Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In the last week or so of my trip I panicked and became determined to go travel somewhere. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get that urge earlier, but you do what you have to do. My last two days came down to 1. going to Glasgow to get my father’s Christmas present(s), and 2. going to the grassmarket in Edinburgh. Cute shops.

My plans were altered, though, when I got a call from Ben (of BenAndHelen) asking if I wanted to go dry skiing. I’m quite a fan of skiing – the downhill, through-the-snow variety, and was intrigued.

What the hell is dry skiing? Excellent question. I’d never heard of it, and neither had Ben, but it sounded interesting, relatively cheap (£11 per 2 hours, including rentals), and so phenomenally absurd that we had to try it.

A bus ride, boots, skis, and poles (without the bottom guards, for some reason) later, we were standing on gray carpet, waiting for the lift. It was an old school lift, one I only recognize from Archie comics from the 50’s. You grab a short pole with a disc on the bottom and jam it between your legs. When the cord attaching it to the upper cable catches then you get jerked up the hill. And it was a hill. Not a mountain. Those kinds of lifts take some thigh effort to hang on. And they’re totally phallic. There was a chair lift, too, but that’s not interesting.

Anyway. From afar it looks like the slope is covered in a mat of dirty snow. When you get closer – well. Imagine, if you will, a kitchen brush. One with a handle and plastic bristles. Imagine those bristles as a carpet, in mesh form. That’s about what it’s like. It’s the snow version of Astroturf. It’s called Dendix. The benefit of this bizarre invention being that you can ski year-round, even when it’s really warm out. The problem being that, as one ski teacher told us, it’s about the worst surface you can possibly ski on.

You know, he was right.

Because it’s a mesh rather than a full carpet, skis tend to bump along instead of gliding smoothly. This killed my knees. It grips more than snow, so you have to overcompensate – at least when you’re getting used to it – and this often makes you fall down. And oh, heavens. Falling is so miserable. There’s the initial problem of falling on plastic bristles. They go right through your clothing and poke you, and if you’re going at any speed they can leave a wicked burn. Equipment Rental Man had a noteworthy 8-inch scab on his forearm. I saw one young boy do a face plant on the ground. It scared my heart into stopping briefly.

The other problem with falling is that there’s no padding. Falling on snow? Not so bad! You get some snow up your pants and down the back of your shirt and it’s okay. Falling on ice isn’t thrilling, but at least there’s usually some snow underneath that to help cushion a bit. Dry skiing? No padding. None. Other than what you have on your body, and I had everyday trousers and a thin jacket. Not only are you falling on frozen ground, but you’re also falling at some speed. Usually. Which means slamming onto frozen ground covered in plastic prickles. Thus, giant bruises. And tiny, pinprick-looking bruises! They were cute! After they stopped hurting, I mean.

And the hill? Very steep at the top. The lift is interesting in that you have options of where you want to get off – a third of the way up, most of the way up, or at the top. Usually we stuck to a third-to-most of the way up, but once we decided to go to the top. Bad move. Such a bad move. So steep, this hill was! And the thought of falling at any sort of speed was terrifying. I can sort of handle steep slopes on snow, but if you take a bad turn on this you could break your neck with no trouble at all. I think someone did recently. I spent most of my time at the top shuffling down slowly, keeping parallel to the hill.

Merely skiing on plastic with smooth-bottomed skis isn’t enough, apparently, and so they need some way to lubricate the pot-scrubber surface. How would you do that? Well, I learned this the hard way. I was skiing down the hill, minding my own business and glaring at the kids swishing down the slopes with incredible ease, when I got sprayed in the face with water. Oh yes. They have misters underneath the Dendix that occasionally send up some water to make skiing easier. Or so they claim.

Getting water in the face is arresting enough, but it’s made worse by the fact that it was cold that day, and ice crystals formed on the bottoms of my trousers and made falling painful and wet.

There were good things, though! The view! It was incredible! You could see all of Edinburgh, ending with the Salisbury Crags in the distance and the Firth of Forth beyond. As it got darker more and more lights came on, creating a sparkling carpet of land. The moon was heavy and round – full – and draped in clouds. I would’ve happily stood there for hours, just watching the yellow moon rising over the city.

And I had my camera! What a stroke of brilliance and luck! Except that I didn’t have my memory card with me! So no pictures for me! Or you! Photos aren’t allowed anyway, though they don’t explain why, not that it would’ve stopped me.

Eventually I got used to it and could zip down (most of) the hill with little problem. Once the novelty had worn off, though, it wasn’t much fun. Ben and I lasted about an hour and a half before hiking the kilometer back down to the bus stop. On the bus we made friends with some rambunctious girls who were thrilled with Ben’s accent. Not so much with mine.

I was sore for days. It was fantastic. But I wouldn’t really recommend it.

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