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Winter is here. While I missed out on another traditional Christmas, there is a a lot of fun to be had abroad during the festive season. Last year was certainly different, spent snowboarding on the slopes of Pyeongchang, the home of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
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.
I had been warned about the potential for damaged wrists during your first time snowboarding, and yet, when getting my snowboarding gear, I chose to save money instead of taking the smart option.
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.
Usually it’s tougher going up a mountain, especially if you’re not prepared, and yet I had all the gear, well aside from wrist guards and a butt shield! In any case, I was prepared to go down.
My breath chilled before my eyes and I summoned the drive to pick myself up once again. The mountain hadn’t beaten me yet but it had been a long day full of falls on my first snowboarding adventure. 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 and prepared my mind once again.
Pressing down gradually with the toes of my left foot, I felt the nose of the board rotate and held my arms outstretched; 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. It reached a crescendo as I picked up speed and saw the mountainside valley open up in front of me. Trying not to be awestruck by how cool I actually felt at that moment (pun totally intended), I banked the memory in the bottomless pit of things travel has given me and plowed forth.
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. I watched each daunting corner loom and then vanish as quickly as the next one emerged.
Confidence grew even though this was still my first time snowboarding.
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 center of gravity.
I rushed into corners and slalomed down the center of the wide trails.
A wide corner appeared ahead and I recognized it from an earlier 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 realized that save for the first fall back at the very start, I was well on my way to a very quick and successful –
Without warning, my new-found confidence in snowboarding betrayed me as I took my mind off the task for barely a moment.
My heavy front foot sank the board through the powder, burying the nose of the board. Suddenly I found myself flying through the air, sailing prematurely from the top of a dip.
Putting my hands out for a moment, I suddenly remembered those stories of people getting broken wrists. Quickly, I changed my defensive brace to flat forearms as I grimaced, waiting for impact. 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 before I ground to a halt in front of the stunned onlookers.
I slowly pushed my goggles off to glimpse at their masks of awe. 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 helped me find my lungs again in the cold air. Taking a moment to relax, I spotted a couple of unfortunates tangled in the boundary fence. One struggled to his feet before falling face-first again. 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. I thought of what lay on the other side of the hill. The end was close and for all the fun, the thought of warm clothes and a drink was irresistible.
The adrenaline washed away and I felt my forearms aching from the latest impact.
Thankfully I didn’t stick my arms straight out or I’d surely be in a lot of pain right now. Looking to the pros casually fooling around near the brow of the hill, I eyed their gear with envy, from their cosy jackets to the beasty-looking protection hugging their wrists.
Not long to go, surely I can make it to the bottom without another fall, I thought.
Tucking my knees in tight, I took a deep breath and pulled my goggles back down again…