Anyone for a high jump?

A European skiing trip appealed to me. The price was quite modest, so I cashed a few travellers’ cheques and set off by train for Austria. The skiing trip took me to the resort town of Soldau. We connected with a bus and then drove through snow-capped mountains listening to sweet music. I shared a room with a young French-woman who was very proud of the photos of her naked boyfriend. Hmmm. Grotesque. We dipped our bread in cheese fondue; spoke our limited vocabulary of German (‘Mit liebe…); ate gateaux and went out on the beginners field to fall down several thousand times. After several days of this, I graduated to cross-country skiing across miles of frosty Austrian landscape.

By mid-week we were ready for the grand tobogganing adventure. Several hundred feet above the resort we came to chair lifts stretching above the valley. Quite wisely the guides had given us no advance details of this excursion. The chairs were simple, single framed with no foot-rests. Delicate. We were propelled across a vast expanse alone. ‘Don’t look down’ I told myself but was unable to resist. Arghhhhh…. A mile or more below the tops of the tall pine trees were shimmering in the bright moon-light. Shivering deliciously, I held on desperately to the thin armrests.

We were rewarded at the other end of the expanse by a warmly-lit inn where we drank mulled wine and warmed ourselves by an open fire. ‘OK. Let’s go’ said our guide. ‘Go? Leave this warm, safe, place?’ Yes. The plan was to travel in pairs, by toboggan, down the icy road to the resort. It was closed to up traffic between certain hours of the night and day. Unfortunately, this information had not reached the driver of the vehicle that we met coming up the icy road we were tobogganing along at breakneck speed. The first we saw were dim lights through the darkened trees and then suddenly, it was rounding the corner. The moon was lost somewhere overhead. Toboggans essentially have no steering. Even worse, my partner and I had not checked our signals before shooting off the top of the hill which is why he was heading left and I was heading right. We crashed over the barrier at the side of the road. Rattled. Sore. The vehicle carried on. No doubt concerned that stopping would hinder its tortuous uphill climb.

Disturbed by this event, we decided to go ‘off-road’. This was better. Out under the moon. Sizzling across light powdery snow. Cold air on our faces. Merry from the effects of mulled wine. Exhilarated. Until we hit the lower slopes where the slush created by skiers during the day had turned to deadly ice. We knew about ice from our experience on the road, however that recently-gained experience did us little good. The sled was travelling so rapidly that it was almost impossible to put a foot down to steer. My partner by this time was reporting (on a regular basis) that he thought he’d broken something in the accident.

Not only were we speeding downhill, we were also sliding sideways off the path to what I suddenly realised was the edge of the cliff above the village. Arghhhh. Bail out! Bail out!! We rolled off. Tumbled about for a while in the snow, our boots rattling on the steely ice, and then saw the rest of our group heading for their fate at the bottom of the cliff we’d narrowly missed. ‘Jump!’ We yelled. ‘Jump’. They jumped. The toboggan soared over the cliff and we watched as it arced through the air and landed on the roof of a chalet below. I’ve often wondered what happened to that toboggan; what was said to the tour guides by the householders when they went to retrieve it; the effect its sudden, clattering appearance had on the household. I wondered vaguely also if there were people down there who had to leap quickly out of its way. Perhaps this happened regularly in Soldau. It was a sobering thought.