If you want a lesson in supply and demand in which scarcity is the driving force, like buying a battered, brownish $6 banana after a cyclone in Queensland, then try skiing in Australia. If you really want to be humbled, bankrupted and demoralised, take your children with you.
We attempted this recently; enrolling Milo and Monty in ski school for the first time, buying them four days of lift passes because absolutely there was zero chance they would not be cruising down blue runs by mid-week blowing kisses and high fiving each other, we purchased cute ski suits for each of them, gloves, boots, woolen socks. We were even close to buying one of those plastic bubble things you put on your roof for skis and other such alpine things, like skiing families have. Yup, we were going to be a ski family and live happily ever after.
The first morning we woke up early because, given we didn’t book our accommodation in 1986, we were staying in Jindabyne. Bad signs early; moans from the children, suggestions we should ski tomorrow, suits were uncomfortable, what are those strap things for on the pants? boots are too hot, will it be cold? can we have hot chocolate without skiing? To be fair, weather looked ominous, and increased its ominousness as we ascended the mountain (which can only be considered a mountain in relative, not absolute terms).
Arrived at the hire place. Boys put their ski boots on for the first time and looked at us with an expression that could only be translated as “what the fuck are these all about?” It’s a fair question and I could not give a cogent answer. Yup, they are super uncomfortable, weirdly angled, impossible to walk in and terrible for your ankle health. Put them on and get ready for fun! The upbeat atmosphere we were trying to maintain became quickly unmaintainable as we stepped out into the fresh mountain air and were blown forcefully back into the hire place. We gathered ourselves, said our goodbyes to the hire ladies for a second time then, unperturbed, again forced open the swinging door and stepped out into the squall, boys teetering around like they had just dismounted after a 5 day horse trek.
We quickly arrived at one of those terrifying, icy metal staircases with those tiny spikes that are supposed to enhance grip but only provide a convenient surface upon which icicles can readily form. Monty looked at me and with his eyes told me that even in good weather, in sneakers, he would find it difficult to walk down that staircase but now he was in a blizzard and he was wearing rigid, slippery boots that meant he could only walk like a Lego man. I silently told him I understood and grabbed his arm firmly.
We navigated our way precariously up through the well groomed, icy mud pathway that led to the ski school, otherwise known as patch of ice with some orange cones around it, the wind literally blowing small children over to our left and right. Upon arrival we were dismayed but not surprised to be greeted by a complete lack of signage or information. We stood around hopelessly until Bryn glided up to us and asked what our boys could do on skis. “Nothing” we both said. Bryn laughed, we did not. Bryn then scribbled their names down in his notebook and asked me whether they had any dietary requirements. I considered this an odd question and wondered whether Bryn had a packet of peanuts in his pocket which he intended to use as rewards, and wanted to understand his anaphylaxis risk.
We helped the boys onto their skis and shoved them in Bryn’s general direction, before backing away slowly. “Surely this is impossible” we said to each other in an admiring tone “how can Bryn possibly take care of all of these children?”
Of course it was, and Bryn didn’t.
We retreated to a safe distance, out of view. Kuepps joined a 45 minute queue for coffee, because obviously there is only one machine on the mountain. I looked around at all the people in my vicinity drinking hard at 1030 in the morning. I presumed most of them don’t ordinarily drink straight Jaegermeister or pints of apple cider before lunch, and wondered why they had made the decision to do so today; now that, compared to their regular days, the chance of crashing into a tree at significant speed with no protection whatsoever had increased by, I don’t know, 100 times. Perhaps I was missing something.
I saw Monty get blown over, then Milo. I saw them walk up a small hill with one ski on, then I saw them both get blown over again. I saw some of the group ski awkwardly back down that small hill. Monty had zero skis on now and Milo was throwing snow balls at him. Then I saw Monty lie down in the snow. Then I saw Milo trying to escape. Bryn belatedly went after him and seemed to talk him into returning to the coned off icy area. I saw Milo sit down next to Monty then I didn’t see much else after that. Bryn wandered up to them once or twice and unless the lesson was ‘sit there in the freezing snow with no skis on and look sad’ I don’t think Bryn was moving them forward according the curriculum.
Kuepps eventually returned with tepid coffees and looked over at the boys, still sitting in the snow not learning to ski. With fresh eyes Kuepps asked an obvious question “how long have they been sitting there?” Quite a while I said… “perhaps we should check on them” she suggested sensibly and headed off to investigate.
