More information about Parallel Skiing

A few people are asking how to get more information about the Parallel Skiing course, so here’s some information:

  1. Here is the website for Parallel Skiing with more information:
    http://parallelskiing.com/index.html
  2. If you have any questions or would like to attend an Info Eve you can send a message to Ken via the “Contact” tab of the Parallel Skiing website
  3. The Info Eves happen around October, once you’re on Ken’s mailing list he will email you the dates and you pick which date you want to attend – the Info Eve is non-binding, you can just go to get more information without being obliged to attend the course
  4. At the Info Eve you say which weekends you would like to do the course (you pick three weekends out of the six on offer).  Dates are on the “Adult Course” tab of the website
  5. Ken then manages the numbers for the weekends and emails you to confirm which dates you are booked on if you still want to join after the Info Eve – I’ve heard that some weekends get booked out in November so make sure you’re ready to commit if you do want to join the course
  6. Ken is really good at responding to queries, but feel free to ask in the comments section below too
Advertisements

Learning to ski

The Need:

My move to Munich was the stuff that expat dreams are made of.  In Melbourne, days were becoming shorter, colder and greyer, however Munich was in the first blush of spring – long, warm, sunny days.  I exhaled a long breath and raised my smiling face to the sun.  Any doubts I had about leaving Australia dissipated as I relished the excitement, diversity and climate of my new home.  That first summer in Munich was full of new friends and experiences, beer gardens and adventures, sunshine, mountains and rivers.  My new life was sweeter than I imagined it could be.

Reality is cruel and, just as I later discovered that Munich summers are a fickle beast, I also found that my logic that Munich would be warm due to its proximity to Italy was severely flawed.  The chaos of Oktoberfest subsided and winter’s icy claws clutched Munich, heavy clouds rolled in, covering the city with picturesque but debilitating snow.  I had never dreamed that the world could be so frigid and inhospitable, that I could be so limited in my adventures, that the world could be so grey and that it would have such a profound impact on me, dragging me to the edge of depression.  The world was bleak, life was bleak and I was bleak.

Through those dreary days I complained endlessly to anyone who would endure me and I came to the realisation that I would have to learn to love the white stuff that filled my winter world.  A friend of mine had just learnt how to ski and hadn’t stopped raving about it so, as uncoordinated as I am, I figured that I had to give it a go.  I sent an email to Ken at Parallel Skiing to join the course next winter.

“Summer” sort of returned to Munich that year, lots of rain, thunderstorms and cold spells interrupted by sunny trips to warmer climes.  Life moved on, as it does, and was mostly sweet, as it should be, and then I received an email:

“Parallel Skiing Info Eve”.

My heart rate increased, my vision blurred, my palms started to sweat.  Did I really want to do this?  Could I do this?  I am the most uncoordinated person I know.  What was I thinking?

When my stress indicators subsided slightly I reminded myself of last winter’s misery and responded:  “Hi Ken, I would love to attend the info eve”.  Send.

The Commitment:

A flurry of odd emails found a random assortment of expats shivering in the Quiddestrasse U-bahn station one Wednesday evening, waiting for “a man carrying a short ski” who would allocate us to drivers from the group to take us to his apartment for the info eve.

We shuffled and giggled nervously…this all seems rather odd…is this safe?…my friend did the course last year and raved about it…what’s a short ski?…how long have you lived here?…how’s your German going?…we should catch up for a beer some time…By the time Ken arrived with his short ski we were great friends, ready to try anything and conquer the snow filled winter.

At the apartment we were split into two groups, the first was taken into “the dungeon” while the rest of us were left upstairs to learn about the course and do some basic but peculiar exercises to the Beach Boys.  The only way to deal with madness is to embrace it, and soon there was an excess of hilarity and laughter and applause for everyone who participated in the activities… I might have been the ringleader…

The course sounded like it was an unusual but effective technique, apparently using short skis means that it’s easier to manoeuvre at the beginning (and get up when you fall down) and each day the skis get bigger without you really noticing until you’re on grown up skis, you also learn to parallel ski instead of snow plough (which apparently is the devil’s move) – although honestly, this didn’t really mean much to any of us, were were just bewildered by the idea that we would be competent skiers within three weekends!  There was talk of blue (easy), red (intermediate) and black (advanced) slopes and we all agreed we would be quite happy to be able to navigate the blues in spite of assertions that we would be able to do a red run confidently and some people even do a black run by the end!

It was an incredibly cheap and convenient way to learn how to ski as it included transport from Munich to the ski fields in Austria, accommodation in a basic guesthouse, breakfast, lessons with instructors in small groups, ski pass and ski equipment.  Basically you turn up at Quiddestrasse U-bahn on Friday after work with your snow clothes and get returned on Sunday evening.  And of course, it was aimed at adult expats so the whole course was in English – a win for this newbie to Germany!

