David Henderson relates how a remarkable boy with cerebral palsy picked up his first skiing award, and reports back from Italian resort of Monte Pora. Plus a round-up of sku news
There are great moments in skiing that we all remember, like Franz Klammer's historic Olympic victory at Innsbruck or Konrad Bartelski's second place in a World Cup downhill at Val Gardena, but few achievements can match that of Brett Carr for determination and guts. His mates from St Joseph's RC High, Horwich, thought so too.
The 15-year-old managed to ski from the top of the mountain on day three of the school trip to Monte Pora in the Brenta Dolomites. So did the other beginners, with equal difficulty, as they slithered one way, then another, eyes glued to their skis, most clenching teeth, pretending not to be fearful of the hill. Nobody was smiling or enjoying the exceptional conditions.
Beginners find anything with a slope on it presents something of a challenge to their bottle, especially if their instructor has little or no English. No piste is wide enough, no snow soft enough.
On a bright morning last month, Brett made his famous descent. He has cerebral palsy and staff had hoped that by the end of the week, with maximum assistance, he would be able to slide tentatively down the gentle nursery slope. It had originally been suggested Brett had a chance in a million of being able to ski. He had other ideas. The first pupil at the Bolton secondary with such physical difficulties, he has little movement down his left side and further impairment on his right. A slip of a lad, he is otherwise like his peers.
Barry Lord, burly party leader and physical education teacher, faced a test of endurance in getting Brett to the chairlift. He carried him from the hotel in a fireman's lift across the icy square, up a set of steep steps and on to the lift which led to the nursery slope. A beginners' slope at the top of the hill is not ideal, but the Italian lift operators could not have been more helpful.
Brett was then ferried, with ski boots, on to the nursery slope and helped into position by staff as the other beginners struggled to come to terms with boots and skis alongside him. This was integration at its best.
Both Brett's skis were clasped at the front, which held him in the snowplough, the beginners' first position. A hand-held outrigger on a small ski gave him balance on his right side. He soon got the hang of it and equally quickly was carted on to the beginners' rope tow and swept further up the hill.
Meanwhile, his pals were assimilating the traditional "benz-ze-knees" teaching skills of the Italian Alps and finding it an altogether testing experience.
By the first morning, Brett had made more progress than Barry Lord had thought he would make in the whole week. Like others, he fell over, much to his teachers' anxiety. Bold as ever, he flew out of control and over he went. "I did a Schmeichel," he chirped, none the worse.
Celebrating the day, he joined his teachers for a refreshment at a mountain cafe and missed the last chairlift down. Piste security kindly laid on a ski-doo, a motorised sleigh, to take him down.
The routine was repeated on day two, minus ski-doo, and by the end of the morning on day three, Angelo, the quiet instructor with no English, stepped in to offer help. He had monitored the efforts of teachers Barry Lord and Henry Porteous and thought he could ski Brett down the mountain, shortly after fellow beginners made their first descent. Brett felt confident enough to give it a shot.
Angelo fixed a brace round his waist and held him from behind by his own ski poles, setting up a steering mechanism. Slowly, gingerly but with great excitement, both slithered down through the trees on the beginners' run.
Before long, both eased into view, having negotiated the sharpish, narrow incline down towards the hotel in the village square.
Most of the rest of the 46 pupils in the party, already down for their lunch, lined the hotel balconies to watch the memorable moment, bursting into spontaneous applause and cheering wildly.
A teacher summed it up, only half-joking: "It was a spiritual moment. And they say skiing has no educational value."
Brett milked the occasion and beamed broadly, ready to repeat the performance next day after a sustained rest. He tires easily. Day four saw a similar achievement. But as his skis were removed outside the hotel after another collective greeting, he slipped, toppling over onto his brittle side.
The hero of the hour had suddenly, like all other skiers, gone from triumph to disaster and humility in a fraction of a second. An ambulance whisked him down the mountain to hospital and a series of x-rays, which revealed nothing more than severe, painful bruising and a bashed ego. The accident ended his on-slope achievements.
"Fabulous," said Brett. "I never thought I would get the chance to do anything like this. I thought I'd stay on the beginners' slopes. I was a bit nervous at first but when the instructor went behind, I had more confidence." At the winding-up awards ceremony, there was only one winner for the Bravery of the Week trophy. Klammer would have appreciated it.
St Joseph's High travelled with Equity Total Travel, tel: 01273 299 299 on January 4, flying from Manchester and staying at the Hotel Bucaneve in the village of Malga Alta