Innsbruck dispatch 4

Innsbruck Dispatch ~ .a ceathair

Holding on Tightly – Letting go Lightly

If you have been following along with my previous Innsbruck dispatches you will know about the inner process I went through to get to Innsbruck, the challenges I had with airport transfers, the difficulties I had getting my animal friends taken care of, and the quantum shifting I did along the way, but so far nothing about skiing. 
“Whatever happened with the whole skiing thing? Wasn’t that the main reason you went to Innsbruck in the first place?” I hear you ask.
Well, sit back, grab a mug of gluhwein, and let me tell you all about it? 
[Spoiler alert. It turns out skiing wasn’t the main reason I came to Innsbruck.]

Tiki bars in the snow

The different places to ski around Innsbruck are called resorts which conjures up images of tiki bars and hot tubs in the snow which is not the case at all. They are just places around Innsbruck where you can ski. So when I talk about resorts try not to imagine me in a Hawaiian shirt on skis.

I decided to begin with a familiar resort called, Axamer lizum, which was the last resort I skied in Innsbruck fifteen years before.  

Innsbruck is very well organised for skiers and there is a system of free ski buses that wind their way through town collecting people from hotels and bringing them to the different skiing resorts. 

When I caught the bus previously, it was like catching any other bus with the notable exception that everyone was carrying skis and wearing ski helmets. I had stayed at a hotel the last time I was there, so I would have been maybe the seventh or eighth stop the bus made but even at that the bus was still reasonably empty.

Sardines

I set out on my first day of skiing fully expecting it to be the same. I arrive at the second stop the bus will make and am surprised at the number of people already waiting for the bus. ‘They can’t all be waiting for the bus to Axamer Lizum,’ I think, ‘They must be waiting for the other buses going to the other resorts.’ 
I am partially correct.
The people aren’t all waiting for the bus to Axamer Lizum.
There are more!
I don’t know where they come from but when the bus arrives it is like a scene from a train station in Calcutta. 

The bus is jam-packed almost immediately. I am the second last person on the bus. The last person, the guy behind me, is standing in the footwell of the door. I am half standing beside the bus driver. I say half-standing because there isn’t enough room to fully stand on the main deck of the bus. I have one foot on deck and the other foot on the step leading to the deck. The hilarity of the situation is not lost on me. Smiling, with what feels like my face pressed up against the windscreen of the bus I take comfort in the fact that at least it will be short, thirty minutes at the most. 

Singular Gridlock

The journey progresses as normal until we turn off the main highway and begin to climb into the mountains. Suddenly, we hit a traffic jam. This seems so out of place on a little road winding through the Alps but it just keeps going. I never did find out the cause of the traffic jam, but the thirty-minute journey ended up taking two hours.  Two hours of me hopping from foot to foot, facing forwards, facing backwards, considering getting off the bus and walking but not being sure how far away I am. It is far. I am glad I didn’t try it when we finally pull into Axamer Lizum.

In the fifteen years since I last went skiing, the world population has increased by one billion people. As I step off the bus I see that most of them have decided to come to Axamer Lizum on this day too. There are people milling about everywhere. 

I join the queue for my ski lift passes and then go and rent my skis and boots from a rugged older man with no English.

I put on my ski boots and, carrying my skis, set off for the baby slope. I am very quickly out of breath and can’t figure out why. Then I realise they have built a sort of overpass for car traffic since I was last there which has the effect of feeling like you are going on a small hike in the snow, carrying skis, and wearing ski boots, which are very awkward to walk in. By the time I reach the baby slope I am in a bit of a sweat, but no matter, it is just another hiccup. 

I walk halfway up the baby slope and snap into my skis. This is what everything has been leading to, what all the exercise has been about, the purchasing of ski helmets, the planning, it has all led to this moment.
And it is glorious. 
With knees bent and poles in full tuck position, I set off down the slope.
When I say slope, it is actually more of an incline than a slope. You could probably walk as fast as I am going but I don’t care, it is perfect for me. 
I am delighted to feel it all coming back. It is all good practice and is helping me get back into the swing of things. 

At the bottom of the baby slope, there is a little baby ski lift that brings you back to the top. This is good practice too. It is like a low-level chair lift but instead of chairs there is a sort of a playground button at the bottom of a pole that you can either hang onto or put between your legs if you are feeling brave, and it will pull you on your skis back up the incline.

I don’t fall off the lift, and I don’t fall down generally, other people do, so you can imagine that I feel like king of the baby slope within half an hour. I am able to do the most important thing which is slow myself down. My snowplow is still working so my confidence grows.

