My Dad and I at a ski trip to Falls Creek

When Ms Frugal Ears took up skiing

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Did I mention I am frugal?  So why did I go skiing?  And why did I not only go once, but go twice last year?  And why am I going skiing twice this year as well? In fact, I went on a skiing day trip yesterday.

Picture of Serina standing at 1980m elevation at Thredbo
Skiing at Thredbo

I grew up skiing. My parents were keen skiiers when I was young.  Before I was born, my parents bought a chalet at Falls Creek.  It was the seventies, and it was oh so trendy for Melbournites to escape the winter chill at the snow. I look at the photos now and think how rustic our small concrete apartment was, but at the time it was quite something.  Dad told me he never saw so many Mercedes in all his life as there were parked at Falls Creek in the 70s.  My sister and I loved it because they had these cool plastic egg cups and we could have soldier toast for breakfast.  I also loved hearing the wind race around our apartment, and the view up the slopes. Most of all I loved playing be the first to spot the snow on the way up.

My parents would drive six to eight hours with my sister and I in the car to get to Falls Creek.  And then we had to take a shuttle bus from the car park to the chalet. I couldn’t imagine doing that  with young kids – they must have been mad.  We always stopped at a little restaurant at Bright on the way and mum would let us have milkshakes as a treat.  I soon cottoned on to the fact that within she would hide crushed up car sickness tablets. I never had a problem with car sickness so didn’t understand why she insisted on giving them to me – until recently when as a parent I could see the value in the sedative properties in such medication.

Skiing with young children must have been a challenge.  Mum famously tells the story about how she was pulling me along in a toboggan while heavily pregnant with my younger sister, and I threw a tantrum and she sat down and cried in sheer exhaustion and frustration. I can’t remember that.  I’m sure I wasn’t difficult deliberately.  But I can remember happily cascading down a small path at the bottom of our chalet. My mum fixed my mittens together with elastic so my sister and I wouldn’t lose them, and helpfully put on bells so that people would hear us coming.  Often my aunt and uncle would come skiing with us, too. I remember one night the power went off and we all played charades.  Happy times.

The chalet was sold when my parents divorced.  But my Dad remained a keen skier.  He joined a ski association that had a lodge in Mt Buller and another at Mt Hotham.  Every year we would go away on skiing holidays with Dad and a group of friends, including kids our own age.  Life at the lodge was a communal affair – you usually cooked and ate together with other people ended up becoming friends.  As I loved cooking, from the time I was a teenager I would be in the kitchen and I just loved it.  Skiing friends were often so tired they enjoyed anything I cooked and I got a lot of compliments.

The lodge at Hotham had a beautiful open fire place and a spectacular uninterrupted view of the mountains surrounding from the dining area.  It was always a surprise to wake up and be stunned by that view.  Sometimes it was a bit too jolly.  My sister and I still joke about the year that my Dad and his friends got drunk at Mt Buller and sang Bob Dylan and Handel’s Messiah songs loudly and badly. His friends didn’t even know the words. “Could you please be quiet,” all the kids pleaded.  Our bunk beds were close to the raucous singing so it wasn’t all that fun for us.

I was never sporty.  I was quite unfit most of my life, especially as a teenager, and struggled with self image.  I was that kid who was in the debating team and did well in English classes and languages but was never picked for sporting team.  But skiing was something I could do reasonably well and I enjoyed it. I guess unlike a team sport it isn’t so competitive.  Well, there is always the element of bragging about the colour of the run you are skiing on, but for the most part it is just you and the mountain.

I was trying to think what made me stop skiing, and it was a range of factors.  Dad stopped himself for seven years – he moved to Sydney, my stepmum had breast cancer, and then he moved to Adelaide.  He later took it up again with gusto, and used to see us in Taipei every year en route to skiing in Niseko Japan.  Meanwhile I was a poor student on and off for ten years, with spare money spent on studying in China then Taiwan.  When I moved to Canberra, one of the attractions was the close proximity to the snowy mountains. Yet life got in the way.

My ex husband was not a skier.  We went once on a bus day trip with a group of friends.  He got upset because he didn’t realise how hard it would be.  The fact that I could already ski – even thought I was terribly unfit at that time – didn’t help either.  At one point I researched going skiing in Japan for our honeymoon. He was not keen and we ended up going to Taiwan with my mother-in-law instead. We were also on an aggressive, tight budget, where every spare dollar went to fund ten investment properties.  Expensive hobbies – or indeed holidays at all – were not on our radar.  We were working hard to lay the foundations for our future, but in the process we forgot to live in the present.

Flip forward and now I am divorced and rediscovering what those things that I enjoy doing.  Last year Mr Red Sports Car invited me to go skiing at Thredbo with him and his kids. It had been 25 years since I had skiied I was so tempted to say no. I procrastinated and made every work related excuse in the planet.  I was so scared.  Sooooo scared.  Could I even ski again?  Would I be fit enough? Would I be like something from Bridget Jones diary being the only one who didn’t know how to ski, being unable to stop?  But I wanted to go.  And so I did.

The good thing was that the flow came back.  The bad thing was that my leg muscles were not quite ready for that. I overdid things on the first day, probably trying to look good more than I should in front of Mr Red Sports Car and his daughter.  But I found a wonderful ski instructor who was patient and encouraging and gave me confidence to control what I was doing.  By day two he had me skiing icy blue runs.  But then I hit a world of pain – a combination of muscle soreness and sore feet. I have weird shaped feet and always have trouble with boots.

