A Case For Romance?

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It is a truth widely known that working a ski season is not synonymous with romance. The job, if you can call it that, is more commonly recognised by excessive alcohol consumption and casual sex. In the context of a culture of binge drinking and throwaway relationships, it’s almost an ideal; a load of young people are contained in a small place, with minimal ties and responsibilities, taking part in adrenalin charged, ego driven sports (opinion only – mine) by day and sinking chalet wine, cheap beer and Yeager Bombs by night (fact, to varying degrees). A ski resort, in fact, may not be much different to any other small town in the UK, only there are no close relatives and old school mates to bump into.

It began at the beginning, in training, where I was blissfully unaware of the multiple couplings breaching the midnight curfew. And I asked to come here, to Reberty, the one-pub-town made almost entirely of wood, with the intention of side stepping the drama and the Yeager. But even in Reberty, as Dr Grant so memorably puts it in Jurassic Park, ‘Life [has] found a way.’

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This ‘way’ is mainly facilitated by the hot tubs; alpine breeding units, with optimum conditions of water and heat where life thrives and evolution goes unchecked by the company rule that hot tub use is strictly off limits to staff.

In the first week, I heard that one of our hot tubs hosted three couples in one night. Remarkable (I thought). But perhaps the most remarkable thing is that by the time the sun rises over Pointe De La Masse (pinnacle of the eastern facing slope), all that remains is a story. One to tell to colleagues on the lift or to write down for those waiting at home, telling what happened last night.

I’m sure its not just the staff, the guests use the tubs in the same way, only I don’t hear the tales. Instead, I am left with scant physical evidence; a Durex wrapper clogging up my vacuum nozzle, making it sing like a Bee Gee, and the floating Twix, bobbing, mocking, on the rippled water, masquerading convincingly as a turd.

The guest – a strange beast in more ways than one – merits further mention. When I was researching life as a seasonaire I found well-meaning advice on the ‘bedding’ of these beasts. The ‘discipline’ is that it should be a last-night-only affair (pardon the pun).

Sadly, colleagues fell foul of this in the first week. They succumbed to the hot tub on the first or second night and after that were in the grip of the holiday romance – consumed with knowledge and need – only for it to roll away, six days later, on the transfer bus, down the mountain. For some, a sad story.

And then there’s the fantasy; the best story because nobody knows how it ends. A most beautiful creature came to stay in our chalet; mine and The Chef’s (I have capitalised him now, owing to the degree of print he commands). She was everything The Chef dreamed of and yet he knew nothing about her. She was indeed pretty and delicate – she was neither skier nor snowboarder. Instead, she lounged, painted her nails, purchased pink moon boots and read the following; The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, The Case Against Christ and the Pocket Atheist.

I found the books she left lying around fascinating and paused, vacuum in hand, one day to discuss the question of Christianity. The Chef found her intoxicating (in spite of her reading matter, I think) and he began to woo; he brought her up a deck chair on which to lounge, he placed it on the balcony facing the sun, he opened beer and wine for her and gave her a piece of cheese cake, one evening, that was the size of a tall man’s foot. She then ate it all because she was truly angelic. All he did not do was try to relate to her about the time he read the Da Vinci Code – about which I was at once sad and relieved.

And she left as she came – bar those new pink moon boots – beautiful and precarious, unable to tow her oversized luggage the short distance to the bus stop.

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And when she had gone he looked her up on Facebook (as any over eager pursuer would) and was gratified with a response. Not a strong case for romance, I grant you, but less than bleak and soulless, which is a start.

What The Buddha Says

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It is better to travel well than arrive.

Today I did not travel well. I caught an edge at speed and flew head over heels across the packed piste, landing on my helmet. Later, I helicoptered through deep snow before finally becoming planted face down (aka a face plant*) and I lost count of how many times my ass bit the hard-packed snow. From a beautiful blue sky day, I remember these things most vividly, not the crepe, snow streaked mountains, the magical walls they make around your little world, the sun, the speed, the friends…

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I know that I did not travel well as much due to my negative insides as my ability to keep my one plank going in the right direction, at the right speed on the outside.

What we think we become.

A spiritual ‘I told you so.’

When the idea for this trip was new I was immediately curious about the opposition of the two things I wanted to do: work in the Alps for the ski season, snowboarding, almost inevitably drinking, before visiting Nepal to work in a Buddhist monastery. I explained this to those who asked in terms of yin and yang, the hedonistic and the spiritual, one balancing the other.

