Altitude 2012: 26th March

On Monday I had breakfast of semmel and apple juice, got dressed, smeared on some suncream and ran for the Strass. I handed over my voucher and apparently I was the one they were waiting for, because we immediately set off back up the Penkenbahn.

Once up at the middle station, we had a long wait. An instructor gave out name tags, which had our lesson dates on. I had been supposed to start the day before but they’d kept hold of my tag and they just amended the dates, so that was no problem. We had to gather instructors, get sorted according to ability, those of us who’d done it before had to be “graded” and when three of us either couldn’t or refused to try turning, we were kind of made to feel like we were in the naughty corner. We were a step above absolute beginners but we were nowhere near intermediate and no one really knew what to do with us. One of the other girls – Cherry – was the girl from the shop and it transpired all three of us were staying in the same place. At last we were given an instructor and taken up to the top station again.

On a baby slope up there, we ran through the basics. None of us could stand up on our heel edges, not on real snow, so he hauled us one by one to our feet and we heel-edged down the slope before coming back up and toe-edging down. We did a bit of falling leaf and that was all good. Next challenge was getting on a chairlift. I’ve been on chairlifts, in summer, without a snowboard. I also know from Altitude 2010 how difficult it is to get on a chairlift with a snowboard strapped to your feet. Fortunately, all we were required to do at this stage was carry the thing without dropping it.

We went down into another valley off to the side. At the bottom of the chairs, we had to strap in our front foot, practice skating around and get on the next lift with the board on. Getting on was ok but getting off… I can’t remember if I succeeded the first time. Certainly most times I used that lift I ended up on the floor, tangled up with Cherry and Sam and trying not to get decapitated by the chairs.

The top was busy. We didn’t go down the main run, we went down the side to practice using our edges while the instructor made us do various exercises. Go down three metres and stop for three seconds. Or drift to the left, then to the right, then to the left etc. Put pressure on your front foot so the board starts to turn before braking. Then he decided it was time to throw the turns at us. We’d got to a flatter bit and we got up one by one, letting the front of the board go. He held our hands and we used him as a pivot to turn. It felt far too soon for such a thing. I hadn’t even mastered the art of sitting down. I could stop but getting myself to the ground in a controlled manner was impossible. The best I could do was a kind of drop which jolted up my spine and use my arms as shock absorbers. This led to a painful neck – presumably whiplash – and by mostly luck, aching muscles in the forearms rather than the potential broken wrists.

We finished off with a bit of heel edge down a red run, onto the runway to the end of the lesson. This is where it went to pieces a bit. Of the four of us, three pupils and one instructor, I was the only right-footed person. In order to do what they were doing, in the same direction as them, I had to be on the opposite edge. For them, heel edge is easiest. That meant I had to do it toe edge. And toe edge hurts your toes, the top of your feet, your ankles and your calves. It is agony. I prefer it on the dry slope because if you fall over you just toppled forward onto your knees. On a real mountain, effectively you’re going backwards and blind and it becomes a different matter. My feet were completely dead pretty quickly from doing every toe edge. I tried heel edge for a bit, falling-leafing a bit to make sure I was keeping up with the others but the trouble was that when I fell over, I had to get up toe edge because it’s not possible for us beginners to stand up the other way. I could just about do the turn to get me onto my heel edge but for some reason, every single time I did, I caught my toe edge once I was round and got dumped onto hands and knees again. Snowboarding, as they say, is like being beaten up by a mountain.

When the lesson was done, I thought I’d better practice those turns. Sadly, getting on the drag lift was impossible. I stood and watched some snowboarders and tried to do what they did. But when I grabbed the bar, the thing stretched and I found myself sprawled on the ground. The man operating the lift, who’d been busy raking it, rescued me, got me on it and up I went, clinging to the bar, pleading with my board to stay pointing up the hill and begging the lift to please be over. I do not get on with drag lifts. I came down the baby hill but it was very clear that this practice thing was not for me.

In the afternoon, having changed and showered, I went into town to see the Improv show at the Piste Takers Inn, under the Strass. It featured Phill Jupitus, Andy Smart and Steve Frost – and I can never remember which is which – and special guest, Rufus Hound. I like the Improv but it did lose a little by me being off to the side and thus unable to see the Physical Positions game properly. It was all good fun and I meandered back happy.

Next was the Opening Gala. I’d turned up with twenty minutes to spare only to find the place almost full. I settled down at the back only to be rescued by Cherry. She and her boyfriend Simon (also from the snowboard shop) had made friends with a pack from the same guesthouse – two English girls, Danz and Lauren, one German girl, Tina, who’d attached herself to them and two boys, Carl and Sid. They were sitting right up the front and had a spare seat. The place wasn’t laid out as I’d expected – rows and rows of seats. Instead there were long tables perpendicular to the stage. It’s not my favourite layout.

It was quite a big show. It was compered, of course, by Andrew Maxwell who runs the whole festival, with his band of helpers and in particular Brett Vincent and Paul Byrne. There was Brendon Burns, who I’m a bit of a fan of. Then Michael Winslow, who is apparently “the guy who makes all the noises from Police Academy”. He made noises. He did all the sound effects from a scene from Star Wars, with the video up on big projectors on each side. Then it was the interval and then time for the big names. First up, Mr Frankie Boyle. I’m not a big fan. Frankie goes out of his way to be offensive. I think, that to a certain extent, he tries too hard with it. I also loathe the way people worship him for it. I don’t think there’s a lot in his act that’s hugely comedic and to hear bellows of laughter is irritating. But I get that comedy is subjective and I accept that maybe Frankie – and especially his hype – is just not for me.

Next up was Ed Byrne, who happily and cheerfully went through four or five routines, including airlines and kids in age-inappropriate clothing. He missed out his snowboarding bit, which I was a bit disappointed about.

Last was Jimmy Carr. Jimmy also went for the offensive jokes but there’s something about him that makes me wonder why he does it, because he obviously doesn’t mean it, because he just comes across as being nicer than he wants you to think.

The eight of us hung around afterwards. I wasn’t sure about going to the late show. Cherry and Simon wanted to go home so I decided to stick with the others and go to the late show after all. Tim Minchin came out with Ian Stone and Tiff Stevenson and it turned out the other girls were big Minchin fans. We followed him down the street and caught up with his group. He was busy chatting to Tiff Stevenson about Frankie Boyle so the rest of us attached ourselves to Ian Stone, who’d been on the airport coach with the other girls. They chatted to him all the way and he finally pushed them at Tim because they wanted to talk to him and were too shy.

At the Arena, which is a bar in a cellar under the Strass, we sat at the bar, me on the outside of the group and Tim bought a round of drinks which made the other girls’ years.

The girls wanted to sit right at the front. I wasn’t hugely keen but I went along with it. Ian was MCing and we had Carl Donnelly, Phil Nicol, Pete Johansson and Brendon Burns again. Most of them I liked but Phil could do with a little less random noise making.

We all walked home together afterwards, got in about 3am and I couldn’t sleep.

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