The joy of first-time skiing – even when it’s not you

The memories stay with you forever. First guitar: Age eight, steel strings, bleeding fingers, quickly calloused, start of a lifelong affair.

First surfboard: A much-repaired yellow twin fin, very heavy and more like catching a small bus. Consequently the first unbroken wave, fingers tracing along the face, then dumped but ecstatic. First oyster: What is that?

What about the first time at the snow? Do I remember that? Only like it was yesterday.

We drove to Buller in my friend Tom’s Holden Kingswood. Tom was a skiing veteran. At 21 I was a late starter and as we ascended the mountain I got my first glimpse of snow. I asked Tom to stop the car, got out and picked up a handful. A big personal moment. If Tom was rolling his eyes, he didn’t show it.

Snow handful

Snow is surprisingly cold when you’ve never touched it before. Photo: Mount Buller

About two hours later, in radiant sunshine, with the sky that blue you seem to get only when it’s contrasted by all that white, I was told off for going too fast down an intermediate run, arms and legs all over the place. I apologised and meant it, but I was also secretly chuffed, flushed with the majesty of sliding – quite rapidly – down a mountain for the first time.

Where had skiing been all my life?

Where it had been was nowhere. I was a hold-out, not wanting to go skiing in case I fell head over heels in love with it and then couldn’t afford to go. My cadet journalist’s wage was tricky financial terrain. Surfing was cheaper.

Turns out, I was right, because after that first trip I was on the hook.

Post-lockdown, I went to Buller again, this time with my daughter and her partner, who was at the snow for the first time. Will plays football, cricket, tennis – all well – and he found his feet straight away. In fact, he was awesome, tackling green runs in the morning, blue in the afternoon, no problem.

We skied all day, the runs getting ever more challenging, and Will coped well, navigating some icy sections and bigger crowds as we headed back at speed for a fireside vino.

It was a great day. You only get one chance at a first time, and Will certainly seized that chance. It’s brilliant to watch someone take to something so quickly, and want to go again.

We were a happy crew that night, especially knowing we were heading to dinner at French restaurant The Villager (Buller Central, Village Square), flushed with the thrill of the day. The roast duck and the pinot tasted even better than usual after being on the mountain, breathing in all that high altitude air.

And that’s the thing: Skiing is more than just a sport. It’s a perfect community activity, in which you’re talking, laughing, enjoying each other’s company.

A trip to the snow sounds complicated and expensive, but it needn’t be. Stay at a lodge instead of a hotel. You meet people and cook your own meals: Who needs a restaurant every night?

Buller is super easy to get to. From Melbourne it’s an easy three-hour drive. Sure, putting chains on can be a pain, but the great things don’t come without some hassle.

Ski lifts Mount Buller

Enjoy a well-earned rest on the way back up. Photo: Mount Buller

If you’d prefer to avoid chains, consider going late in the season when the crowds have gone, the prices have dropped, there’s still enough snow to have fun and you can sometimes drive straight to your accommodation because the snow has melted off the roads. We did that once – if you don’t need wall-to-wall snow cover, just some fun, I recommend it.

But the great thing about skiing is you don’t have to be that good to enjoy it. Exhibit A: Me. You just need to be good enough to go along, find some pace on a nice run and enjoy the exhilaration of mixing physical exertion with going down a hill of literally dazzling beauty. To savour that doesn’t take high-level skill.

So how’s the guitar going? Well, I play guitar like I ski – no real style, but boy does it make me happy.

And, of course, I still hit the slopes even though skiing and me are fair-weather friends these days. I don’t go that much, but when I do I’m as exhilarated as that day I got Tom to stop the Kingswood.

It’s ski season very soon. Go! And even better, find a friend who’s never skied and go with them. It will be like the day they ate their first oyster or caught their first wave: An exhilaration sometimes beyond words and a memory never forgotten.

Mount Buller Tirol Cafe

Refreshment with a view at Tirol Cafe. Photo: Mount Buller

Ski until it hurts, then have a Corona on the deck at Tirol in the sunshine. We did. And a hotdog. (Why do hotdogs taste better at the snow, by the way? It’s like choc-tops taste better while watching a movie.)

And then, after your Corona and hot dog, when you’re all out there together, watch your friend on the first day experiencing it, gradually getting the hang of it, going a bit faster, tackling more challenging runs, enjoying the satisfaction of being able to do something so great on Day One.

By the second day they’ll be hooked for life and you will have been their enabler.

Of that you should be proud.

The writer travelled courtesy of Mount Buller.

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