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August 02, 2018, Gangwon Province, Korea South

Falling for skiing

Homebody Esther Teo puts on a pair of skis for the first time in the snowy hills of Gangwon Province in South Korea

Esther Teo

LYING on my back, the last thing I remembered was hurtling down the slope uncontrollably.

Despite my desperate attempt to slow down, I had lost my balance and fallen, kicking up flurries of powdery snow everywhere as my skis flew right off my feet.

I was sure this was not what my husband had meant when he told me over the phone from Singapore that morning to break a leg.

Almost immediately, my Korean ski instructor was by my side, calling my name frantically and hauling me up as if I was a recalcitrant pre-schooler.

“I’m all right,” I managed to utter sheepishly, the wind knocked out of me. I tested my limbs gingerly — they were still in good working condition.

“Why were you going so fast? I was yelling at you to slow down!” he chided me in halting English.

I realised I had not mastered the essential skill of slowing down before tackling the longest, steepest slope of the beginners’ course.

Starting out

I am a typical risk-averse scaredy cat. I avoid horror flicks, theme-park rides or extreme sports — and anything else that involves moving my body too much.

But during a press trip to Gangwon Province in South Korea last February, I decided to try skiing (or rather, was coerced into it). I bit the bullet at High1 Resort, situated amid the snowy heights of the majestic Taebaek Mountains.

How difficult could skiing be if even kids can do it, I wondered as a tiny tot who looked no older than three whizzed by nonchalantly.

So I put on my rental boots, and picked up my skis and poles, feeling like a Winter Olympics contender.

At the learners’ area, I was assigned a ski instructor who was young, but not the dreamy Korean drama hunk I was expecting.

The lesson began with the bare basics — how to get the skis on, and how to attain the right posture, stand up after a fall, and move around and stop. Easy-peasy.

Then to my shock, my instructor declared I was ready to tackle the slopes.

What a rush

I did not feel ready. But I guess you never really know how to ski until you do.

Every inch of my body stiffened in fear as my skis began their slide down the incline. As I tentatively manoeuvred each curve, my heart in my mouth, I was seized by an odd mixture of anxiety and excitement.

I shifted my weight constantly, bending my knees slightly to maintain my balance. For once, I was glad for my vertically challenged body, which might well have a lower centre of gravity.

As the cold mountain air mercilessly whipped and nipped every exposed part of my face, I leaned in, steadied my skis and slowly began to enjoy the freedom and surge of adrenaline as the jaw-dropping alpine scenery rushed by me.

I even learnt how to change my direction on the fly to avoid other skiers on the piste.

By the time I reached the bottom of my first long slope, I was flushed with excitement.

Few things in life can be as liberating, yet scary, as cruising down a snowy mountain, with the threat of a potential fall or collision ever present.

All around, kids were gamely tackling the slopes on skis and snowboards, Skiing was looking deceptively easy, I thought triumphantly.

With time to spare, my instructor led me to a ski lift to ascend a slightly more challenging slope for beginners.

Well worth the pain

Alas, that was when my rough tumble on the steepest slope of the beginners’ course nipped my Olympic dreams in the bud.

We decided to call it a day after my fall and skied back to base for a well-deserved treat — hot chocolate.

After hours spent in the cold schlepping my frozen body along at high altitude, each sip of the warm creamy beverage was close to heavenly.

The hours that followed were tough. My legs, in particular my thighs, ached like they had not since my last major physical exertion more than a decade earlier— a cross-country run in junior college.

Despite the pain, I was hooked. I had discovered a completely different side to my 28-year-old self in the mountains — one that was slightly more athletic, brave and carefree.

My legs may have been stinging, but my heart was definitely singing.

Guidelines

- I flew from Singapore to Incheon in South Korea on Asiana Airlines. We drove for three hours in a private car to Gangwon Province.

- It is more cost effective to take ski lessons as a group. The fee is around 380,000 won (about S$464) [for a full day of instruction for four people; 360,000 won for two people; and 320,000 won for one person.

- Ski rentals are reasonably priced (around 28,000 won for the full ski set with a daytime ticket), but check out other ski rental shops just outside the resort — you might find a better deal.

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