My First Ever Time Skiing.

Yesterday, (Monday), my good friend Paul arrived at my bungalow at the time of day invented for night workers; 1 o’clock…in the morning…even the bloody birds are asleep at that time but it was necessary as we had to drink some tea, load a suitcase and myself in to the “Chucklebus” and head off to London’s Heathrow Airport Terminal Five. Unsurprisingly there was no traffic to contend with and indeed I think we passed no more than twenty vehicles all the way there which was great. Having stopped off for a cuppa break on route we arrived at the terminal at around a quarter to five. Paul went on to the terminal building to see if there was anyone available to assist me with my baggage checks and boarding but after twenty minutes he helped me in and I waited at the check in desk. I only had to sort my bag as I had already checked in on line and printed my boarding pass. I told Paul to head on to beat the traffic and so I waited for the couple of people in front of me to square their bags away.

The gentleman behind me kindly put my suitcase up for me and the lady at the desk sorted out the relevant tags and stickers to mark it and my wheelchair up as disabled which gets priority. I then went to the assistance waiting area until my `guide` arrived to take me to the security checks. As I am disabled the `guide` goes with you, pushing your chair if needed, and you “fast track” through the queues to get your hand luggage and your body cleared to go on to the plane. From here I had to go on to the train for the very short journey to the departure lounge. Here I was again called straight through and taken immediately on to the plane. While the desk was sorting my actual boarding pass I was informed that my seat had been changed as it was felt that it was not a good seat for me. Ok, no problem, but where then would I be sitting. Well, I was asked if I would mind changing my seat and I simply told them that they would need to do what they thought best as I had never flown on a civilian aircraft since being in my chair. “Well Mr Pas, would you mind if we put you in the front row of seats which gives a little more room for people to walk past you as you will not be able to slide across the seats on this aircraft due to the arm rests not being able to lift?”. I told them that changing my seat would not be a problem if it made it easier for others to which they told me, “It is obviously the front row Mr Pas but it is in the Club class, so effectively a free upgrade. Would this be Ok?” Ok, Ok, would it be Ok? Gee, let me think…

So I was met at the aircraft door by a gent with a chair a lot smaller than mine for me to transfer in to, to get me on the plane. Once I was on and seated, having transferred from the chair to the seat, the cabin staff introduced themselves and told me that if I should need anything then to simply ask. Then the passengers filed on and got in to their seats. We had a short delay while waiting for a passenger but then, the tug pushed us out of our area, the engines fired up and we taxied to the runway. We got off the ground a little later than expected but none the less we were on our way. The British Airways staff were fantastic. They could not do enough and happily asked if I wanted more tea or a cold drink when they were passing. I had a bit of a chat with two of the staff in particular on our journey who were really nice and then it was time to clear all of the items of cups and trays away ready for our landing. The pilot updated us on the local weather and temperatures before we eventually touched down in Germany.

I was obviously the final passenger to leave the aircraft with the crew assisting me in to the transfer chair and then the assistant pushing me through the relevant checks and to the carousel where my chair was waiting for me along with my already unloaded and secured suitcase. ¬†With me in to my chair, the assistants, as another had joined us, took me through the security and waited with me until I was approached by John from the Battle Back project. He took my suitcase and my laptop bag and loaded them in to the transport and he told me that he had to wait for one more person who was on the next flight. I had the option of getting the other transport and heading straight to the lodge but I decided to wait with John and chat to him about the skiing. He used this time to find out about what I was capable of doing which gave him a heads up on what he would need to brief my instructors on. After an hour and a half or so, the final ski student arrived…”Ollie” who is also wheelchair dependant, and is also someone who I had spent some time with at Tedworth which was great, and we were in the same room which was also great as we both knew each other so we already had things to talk about. With us loaded in to the transport John drove us the hour and half to the lodge and showed us to our room.

As we were driving through the little towns on the way I could not help but think that apart form the fact that the buildings were lived in and in beautiful condition, I could have been driving around the `streets` of Copehill Down. To explain what Copehill Down is, it is a purpose built village on Slaisbury Pain which was built by the military to teach the armed forces about “F.I.S.H”. So what the hell is “F.I.S.H”? Well, this is what the fighting troops call it and it stands for “Fighting In Someone’s House” or as the military used to call it, “F.I.B.U.A” or “Fighting In Built Up Areas”. However, due to it sounding a bit un-PC or too aggressive, they renamed it “O.B.U.A” or “Operations in Built Up Areas”. So what then did the fighting troops rename it you may ask. Well, they kept it as “F.I.S.H” because ultimately if you are going to assault a village then you are doing it because there are people in the village that you do not want there. So when you go to the village there will be houses which will be occupied by people who you do not want in the house and you will have to remove them. As generally knocking on the door and asking for them to leave rarely works there will be a degree of entering said property and forcing them to leave which is also referred to as conflict or in troop speak, fighting. As this fighting will probably end up being indoors, namely a house, a house which belongs to someone else, it therefore is correctly named “F.I.S.H” as it self explains, you will be FIGHTING IN SOMEONE’S HOUSE. Also, fighting troops are not exactly PC. Hope that explains.

