Mar 09 2009

Seth skis

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For the first time in Switzerland and the second time in my life, I went skiing this weekend!  I returned to the chalet where Jackie and I spent our first week and where Jackie and Michelle recently went snowshoeing without me.

My first ski encounter was over spring break last year, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Finding myself in one of the most visited skiing destinations in the world entailed a fair bit of peer pressure from my ski-crazed friends we were staying with, and I spent one day falling, slipping, and crashing through a beginner’s class.  Jackie, not a really a beginner, joined me for the class and watched me fall.  Facing a similar set of conditions—world-famous skiing close by and ski fanatics relentlessly pushing their bone-crushing, ankle-spraining sport—I gave in.  Plus, Jackie had a choir retreat all weekend and I hadn’t done that badly in Wyoming, at least the way the day was recorded in my memory.

Saturday morning, instead of a group class for beginners, I opted for one hour of private instruction.  My instructor refreshed me on the basics as we descended a bunny slop over and over, dodging the 5 year olds whose parents felt fine plopping them on skis and entrusting them to strangers who get their kicks speeding down icy slopes.  Needless to say, the children were fearless and plenty capable.  Maybe it’s because they’re closer to the ground?  Thankfully, I graduated to a somewhat more-real practice slope after half an hour, and I actually felt confident when the lesson ended.  I had not even wiped out once at that point.  I took this as a sign that something was up.  At least the way I learn, if I’m not failing and I’m feeling confident then I am definitely deluding myself (at the beginning, not in general!).

Full of false confidence and my lesson completed, I set out solo on the same practice slope and promptly plowed into a snow bank.  Progress!  Relieved, I spent the rest of the morning quickly descending the slope and practicing my turns, then slowly ascending tugged by the button hook—a high moving cable with dangling poles connected to metal discs meant to be placed between one’s legs—a surprisingly effective way to be tugged, at least while on skis!

On the second day I set back out for the same slope, feeling a tad uneasy.  I was warming up for another lesson with a different instructor.  She promptly tave me lots of instructions which did not seem related to what I had learned the day before!  Uh oh!  Also, I was immediately promoted to a real slope, which was steeper and busy with skiers using it to reach the chair lift at the bottom.  Offhandedly, my instructor mentioned the correct maneuver for stopping—30 minutes into my lesson!  At this point, my brain gave up on trying to reconcile the two sets of instructions, and I just did my best.  From what I could gather, the natural instinct when skiing is to lean uphill when you’re going too fast on a turn.  Naturally, this is wrong: don’t trust your instincts!

My lesson over, I did a bit more practicing and then headed out with Dave, one of my gracious hosts for the weekend.  Dave was particularly conscientious, since he was feeling guilty for taking Mary (his wife) on a challenging run that left her limping after a crash.  He observed my progress down the slope that led to the chairlift, pronounced it “not bad,” and asked if I wanted to try a blue run (“no steeper or narrower than what you’ve just done!”).  I consented and we lined up for what is for me and my fear of heights one of the scarier parts of skiing: the lift, aka being whisked 30 or 50 feet into the air in a metal frame, only a metal bar of the roller coaster variety holding me in place.  And it’s not just the ride; my biggest trouble is always the dismount.  Last year my skis weren’t straight and I crossed them, angling into Jackie’s “lane” and tripping her.  This time I tried to push myself off and lost my balance.  Fortunately, a generous Brit hooked his arm under mine and helped me regain my footing.  Thanks, British guy!  After that I caught my balance and off we went! I fell, of course, multiple times, but I made it down mostly unscathed.  Or at least cautiously ready for another go.  Back up on the chair lift, and off, with Dave helping me this time.  As I’d learned in my lesson, I did my best not to trust my instincts.  Multiple falls later (but no collisions with anything moving!), I called it a day.

Discussion questions (inspired by a certain comment, as well as by my dysfunctional book group):

  1. What prompted Seth’s skiing trip?  How would you describe his feelings about skiing before the weekend?
  2. What do you think of his theory about learning and failure?  Was it expressed better by JK Rowling?
  3. Was the ending satisfying?  What questions do you still have?
  4. Why is Seth blogging about skiing and not about Hillary Clinton’s visit to Geneva nor about baking hamentashen?
  5. Was this post too long?  Seriously, did you just skim it?