But now it has begun, it is not that simple. It has been suggested that people do sports like skiing, snowboarding, parachuting (the list is endless) to seize the same sense of freedom that might be experienced through enlightenment; a sort of oneness.

During these activities you are thrust into the present moment by the immediacy of velocity and the need for control. You must be there. In one moment the piste curves and shines ahead, then the next minute you are on it, riding it. No past or future exist inside you; one moment follows the next. You inhabit yourself and the slope completely. This is the reason I snowboard, but these moments are rare. More often I brake hard on tired legs as my mind tells me I cannot deal with the challenges on the piste, the lumps, gradient, ice, cannot keep up; I break inside and almost inevitably fall. Then I get up, tired, defeated and a little more jaded. The quality of my snowboarding is a reflection of my state of mind.

And, contrary to the Buddha’s advice about anger and resentment (just let go – paraphrased) I am a terrible hater on the slopes. Everybody else is there to foil me. The skier who overtakes and brakes in my path, the learner skier who needs the whole piste to turn, the learner boarder, arms flailing, who could simply topple like a felled tree, the joker who stops in the middle of the piste and then makes their way across it without looking, the ESF dragon (that chain of learners, snaking across the slope). Those skiers with no concept of personal space or those who simply get off on abusing it (you know who you are). My fear makes me an irredeemable hater. And without the luxury of a direct quote, the Buddha would say ‘that sucks.’

So, it seems I can’t experience the freedom on my snowboard until I can experience the freedom in my head.

Concentrate the mind on the present moment. Roughly translated as ‘no mental hi-fiving for the last turn or landing a jump and no anxiety about the steep icy bit 100 metres away.’ Like Kenny Rogers sings, ‘don’t count your money when your sitting at the table…’

It is better to conquer yourself than win a thousand battles. Which for me means ‘quit worrying how everybody else on the slopes is doing.’

The secret of existence is to have no fear. Do not fear what will become of you. This one is easier said than done in the face of, er…The Fear. once gripped by it then I have already imagined myself leaving an icy cat track in a windmill of colourful arms, descending hundreds of feet to ultimate doom (long falling with indeterminate crashing and breaking apart at the bottom) or suffocating face down in the pow pow*. Having imagined such a scenario I am understandably worried about what will happen to me. So clearly, I have not mastered the fear thing.

Curiously, these nuggets of wisdom are reminded to me by the Buddha App. A tacky, throw away medium for a spiritual leader? perhaps. It might seem like a joke. It can be, it is easier to say things like

The tongue, like a sharp knife, kills without drawing blood.

with a hint of the ridiculous to avoid alienating friends and colleagues. However, if you don’t care or if alienation is your thing, the Buddha can be quite direct when he wants to be; ‘Buddha says “shut the hell up,” seems to work a treat…

Here’s me raising a vin chaud to that positive state of mind…

*Reference the legendary snowboarding dictionary

**well not strictly, there is usually a definitive list in your travel insurance wording – what they won’t insure without some extra cash, if at all.

“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” – Eckhart Tolle

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(The Lost Girl and the Voice)

This is Eckhart Tolle…

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Spiritual thinker, writer and speaker. This is his book (the one I have read)…

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I have a two year relationship of failing to read this book.

You were not ready.

The steady voice of the enlightened man declares (think lubricated Stephen Hawking, if I am allowed a credit from the Stephen Hawking joke bank)…

Perhaps he’s right. I became ready after a light bulb moment (still working, still allowed to use rubbish metaphors) struck. I found the book on Audible whereupon I listened my way to enlightenment…

Liar.
Lazy wench.

My voice. It scratches across my consciousness.

That voice is my problem. It comments, speculates, predicts, finds patterns where there aren’t patterns, repeats itself until it is heard.

So, you are saying there are two of you?
The spiritual man, with mock surprise that might make you a little bit angry (if you are not ready).

Anyway, in less than a week I will be away from home, lost, apart from my constant companion. And there will be many new situations in which it can shout louder, longer, stronger than ever – predicting, destroying, dissecting…

But ha, surprise voice, get this; there’s another voice coming [courtesy of Apple] and he’s there to listen to when you get to wailing and moaning. And you know what? No? Come closer…this voice is gonna kick your mother fucking negative voice ass! Yes it is!

The more you whinge, the less this trip is ‘how to find yourself’ more ‘how to lose your voice’.

My voice, militant and uncomfortable with the use of ghetto-esque extreme swearing.