Experience, which inevitably means you’re getting older, does count for an awful lot, especially when you’re still throwing yourself down mountains, or even climbing them, for that matter.
It changes your perspective more than somewhat, while your hair – thankfully, I still have a fair bit masking the solar panel – also changes and starts to go the same colour as the stuff you’re skiing on.
I often find I’m skiing with people half my age, or even younger, and while a well-honed, if dated, technique learned over the years is a big help in keeping up, you soon learn you just can’t do things the way you used to.
Increasing age might not always bring increasing wisdom, but it does bring an awareness of your increasing vulnerability and maybe fragility – you just can’t dodge obstacles or get out of the way of people careering towards you as quickly as you used to, and you tend to crunch rather than bounce when you do hit the deck.
Experience also means you know, you just know, when you’ve torn a calf muscle rather than just given it a wrench, as happened on a recent trip to Alpendorf in Austria. And I only had myself to blame.
The reason I fell was timidity, with possibly too much awareness of my own failings, because I tightened up and tried to sideslip a steep, very worn and icy pitch at the end of a tiring day instead of just relaxing and taking it easy in my own time.
The pay-off was that I caught a ski in a pile of loose snow and just toppled over in painful slow motion, with the ski still firmly attached – if I had skied normally, I might still have fallen, but my ski would have pinged free, and I would have just been left a bit shame-faced.
Thankfully, experience means I was armed with the knowledge of how to cope. The first thing was to calm down, take time to relax, then have a careful self-inspection, before gingerly (very!) making my way down to the village in my own time and hobbling the short distance to the beckoning refuge of the Hotel Rothirsh. Several tea-towels filled with ice cubes from the hotel kitchen, and then it was up to the room (courtesy of a Schindler’s lift!) to lie down for a bit and keep the ice-packed limb raised, muscle supported by a flight sock, before carefully weighing up the self-medication options.
I don’t travel with half a pharmacy, but I do carry a few 50+ essentials, including painkillers – but which sort? Do you take ibuprofen, which will tackle the swelling, but can play havoc with your digestion if you already need stomach pills? Or do you ignore the muscle inflammation and go for paracetamols, and maybe worry about the liver?
The liver always springs to mind because of the other sort of medication inevitably on offer in the mountains, especially in Austria, the home of Red Bull, where it’s almost a compulsory remedy for everything so long as it’s mixed with copious quantities of vodka.
But sympathetic ‘rescuers’ prescribing booze can just compound the problem. That’s because awareness of what’s going on inside your body is also heightened by experience, especially where the demon drink is concerned.
This becomes very apparent when it’s time for a spot of the traditional apres ski and a gentle excursion around the village bars after dinner to knock back a nightcap of brandy, schnapps or even bombardino.
That is if, indeed, you can manage any ‘apres’, because for me, it’s increasingly a case of ski OR apres, but maybe not both on the same day, especially after crocking yourself.
It’s not just down to increasing alcohol intolerance – although, please note, I don’t drink like I used to, and I’m pretty cheap to take out these days! – but the local hooch plus too many late nights take their toll, and I make sure I keep a bleary eye on the clock if I decide I’m going to be led astray.
I increasingly play the consequences game – if I have one more drink, am I going to feel like death in the morning; and if it’s already morning, how the hell am I going to be awake enough to ski and not kill myself?
The inevitable conclusion is that ski trips aren’t cheap and life is too short – so I’m even more aware these days that you owe it to yourself to enjoy every precious second of your all-too-brief time in the mountains.
It goes almost without saying that you’ll have had a great time with the company and the surroundings, but I reckon it adds a whole new dimension if you can include at least one glorious, golden sunrise to remember.
Go on then, if you must, stay up all night to see it.