Onward and Upward

I feel like I can progress to the not-so-baby slope. This is a real slope and relatively steep in some parts.
It has a more advanced system for getting you up the slope too. Instead of a bean at the end of a pole, it is an upside-down T-shaped arrangement for two that you sit on one side of.  
It is the same general idea of you have to control your skis as this thing drags you up the side of the hill.

Getting on and getting off are not easy and require timing and confidence, which seeing as I am king of the baby slope, I feel like I have.

Of the two, getting off is a lot more tricky than getting on because you have to detach yourself from the T gizmo you have been sitting on and sort of throw it away from you so that it doesn’t inadvertently hook you and catapult you into the snow wall at the top of the slope. As soon as you dismount the T bar you have to ski out of the way pretty sharpish to avoid the next person coming up behind you.

In the past, I have fallen at this point a number of times, dismounting too late, or worse still too early and having the awful few seconds of trying to pole myself up the last little bit of the slope while trying not to think of sliding backward down the slope clotheslining all the other skiers on the lift as I go. 

I am apprehensive, to say the least. When I get to the top, I dismount the T bar, throw it away from myself, and ski out of the way, all with relative ease, I won’t say grace, but certainly, ease.
At least I think I did because I get a lot of unsolicited helpful suggestions from the lift attendant at the top of the slope. 
At least I think they are helpful suggestions because he delivers them in animated German and as we all know I don’t sprechen sie deutsch.

Undaunted, I take my position at the top of the slope, and after what feels like a long time but is probably seconds, there is nothing else for it but to ease my skis over the lip and down I go. 

Downward

I don’t have the same feeling of, ‘Oh yes, I remember it all now,’ that I did on the baby slope. It is mostly a combination of going very slow or very fast, but it is my first time and I am giving myself plenty of time to get back into the swing of things.
I make it to the bottom without falling, rejoin the queue for the ski lift, and do the whole thing all over again.

I fall a number of times on my subsequent runs, but nothing serious and they are all part of the re-learning process. My right ski boot begins to hurt – a lot. It has been a bit uncomfortable right from when I began my mini hike to the baby slope, but I just put it down to the newness of everything.

On my seventh run down the not-so-baby slope I fall again, and this time my right ski comes off. Nothing surprising there as they are designed to do that. It is a safety thing and stops you from hurting your ankles. I know this only too well as I described in my previous post, “I believed I could fly.” 

To put a ski back on you hook the toe of your boot in the binding, then press down firmly with your heel, and it clips into place. It takes seconds.

At least it is supposed to. 10 minutes later, I am covered in sweat and still can’t get my ski on. I am standing precariously on my left ski, on a relatively steep incline, repeatedly trying to press down firmly with my heel into the binding. From the distance, I am sure I look like I am doing some sort of Alpine flamenco dance.

When I finally get my ski back on, I make my way back down to the rental shop. It is hard to know what you sound like when you talk, particularly when you are stressed. In my head, I sound very calm but somewhere I get a sense I am sounding slightly hysterical and whiny as I tell the rugged older man with no English that my right ski boot is hurting me and there is something wrong with my right ski as I can’t get it on easily.

Through a stream of German interspersed with mime, he shows me that there is nothing wrong with my right ski I just wasn’t getting all the snow off the bindings before I tried to clip in. And as for my ski boot, like a computer, if I take it off and put it back on again, it will probably take care of the pain. 

I am humiliated to see that he is correct on both counts. I take my boot off and put it on again and it is lovely. He brings me outside and gets me to take my ski off and on a couple of times just so that I am absolutely sure that the ski is working fine, which it is.

I thank him and hike back up over the overpass to the not-so-baby slope, put my skis back on with ease – annoying – and ride the T-bar back to the top of the slope, with all the confidence of a newborn deer.

Double Trouble

On my 12th run down the not-so-baby slope. I realize two things simultaneously. The first is I am missing a very important part of my skiing experience.
In the past skiing was comprised of three parts.

  1. Going very slow.
  2. Having a great time.
  3. Going too fast, bordering on out of control, and trying to get back into control.

I realize I am missing the bit in the middle, the having a great time bit.
I am going from very slow, jammed in a death grip snowplow, to very fast bordering on out of control where I either fall or return to going very slow again. I am missing the having a great time bit in the middle.

As I realize this, I also realize that the strain of repeatedly going from too fast to too slow has taken a toll on my body. My nervous system is very dysregulated, and my muscles are exhausted.
And this on the not-so-baby slope!
I had hoped to be on the lovely long blue run from the top of the mountain by the end of the day.
Tomorrow at the latest! 
Very disappointing, but there it is. I know from past, hard-won experience, that if I keep going I am at risk of hurting myself. 

