Once a year, a group of old school friends get together for a weekend of skiing in Austria, at the invitation of one of us who takes it upon himself to organise this very entertaining trip every year.
Apart from the benefit of seeing old friends, enjoying good food and conversation, and having the opportunity to do some sport, I’ve always found that going either to the ocean or to the mountains satisfies some deeply-seated need in the human psyche. After two days of skiing in the freezing cold, with 360-degree views of the mountains and a blue sky from horizon to horizon, you feel refreshed in some hard-to-define way that goes beyond the mere fact that it’s ten Celsius below and your equipment isn’t up to the challenge.
Before I left, I was suffering from a variety of minor ailments. The sort of chronic pains that come and go when you’re desk-bound for most of your conscious life. I’d been taking it easy in the gym, concentrating on the upper body to spare various forms of trapped nerves and muscle pains in my legs.
Of course, surrounded by a bunch of type-A competitive nutcases like my friends, that wasn’t going to be good enough, and so soon enough we’re careening down a ski slope on old-style wooden sledges at speeds that are far from safe, throwing our weight around in an attempt to get these useless contraptions to corner. That’s when we weren’t testing the theory that, when equipped with skis, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, irrespective of gradient and/or obstacles.
By all accounts, given the precursor injuries I had when I arrived, I should have left broken. In fact, the opposite happened.
When I woke up the second day, lying in bed, I was anticipating the discovery of a whole-body bruise when I attempted to get onto my feet. In fact, I felt fine. A little sore in a couple of overtaxed muscles, a little bruised around the ankles, but all of the muscle pains that had plagued me for the last few weeks were gone.
I went skiing with a skip in my step (no mean feat in ski shoes) and renewed my risk-taking behaviour with aplomb.
Aside from the physical benefits, I think that there’s a simple “spiritual” benefit to being in the open air, amidst such vast scenery. The mountains encircle you with a view that cannot be taken for granted, no matter how jaded you might feel, and the cold makes the air crisp and clear so you can see for miles.
The cold also increases your energy requirements, which goes a long way to compensating for the less-than-ideal diet of raclette, fondue and fries that we enjoyed. In fact, apparently, doing extreme sport in the extreme cold can have a remarkable impact on calorie consumption, as referenced in this interesting website, among others. While personal observations over a two-day period are hardly statistically significant, I can certainly confirm that I felt like I was using up a lot more energy than I normally would, bombing down slopes in the cold for several hours a day.