Winter is coming. While I will be missing out on another traditional Christmas, I look forward to the strange and unknown that comes with being abroad during the festive season. Last year was certainly different, spent snowboarding on the slopes of Pyeongchang, the home of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
As the cold evenings close in, memories of my first time snowboarding are fresh in my mind. I can remember it clear as day…
My wrists pined a little as I leaned back into the snow, propping myself up, the dull ache pulsing in my posterior from the umpteenth time I had crashed into the ground. I shook my feet to free my snowboard from its burial site on the Korean mountain.
Pushing my goggles up, I spat snow from my face and felt the crisp night air caress my cheeks as I stared downhill.
Skiers and snowboarders slipped past me as I stewed in the wake of my latest tumble, watching them blaze trails ahead of me through pristine powder, the floodlights basking the slopes that rolled as far as the eye could see before the deep purple sky swallowed all the riders when they reached the horizon.
My breath chilled before my eyes and I summoned the drive to pick myself up once again. It had been a long day full of falls. The first ten or fifteen were no problem to bounce up from, but now as the tally closed in on three figures, I looked at that night sky and thought about little more than a comfy sofa and some hot food.
“Not yet” I urged myself.
Pulling my knees in tight towards myself, I pulled my goggles back down and made some cursory checks to check the coast was clear. With a quick tighten of the abs, I pressed my feet down hard and lunged my body forward.
Standing up, I steadied myself then conceded a gradual press down with the toes of my left foot, feeling the nose of the board rotate, my arms held out; constantly making micro-changes, as if on strings.
Within a moment I was gliding across the snow, my ears prickling to the soft crunch of powder and ice, reaching a crescendo as I picked up speed and saw the mountainside valley open up in front of me.
Faster and faster, flashing downhill, fellow riders appearing in my peripherals. Determined not to bail in fright, I continued downwards, slipping in and out of the gaps that presented themselves, watching each daunting corner to loom and then vanish as quickly as the next one emerged.
A minute passed when it dawned on me that this was the longest run yet; the longest run without a fall. More riders appeared ahead as I began to really focus, trying to feel my centre of gravity as I rushed into corners and slalomed down the centre of the wide trails.
A wide corner actualized ahead and I recognised it from the previous run in the day; I was coming close to the end. A few small groups of riders stood idle to the left of the brow as I sized up my route on the approach. I prepared to go down a small dip before closing in on the corner, I realised that save for the first fall back at the start, I was well on my way to a very quick and successful –
Without warning, my front foot sank the board into a trough of powder and suddenly I found myself flying through the air, sailing prematurely from the top of a dip.
I landed hard on my chest and felt my breath escape me as I slid through the snow.
A blizzard of my own making surrounded me as I grinded to a halt in front of the onlookers, slowly pushing my goggles off to glimpse at their masks of concern and awe as I gasped for air through a mouthful of snow.
Spitting it out, I smiled in response to their “are you okay?” gestures.
Looking to my right, I lay on the ground as the pros glided by. Sharp breaths finally found my lungs again in the cold air as I spotted a couple of unfortunates tangled in the boundary fence. One struggled to his feet before falling again as his friend tumbled backwards and landed in the deep snow, helpless to free himself from the bunting tape entangled in his board.
Hearing laughter from the groups watching, I stared out past them into the sky and thought of what lay on the other side of the hill.
Tucking my knees in tight, I took a deep breath and pulled my goggles back down…
Yes, winter is coming back. I can’t wait.