Ken is a complete eccentric and the info eve was bizarre but he has an amazing brain for faces, names and numbers and sorting us into our first groups for the course.  One thing was clear, this was a man with a complete passion for doing what he does and everything he did was with the intent of making learning to ski swift, accessible and cheap.

We then got to discover what was in “the dungeon” when Conny, Ken’s badass sidekick, took us downstairs for our boot fitting.  One of the absolute joys of Parallel Skiing was that they lent us boots and skis and poles for the course so we didn’t have to invest in the gear before we knew we loved the white stuff…and even better, we didn’t have to lug it around.  We got measured up and the first pair of boots that I tried on were monsters circa 1983…almost older than I am, and boy could I smell it, but generations of skiers had moulded a relatively comfortable form for my first set of boots, a relief as ski boots are notoriously uncomfortable.

The evening came to a close and we headed back to our homes, giggling and amused.  The info eve was unexpected and unconventional but it united us and weeded out those who would not find the course as amusing as they should.

The Course: 

Early in January I was summoned back to Quiddestrasse U-bahn.  A drive through the snowy back roads of Austria found us in Griesenau at Jakob’s guesthouse, a guesthouse which smelt like a barn because, indeed it was a barn, with cows lodged out the back.

Our group was huge, over 60 nervously enthusiastic wannabe skiers, and I worried about how I would meet people, but I needn’t have, I walked into the restaurant and was greeted by the smiling faces of Ruth and Michael, who would become close friends as we fumbled through the basics together.  People trickled in looking nervous about the unfamiliar environment, strangers and impending course, but the mood was welcoming and the group open, everyone found someone to amuse them and we had a night of new friendships and beer.

As we sat there having a beer getting to know the other students, we also got to meet all of the instructors as they all had a task to complete – collecting money from us for the course, allocating us to rooms (we share rooms of 2-4 people to keep costs down), giving us room keys, explaining what would happen the next day, soothing our nerves, advising us to preorder the delicious Hirsch steak for dinner the next night.  Based on the exercises that Ken had us do in his apartment, he had already allocated us to initial skill groups based on how competent and fast he thought we would be at learning.  There were around eight instructors for the group and they were a chatty, flirtatious bunch, they knew the drill and were confident that they could get us going down red runs within a couple of days – it still seemed an impossibility to most of us though.

Too early the next morning we were off for our first session and found ourselves on the falsely named “baby slope”.  Baby slope my ass, it was impossibly enormous!  At least ten metres high!

We were handed our skis and laughed our asses off when presented with 70cm skis…barely bigger than our boots, and no poles for the first weekend.  This was part of the Parallel Skiing methodology, to get you used to the snow without having to turn big skis or relying on poles.

20ximg_2423
Team photo before we put on our short skis and start to fall over!

I clicked into my skis and promptly fell over.  So uncoordinated.  The joy of the short skis was that it’s much easier to get up when you fall down, something that I would be doing often as, by the end of the first day, face plant and Jessica had become synonymous!

img_3909
Face plant Jessica

We had a glorious sunny weekend and spent it “making friends” with our skis and running through a series of entertaining and challenging exercises on the baby slope with the enthusiastic and encouraging instructors, quacking to remind us to use boot tongue pressure.  Most of the time we didn’t know what we were doing or why but word on the slope was that we were filling up our ski skills toolbox, this didn’t mean much at the time but has since become part of my skiing refrain.

We were introduced to the coordination nightmare of the T-bar to drag us to the top of the slope and by the end of day one no one would be my T-bar buddy because we would invariably fall off, but by the end of day two I was a master and so proud, and even more proud when I managed to ski the whole way down the baby slope!  Our progress was measured not in days but in half hours and activities and it was rapid.  Impressively and unbelievably so.  We were doing things at lunch time that we daren’t dream of at the start of the day, and at the end of the day so much more.

There was sweat, tears, frustration, cramps and blisters, but there was also jubilance, laughter, pride and friendships forged in the ice and Apres-ski.

We came back to Munich on Sunday evening weary and smelly but beyond impressed with ourselves and excited to see what the next weekends would bring us.  I wasn’t sure that I loved the white stuff yet, as I spent most of my time with my face buried in it, but I was still willing to try.

The following weekends passed in blur of exhaustion and excitement.  Each session our skis increased in size and each session we squealed in terror as we “made friends” with these ever-growing skis.  On the second weekend we were given poles, were taken through a series of effective activities and they soon became an extension of ourselves.  We were also thrilled and terrified to go on the chair lift, finally able to get off the hazardous T-bar, even if we did have a few mishaps learning to navigate those as well!

