bar, thus putting an even weight distribution on either side of the central pulling-bit. Doing this manoeuvre while the lift was in motion would have been impossible, but now that it was stopped for a bit, I put my plan in action. Soon the lift started up again and I headed off, now in relative comfort.
As I got nearer the top, the flaw in my plan, in a cruel, belated kind of way, made itself apparent. Extricating myself from the T-bar, while in motion, was going to be a problem. I realised I needed to twist it until the ‘T’ was vertical and then pass it through my legs without doing myself a serious and humiliating injury. Unfortunately the top of the lift arrived rather suddenly – I crested a rise to see a short flat area for ‘disembarkation’. It was here, and in full view of Tim and some other boarding friends, that I picked up the most unwelcome speed, tried in an ungainly fashion to carry out the ‘Quinny Manoeuvre’ while still holding onto my ski poles, failed to twist the T-bar far enough, crashed to the ground losing a ski in the process, and got dragged along towards a precipice before something finally went right (I do believe my heavenly Father intervened at this point) – the T-bar somehow detaching itself from my clumsy embrace and springing skywards. Only then did the lift operator see fit to stop the lift, seeing as how I was causing an obstruction to other users’ ‘disembarkation’. As was my lost ski, a few yards further back. Inconceivably, Tim and his mates found all this highly entertaining.