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"No mountains in my country," I panted, shifting the torturing skis onto my other shoulder. "Tuesday quite safe." Mercifully, then we rounded a bend and saw at last the skier's Mecca, the Alpin Hotel. A characterless concrete box, it was perched like an eagle's aerie on a sheer snow cliff. My solemn informant pointed skyward. "Nursery slopes," he told me. Behind the hotel rose an ice mountain, wooded on one side and with a sheer drop on the other. Down this slope a crowd of shrieking, shouting, out-of-control beginners whizzed, hurtled, bumped, tumbled and slithered on their backs, always ending in a contorted ski-tangled heap at the bottom. There seemed to be no other way to stop.
A few of the more skillful performers did traverse down the slope—but I saw with some horror that if they failed to turn in time they would disappear forever down the precipice below the Alpin. We stood watching the carnage for some time. After lying and groaning for some moments, the skiers would disentangle themselves and turn to sidestep painfully up the long, steep ascent.
"Isn't there some sort of ski lift for them?"
"Of course. There iss a chair lift. And a baby lift for the nursery slopes. It is just that they do not work."
He shook his head mournfully. "Seldom. And never on Tuesdays."
We climbed the hill to find the ski instructor. There was none to be found, but then a bouncing, crop-haired German boy called Kurt turned up, eager to practice his English and be my guide. He told me I couldn't possibly join the ski class that afternoon—the beginners had all gone up the mountain to ski at virful cu dor. "That is Rumanian for The Peak of Longing," he explained.
I was somewhat weary. I had survived the jeep ride and achieved the mountain climb only to find my ski lesson as unattainable as ever. I stood in the middle of the piste, sighed a little and decided to put my skis on anyway.
"Vorsicht! Vatch out!" cried Kurt as a racing skier bore down on us at 40 miles an hour. I watched him enviously as he whizzed past us crouched double. "Very good racer. Notice the egg position," said Kurt helpfully.
I started off down the hill and ended in a face-down tangle five seconds later. "Scrambled-egg position," I said, packed it up and went home.