I ought to have known better. I was 54, had just had pneumonia and bronchitis, had done no exercise for years—and I was now going to learn to ski. I'm a traveled man, mind you, and no hug-the-hearth. But I like my adventures to be leisurely, not overstrenuous. All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by—but it's nice to have somebody else do the steering. In skiing you can't do that: you have to put the damn things on and steer yourself.
That's how I happened to be on a bus leaving the Munich airport for Kitzb�hel, the Austrian resort. It was a huge bus, and there were only four of us in it. The driver was a beefy giant wearing a small, green Tyrolean hat covered with brooches, miniature ice picks, ski boots, skis, alpenstocks and toboggans. A radio hiccuped yodeling songs. If you looked out of the window you couldn't see any snow, not a fleck of it. This was very reassuring. But soon we began climbing,, and there it was, baring its teeth on the jagged mountains.
We arrived in Kitzb�hel, and when I got out of the bus the first man I saw swung on crutches, six had bandages around their heads and a fair number limped. I entered a nearby bar and, averting my eyes from the injured, sat down at a folksy table. A waitress appeared. "A large schnapps," I said.
It was at dinner that I was first visited by the group skiing representative. Her name was Myrtle. She was really an attractive girl, but there was something very forceful about her, an air of hockey fields, gyms and relay races.
"You report to the ski school on the nursery slopes at 10 o'clock in the morning," said Myrtle. "Your instructor's name is Hans Schumacher."
The next morning at 10 o'clock I reported to the nursery slopes, a quarter of a mile uphill from the hotel. I had been provided with enormous ski boots and a pair of jet-black fiber-glass skis. I wore gloves and thick yellow socks. The boots were attached to the skis, and I carried the whole contraption on my shoulder, staggering. There were masses of gay, confident people grouped together under various name-bearing standards, and among these I managed to find Hans Schumacher.
"Good morning," said Schumacher, shaking me by the hand. "You are a debutant?"
"A what?" I said gruffly, inclined to be insulted. There is no way to pronounce that word to make its gender clear.
"A beginner," he explained.
"Certainly," I said.