4 responses so far

Aug 23 2008

Slugs, sheep, & mountain chalets

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We are in a chalet in Gryon! Jackie is eating a chocolate croissant. Posts won’t be this long in the future, we hope.

The flight went smoothly–a bit of a delay on takeoff, but otherwise, no problems. We watched the second Narnia movie. Seth fell asleep right before the climax and got way more sleep than Jackie but still not that much. We got right through customs, got all our bags, and met Mary (from the Swiss-Jewish-American family) at the airport. We were able to squeeze everything into the car (it was a cross between station wagon and minivan) with just enough room for another backpack or so (good thing we didn’t check another suitcase!).

Mary took us the long way up to the chalet, which was very beautiful although it’s cloudy and drizzly here today. Jackie got rather motion sick as we climbed the mountain. Things we learned from Mary on the car ride:

  • Despite passing the Nestle world headquarters on the way, Nestle chocolate chips (which are essential for baking chocolate chip cookies, apparently) are unavailable in Switzerland because they do not have a high enough chocolate content to be considered “chocolate”
  • Retired Olympic athletes can sometimes be spotted in Lausanne, exercising in the vicinity of the Olympic headquarters
  • Switzerland has world-class outdoor swimming pools
  • Lake Geneva is dirty–especially compared to the Great Lakes
  • Switzerland not only has a dense public transit network and shared bike and car programs, but it also has a dense network of footpaths (called Wanderweg), marked very clearly with where they head and how many hours it might take to walk to that destination.

We drove by the University of Lausanne, which employs a shepherd and a flock of sheep to do its lawn care. We also drove by EPFL, the school that Seth is going to be working at (looks a little industrial). No sheep though. Lawn care probably isn’t the right term–both campuses had trimmed meadows of sorts.

We stopped at a mall to get SIM cards. We are now on a Swisscom prepayed plan (which is really expensive for us to make short outgoing calls!) and that will have to do until we have our residence permits. Send us an e-mail for our phone numbers. And remember! You can always reach us on Skype.

That chalet is very nice. Not fancy, but very comfortable. And it has a dishwasher! Mary got a lot of food for us, and somehow even managed to provide us with soy yogurt which will be great for Seth. Switzerland is a duvet country, which inexplicably perplexes Jackie, who really likes sheets. (Note from Seth: She’s crazy.) We took a jet-lag induced nap (it was REALLY HARD to drag ourselves out of bed) at the chalet and then headed into town. Town included a bike rental place, a convenience story/grocery (we got some more lactose-free foods), an amazing boulangerie, and a tourist information center.

On the way back from town we passed dozens and dozens of slugs next to a series of upscale chalets. They were everywhere: on the sidewalk, perched on the terracing of the landscaping, and seemingly dried up on the foliage. We shot a video which is a bit juvenile–if you know some small children, watch it with them so they’ll think you’re cool. Careful though, it’s a bit gross.

In another video that may appear later, we argue about our current location. Jackie, who grew up in Philly and New Jersey, is no stranger to hills and mountains, and visited Switzerland at age 14, is of the opinion that we’re not currently in the Alps. Seth, who’s never been to Switzerland and first encountered (and was terrified by) mountains at age 14 is convinced that if we’re in mountains, they must be the Alps. Who’s right? We’re still not sure.

We cooked dinner. And ate it. Then we wrote this post. Off to bed!

P.S. Download Skype! …and don’t forget to actually sign onto it.

5 responses so far

Aug 16 2008

Seth will be happy

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Because his newfound manual driving skills might come in handy after all!  Turns out, Lausanne not only has a bike-sharing program (Seth has already covered this topic), but it also has a car sharing program, a la Zipcar in the US.  A little pricey, but seems like it will probably be worth it.   Now we can get stuff back from Ikea without having to shlep it onto a bus or train!

Where did we find this out?  Yesterday, we met with an American-Swiss-Jewish family who are family of friends of my great aunt (uh huh, that’s right) who happened to be visiting this week from Switzerland, where they live.  They are super nice, and gave us all sorts of great tips on living in Switzerland and will help us out with lots of stuff.   For example, it seems we will be staying in their vacation chalet in the mountains until we can sign a lease for an apartment.  My anxiety level, while still high, has fallen a few points.  Seth is not the only one around here who is happy now!

2 responses so far