Shortly thereafter Kuepps returned with two popsicle stick children, tears and snot frozen to their pink little faces. “I thought Bryn had it under control” I said limply, probably not the first to overestimate Bryn, and we began the process of hauling our rigid children and their pile of equipment back to the car.
Thus ended Day 1 of ski school.
Day 2, Friday, again commenced early. Grey skies and whipping winds had given way to driving snow which we only discovered as we crossed the Thredbo River. This brought hoots of excitement from the back seat, and a general air of trepidation in the front seat. The snow went from pretty and interesting to concerning and problematic within 7 minutes, and by the time we arrived at the ‘snow chain’ police road block Kuepps and I were looking sideways at each other. We had received a thorough briefing on snow chain deployment from the teenager at the petrol station who was wearing a leather hat with attached ear warmers. However, despite our 45 seconds of experience we felt neither confident nor enthused. We pulled over and asked the boys whether they wanted to continue given the conditions. “No!” they said in unison then cheered when we agreed.
Thus ended Day 2 of ski school.
We returned to Jindabyne, swam in the hotel pool, played handball and ate burritos. In the afternoon we rented two taboggans for $15 each and headed back up the mountain to build snowmen, throw snowballs and fly down the ‘snow play’ hill at dangerous speeds. Exhausted we wandered across to the restaurant refuge for a hot chocolate, the boys waddling like overfilled dumplings. Tired and satisfied the boys smiled and covered themselves in molten marshmallow. Monty fell asleep in the car on the way back to Jindabyne.
On Day 3 (Saturday) we were stopped at a roadblock just outside Jindabyne by NSW Parks employees who told us the carparks were full and we couldn’t go up the mountain. Yes, as baffling as that might sound, this happens. In this situation many questions occur to you like; what about the lift passes? and ski school/ icy coned-off area? and ski hire and the many hundreds of dollars contained therein? But you don’t ask any of them because the person in front of you presumably did and yet still performed a miserable looking U-Turn and returned to Jindabyne. So you perform a miserable looking U-Turn and return to Jindabyne.
Thus ended Day 3 of Ski School.
On Day 4 (Sunday – our last day) we departed even earlier, determined to secure one of the 37 carparks in the National Park. We were graciously allowed entry into the Park in order to avail ourselves of the goods and services for which we had already spent thousands of dollars. We were very grateful for the privilege. The drive was scenic and outrageously slow; a full hour and a half from Jindabyne to Smiggins. Although we are civilized people nobody really trusts the good nature of their fellow travellers, and so everybody glides into the right lane whenever an overtaking lane appears lest somebody interpret it as a genuine opportunity to overtake at 8km per hour. And yet from time to time a Land Rover of some description would overtake on the inside lane, thus saving themselves 12 seconds. I found this approach intriguing given the aforementioned scarcity of carparks. One’s chances of ending up parked adjacent to an irked and frustrated fellow traveller seemed high to me, and therefore the usual anonymity of poor driving etiquette is lost. Also, everybody’s cars are filled with poles and skis and any number of projectiles which could be used for spontaneous carpark violence. Intriguing decision making.
Oh also there is no internet for the entire drive. How is that possible? Only 37 carparks, and no internet. And one coffee machine as I mentioned before… but this is a diary, not a list of grievances so we must move forward.
The sun was out, we secured a park and so managed to convince our boys to don their ridiculous boots, snap on their skis and have a go with us in the ‘magic carpet’ area. Both enjoyed themselves (although Milo would never admit it) and in the 30 minutes we held their attention, both improved a lot. Oh, we finally got a chance to use our lift passes (for the magic carpet) but they didn’t work. So we pulled or pushed the boys back up the hill each time which tired everybody out pretty swiftly.
We had time for another taboggan and departed before any significant injuries occurred, which we viewed as a great triumph.
On the long drive home we asked the boys to list their favourite things from the holiday. Here is their compiled list (in descending order):
- Playing handball;
- Playing Nintendo;
- Eating burritos;
- Meeting the Fox Terrier with the interesting colouring;
- Throwing snowballs;
- Finding the long stick with the spikes all over it;
- Dinner at the Italian place;
- Oh… and skiing.
Money well spent.