After a really good nights sleep then, I woke at a quarter to six this morning with the birds singing and a gentle breeze coming through the open window which meant our room was bloody baltic. Seriously, there was ice on the cars outside and my bed bag, (which I have to connect to my leg bag overnight to prevent my leg bag from exploding as my bladder drains all night), felt like it had been in the bloody fridge all night. Anyway, I got dressed, got in to my chair and sorted out the morning admin. Then, I got back on to the bed and put on the ski trousers I had been given. This did not go well. XXL they are and fat boy here could not do them up. Not just a little too small, oh no, ALOT but not to waste time buggering about I decided to wear them anyway with them undone. All this meant was that I had to have regular “wedgies” by my instructors when I transferred from the vehicle to my chair, my chair to my ski and my ski back to my chair. And so, after breakfast, I got my bag with my helmet, goggles, ski jacket, lunch and flask and got in to the vehicle ready for the slopes. What an epic way to start the day. Myself, “Ollie”, Ash and Hannah in the “Happy Bus” as it has been affectionately named driving under a clear blue sky with the tunes up loud and us all singing, (badly) the words…”Take me down to the paradise city, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty….” and other AMAZING tunes straight from the disc of Ash. Shades on as the sun was strong, bouncing our way to the tunes like the car load of loons from “Wayne’s World”, there simply could have been no better way to start the day.

We arrived at the hotel and bar at the bottom of the slopes which we would be skiing and it was decided that the snow would be really frozen for a while and to that end we would chat about what we would be doing, the way in which we would look to progress through the day, the duration of skiing between breaks and the fact that we had to be ensuring that I transferred from the ski to the chair where Hannah would be checking for any marking of my skin. To have this chat though, we needed a brew! With the brews finished and Ash happy that we should start, I put my “Freewheel” on to the front of my chair to help get across the snow to my ski and we made our way to the ski. Between Hannah, Ash, Kev and myself, we got me in to the ski and strapped in. They ran through the fundamentals of what the “riggers” did and how I would first be learning to steer by looking. Ash would be my safety and would hold on to the ski by the grab rail at the back and would assist in my steering and keeping upright while Hannah and Kev would be my “Guardian Angels” by warning others skiing down the slopes from above us that we were there. It is the rule of the slopes that those skiing on the lower slope have right of way as those skiing from higher slopes can see those skiing lower down and must `give way` to them. Hannah and Kev were there to `push` people away from me and Ash to prevent what can only be described as carnage. So I was taught that where you look causes a shift in the body which displaces weight and causes a turn. This can be exaggerated by movement of the shoulders and effectively, the body controls the ski. I found this easier than I thought as it was just like being on a bike again. Ash obviously kept me upright and we slowly made our way down the slope to the ski lift at the bottom.

A series of straps and ropes were attached to my ski and I was then attached to the “T-Bar” of the ski lift. Kev took control of the ski and accompanied me to the top of our slope where I had to put my head down ready for Kev to release the straps from the “T-Bar” and get me clear of the lift. When the release rope is pulled the clips come back at a fair rate of knots and therefore it is safer to be hit in the head as you have a ski helmet on rather than in the `grid` which would cause `clarot`to run from the nose and spoil the pure white snow. I slowly progressed to using the “Riggers” which are poles with tiny skis on which flip out of the way at the pull of a string to give you `claws` which enable you to dig in to the ground to hold yourself up, to push yourself off or backward or indeed to assist in getting you upright after a fall; this I have not mastered yet (the getting up bit) but the one fall that I did have after Ash had saved me twice as I overcooked the turn causing an amazing slide drift style before deciding on the third overcook to let me receive my reward for “cocking about”, was proper funny. I seriously had a job to speak due to laughing so much. Anyway, Ash, Kev and Hannah came to the rescue by helping me up and then we headed off slope and after getting me in to my chair, went for a brew.

I did more and more turns today and Kev got me using the “Riggers” to steady myself on the lift so he was merely shadowing me, being there to prevent my falling over and assisting if I could not steady myself or if I told him I was in difficulty. I did more and more on my own ending with Ash simply shadowing me as I went down the slope practicing my turns. A couple of times Ash had to take control of the ski which is where I put my “riggers” on to my boots and he steers but on the whole I was incredibly pleased with what I had achieved today, as was Ash who debriefed me just after tea and gave me my progress sheet. I am really looking forward to tomorrow where we will be staying on the learning slope but I will be trying to get more dynamic with my left turns. I am struggling to get my body to turn to the left the same as I can with my right. It could be something to do with my body since the accident, it could apparently be due to the injury I sustained to my head or could be something else but tomorrow we are going to see if I can improve on it. I am really enjoying the skiing, I am fortunate to have been able to get on this trip and I appreciate the things that I do get offered, even if I do not partake or get selected but as I have been chosen for this, I am going to make sure that I put everything I can in to it.

You can follow what Battle Back do and see pictures of the people who benefit from the courses by looking them up on FaceBook, simply search Battle Back and request to be their friend. You never know, I may be on there, upright I hope!

Goodnight all.

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