When I reach the bottom of the slope, I keep going. I return my skis and boots to the rugged older man with no English and take the little train up to the very top of the mountain to enjoy the view and join the other skiers who are milling about up there and have a spot of lunch.

I think I will catch the early bus back to town and avoid the Calcutta crowds. I have no clue what the later buses are like but the early one I catch is packed to the gills just like the previous morning one. Thankfully, there are no traffic jams and I only have to stand with my nose pressed up against the middle door of the bus this time, for the standard thirty minutes.

Hit me baby, one more time . . .

The next morning when I wake up I feel like someone has crept into my Airbnb during the night and beaten me up in my sleep. It turns out my body didn’t like having all of those falls the previous day and is letting me know about it now. 

This is all part of the relearning process I think and they are not so bad once I get moving. I have a certain amount of resistance to going back to the slopes, but I have paid for the days ski lift pass and ski and boot hire so that motivates me to go back. 

I catch a later bus, on which I have the luxury of a seat. It gets there without any traffic jam, and I feel like things are turning around. I step off the bus onto the compacted snow, take two steps, and my foot slips ever so slightly.
A tiny slip, a slippette even, nonetheless every alarm bell goes off in my nervous system. It feels like a shrieking siren of, ‘No more Slippy surfaces!!’ goes off in my head.

As I mentioned before, I am very careful not to put myself in unnecessary danger and this felt like one of those times. My nervous system is much more dysregulated than I realized, and pushing myself would have been to put myself in danger for an idea. The idea of me skiing. I like myself more than that.

I go up to the top of the mountain again this time taking the little cable car.  This is not a great idea because it is quite windy and by the time I get to the top of the mountain, I am seasick which is unusual for me and is in some way linked to my dysregulated nervous system.

I take in the wonderful view, have a cup of tea, and make my way back down the mountain on the little train thinking I will catch an even earlier bus back to town this time.

It turns out there won’t be a bus for three hours. As I stand at the bus stop scratching my head looking at the bus timetable and considering calling an Uber, a very nice couple pull up beside me and offer me a lift back to town. I graciously accept and this is a nice end to a somewhat defeating weekend of not skiing.

Rest and Reflection

I spend the next week doing my one-to-one work, letting my nervous system settle, and my body recover from being shaken up in the falls. I let what happened sit with me and let reflection come. I still have a couple of questions. As I mentioned, Axamer Lizum was the last place I had skied in Innisbrook fifteen years beforehand. It occurs to me that perhaps I was trying to recapture the past and maybe I should try skiing at a different resort.

I also recognize that my confidence is gone and that it will probably be good to hire a ski instructor to help me with that and maybe accompany me down the slopes a couple of times to help me regain my confidence. 

I am quite willing to let the whole thing go, but don’t feel like that is the thing to do just yet. I zone in on the next resort that stands out to me – Patscherkofel. I have never skied there before though I have seen a couple of videos about it. 
I investigate how to get there and realize that the free bus for Patscherkofel practically goes past my door which I take as a good sign.

The next Friday comes around and I am ready to catch the bus to Patscherkofel. The bus journey is lovely. Building on my previous weekends experience I think it prudent to go and have a look at the slopes and the general setup before I get into renting skis and booking an instructor.

I arrive at Patscherkofel and it all looks lovely. I can see where to rent skis and boots easily. I can see where to get the tickets for the lift. Lovely. I walk up to the bottom of the slopes. It too looks lovely. There are a lot of people there having a great time. I stand at the bottom of the slope looking at people skiing down and check in with my body and overall system.

On the outside all is lovely.
On the inside, there is a full body, ‘No!’
I stand there for a good fifteen minutes blinking and letting myself get accustomed to the place, and to check that it isn’t just a reaction to a new environment.  The note is pretty clear, unwavering, and unequivocal. I turn around walk back down to the bus stop and catch the bus back to town.

Letting Go

One of the benefits of years of meditation and living the spiritual life consciously is that I have become pretty good at letting things go. In a previous dispatch, I talked about the difference between hiccups and brick walls. I had kept going with skiing getting through the hiccups until I encountered a brick wall. Once I did that I let it go. The nice thing is now I had no questions left about skiing. I had no maybes.
“Maybe if I tried a different resort?”
“Maybe if I tried to find an instructor?”
“Maybe if I went back to Axamer lizum?”
I didn’t have any of that.

What I did have was, ‘If I didn’t come to Innsbruck for skiing, what did I come here for?’  I discovered this about a week later and it was not what I was expecting. It turned out to be pretty profound both for me and for Innsbruck. I had planned to go into that next part of the story in this dispatch but unfortunately, it has got a bit long. 
I hate to leave you on a cliffhanger, but I will tell you all about it in the next dispatch.

to be continued . . . .

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Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash


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