Some people find skiing easy, but to me the thing I like about it is the challenge.  There is always the challenge of getting there, the challenge of the weather, the challenge of your body, and then there is the pain.  On the final night I was in so much pain it was unbearable. It was tempted to spend the next day in the chalet or in a pub at Thredbo village. Instead I invested $800 in custom fitted ski boots that would accommodate my short, wide, high-arched feet.

A friend at work, who is a frugalista like me, last year teased about how she spent $20 on second hand boots and $30 on second hand skis.  Sometimes you can get lucky.  She probably has normal shaped feet and is a normal height. I am not so blessed. If I wanted to ski, I knew I needed to invest in the right equipment. My uncle, also a bit cheap, famously had trouble getting into skiing because he bought boots that were two sizes too big for his feet.  Ski boots have to fit really snugly. I wonder how on earth he managed to ski at all.

Having invested in beautiful ski boots, I wanted to go again.  And to introduce my kids to the experience.  So I did what many women do: I called my Dad.  My Dad is 74 and still skis regularly.  He tried to talk me out of it. “Your kids are too young and it is too far,” he said.  “Next year.”

“Dad, you are not getting any younger yourself.  Who knows what will happen in a year’s time.  And it is best to introduce kids while they are young.  You used to take us when we were much younger.”  So he drove up from Melbourne the first week of September last year and we skied for three days.  He is coming up again this year in August and we are taking the kids for another three days.

My kids with Grandpa at Thredbo
My kids with Grandpa at Thredbo

What I love about taking my kids is recreating the sorts of skiing and apres ski memories I had growing up.  I also love the way that skiing makes my kids more resilient.  They have to put up with things like cold weather, carry their skis (even if only a little way), brave up to riding on chair lifts, lean into the fear of going downhill, and get up again when they fall down. I am always amazed at how little fear kids have compared with adults.  Perhaps because they are lower to the centre of gravity or something, but they just go.

Yesterday I went on a day trip skiing with a good friend and his daughter.  We had so much fun. It was a ball.  Beautiful fresh snow, great road trip singing in the car and lots of good chairlift conversations. We skied at a similar level and had fun challenging each other.

Skiing is not a frugal sport.  I’m not even going to pretend it is.  There are of course some ways you can reduce money:

  • Ski clothing  – thank goodness for ALDI – only downside is every second child is wearing ALDI jackets and it was distinguish my boys in a crowd. You can also borrow from friends or check out op shops – Canberra op shops often have really good selections in late Autumn/early winter;
  • Goggles and gloves and helmets – all easily lost especially by young children, and yep I know that from experience;
  • Equipment – hiring works fine at first unless you have odd shaped feet like mine.  If you are hiring, get it on the mountain if possible so that you can go back and change or adjust if you have problems;
  • Accommodation – you can do day trips from Canberra (just, that’s what we did yesterday) and a friend of mine sleeps in her station wagon in a caravan park with her family.  But it can be pretty tiring, cold and miserable if you don’t have somewhere good to stay. Having good accommodation really improves the experience, but generally the closer you are to the mountain the more expensive;
  • Transport- unless you actually live in the mountains you will use a lot of petrol. You might even need or choose to go overseas – my Dad skis in Japan most years and believes it is less expensive overall;
  • Food – everything in the mountains is expensive. I prepared food meals to eat at our chalet, and snacks for the car, but if you need or crave anything extra it is going to cost money;
  • Lift tickets – you can save by buying online in advance, but there is a risk if there is bad weather or no snow.  Costco has some great specials for two day skiing trips to Thredbo and Perisher.  Or you could take up cross country skiing instead;
  • Lessons – sometimes it is best for a stranger to tell you your butt is sticking out the wrong way.  Just saying.  And for kids, OMG Thredboland where they have ALL DAY lessons with a caring instructor who deals with the tantrums is just amazing.
  • National park passes – unless you have a friend with a pass (as I did on a recent trip) then it is expensive ($28/day).  You have to get into the park to ski so there is no way you can get around this.

But really, why do it?  Why go to the effort to drive a long way away, put up with cold weather (it was windy and snowing yesterday), and spend a lot of money?

Firstly, knowing that I plan to spend a lot of money skiing makes me focus on my fitness.  I know I need to get fit to enjoy skiing so it is a key motivation for me to maintain my fitness.  My Dad said that when he stopped skiing for over five years he really let his fitness go.

My Dad posing for a photo at Thredbo
Skiing with my dad – a beautiful day at Thredbo

Secondly, when I am skiing I am in the moment.  You could fall down at any time, slam into another skier (or even a tree), or go over a bump too quickly so you have to concentrate on your movements and where you are.  Most of all, you have to accept you are going down.  This seems really obvious, but beginner skiers (or those out of their comfort zones) will panic and turn their body up the mountain rather than down.  Oddly, whenever there are signs that say ‘caution rocks’ or advising people not to ski somewhere, that’s where people will end up.  The reason quite simply is because you end up wherever your attention is focused on (and thus where your skis are turned).

And really, skiing is a metaphor for how I want to live my life, and in particular my blogging and writing aspirations. When I fall over, I get back up and keep going.  On the mountain I have learnt that if you are scared, you will end up hurting yourself or falling over.  To be a good skier (and not saying I am yet!) you need to be confident. You need to face down the hill – however steep and scary – lean into it and just go for it.  When you do that it flows better, there is less resistance, and it is an exhilarating ride even if scary at times.  Like yesterday when visibility was poor and we couldn’t see the bumps as we were flying down, but what a feeling!  Lessons help – getting someone to refine the unconscious things that are holding you back.  Going with great friends (like I did yesterday) also makes the experience that much more fun.  But in the end, it is just you and the mountain, and your willingness to set your goal of where you are going and your mental willingness to get there.

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