An overriding theme of the course is as much snow time as possible, so we were out when the ski resorts opened, and packing up as the chair lifts closed, running through drills and exercises, we took on a secret language of “Meg Ryan”, “Smiley Faces” and “Horsey Horsey”, learned to carve, adequately navigate the terrifying bumps and deep snow as our skill set increased.  You can spot a Parallel Skier from a distance by the “arms out” pose or the sounds we make going down a steep slope!  Throughout the days we were switched between groups to make sure we were kept with people of similar skill/speed to keep learning as fast as possible.  There was method to the madness, although we weren’t sure what it was, we were always with similar skilled students and progressing nicely together.

Every activity was challenging and each day the conditions changed, we were going through such extreme development that it was natural that lasting friendships would form through this course, Amit and I supported each other through a blizzard, Ruth helped me with my frustration at falling, Sami and I mastered the T-bar together, Michael mocked me and I teased Becci out of her grumps.  And through it all was Ken in his pink onesie and his ragtag bunch of instructors teaching, motivating and teasing us.

Every session was hard work and we ended each day exhausted to the core, pleased to arrive at Apres-ski to dissect our experiences and progress of the day over a Lamumba (hot chocolate with rum)…or to somehow find the energy in a beer to dance and be impressed with Ken’s moonwalk moves, in ski boots no less!

Always pleased to be back at pungent Jakob’s for a quick shower then down for dinner and a beer.  In the evenings we would watch videos that had been taken of us during the day with advice on things to work on the next day, and some instructions about what we were going to learn the next day.  Always so pleased when we didn’t fall over in the videos!  After this I would invariably be heckled for going to bed at 9:30pm as my head hit the table in sheer exhaustion.  I hear there was dancing and schnapps, but I was pleased to sleep instead.

There was a true team spirit within the group, looking out for each other, making sure we were all there to help with the pack up and getting my smelly boots off!  Coordinating that many people is a nightmare, but most entered into the relaxed spirit of the group fostered by Ken and his crazy (now with added batshit), sexy and fun instructors*.

The Parallel Skiing course runs over six weekends and you pick the three weekends out of those that you want to do, you start with learning how to put skis on and, amazingly, somehow end up zooming down reds with skill and confidence.  We were continually amazed at our progress and tried to understand how we could go from uncoordinated newbies to such competent skiers, we didn’t understand it but we loved it, so after a couple of weeks of learning, we were ready to be challenged.  We wanted to fly….we wanted to be let loose…and then we were let loose…and all hell broke loose!

After lunch on the final Sunday we were sent down a very steep red, hereafter  known as “The Red of Carnage”.  Nothing is more terrifying than a group of 30 learners being sent down a steep slope to prove their abilities.  It was mayhem.  It was hilarious.  Everyone forgot what they had learnt and were all over the place, cutting each other off, falling over, losing their skis, losing their dignity.  I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, so I dug into my toolbox and got to the bottom fairly swiftly and safely and turned back to laugh at my peers as the expert instructors stoically got them down that mountain.

Following this, a black run was offered to those who wanted to try it.  Still lacking confidence, or perhaps bravado, many of us opted for the red route to get to the bottom in good time to watch the others going down the other route.  There was some great technique, but a few were still a little out of their depth and were gratefully reminded to look in their toolboxes and coached down.  All to be cheered on by us at the bottom, such high spirits and camaraderie.  While it might not have been the cleanest run, the fact that they had gone from strapping on 70cm skis and falling over to competently navigating a black run on 150cm skis in six days was not to be diminished.  We had come a long way from that baby slope!

We celebrated with a couple of Lamumbas before heading back to Munich, so proud of our new skills but sad that this amazing experience had ended.  We left with promises of cocktails and ski trips to be had.

The Legacy:

Ski course may have ended but its legacy lives on.  For the rest of the season we went on more ski trips organised by instructors and friends and instructors who were now friends.  We had our cocktails where we struggled to recognise each other without helmets and sweat.  And we had the wild graduation dinner where we celebrated our successes and showed off about what we had done since ski course.

The next winter I remember actually being excited when it started snowing.  I love what skiing has given me – getting out and active with friends above the clouds when the rest of the world is bleak.  I love the joy of carving a beautiful clear blue, challenging myself with a red, or digging into my toolbox and successfully navigating a black.

But Parallel Skiing isn’t just about the skiing, it epitomises the expat culture of Munich, an international, supportive, inclusive, slightly insane, outgoing and challenging group.  I love that almost three years on that I am still part of this group of complete nutters, we celebrate Starkbierfest, explore Europe, float down the Isar, see Conny’s plays and share meals together and, best of all, the group grows every winter.

I never dreamed life would be so sweet for me when I decided to learn to love the white stuff!

Parallel Skiing Website:
http://parallelskiing.com/index.html

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/ParallelSkiing/?fref=ts

*The instructors may have influenced this description of themselves.