Skiing has never appealed to me. It has never been a sport or recreational activity I paid much attention to or had any interest in whatsoever. Having said that, I could have gone on my first trip over fourteen years ago. In my first year at secondary school I was extremely close to going. However, my Mum did not want me to go (or something like that) and I pulled out before the first group meeting even took place. A few years earlier, on my Windows 3.1 machine, I would play a game, part of the entertainment bonus pack. That game was SkiFree (anyone with fond memories of the game can learn more and even download a 32-bit version!). So that was my only contact with skiing, until now. So what changed? Well my dear friend Pav had been skiing to Vermont with college in early 1999. Then after a few more ski trips he has progressed over to the Dark Side. Snow boarding. About a year a go, he told me that he was planning a group trip and invited me to come along. I thought I would give it ago. That was it, I was signed up. The months went by and I did not really think much about it. After all I was trying to get my teeth into my new role at work and so much going on outside of work there was little time to think about a holiday that was several months away. Plus the fact that I had never skied before meant I was more apprehensive than excited. My trip to Xscape in late October perhaps gave me an idea of how difficult life on the slopes for a week would be but I was determined to try my best and actually enjoy it. Then sure enough, as we geared up for Christmas, the reality began to sink in. Even more so from the 14th December when I was off work and had just a few weeks to go. I am sure regular readers of this blog noted the count down timers. So, the story begins here. Day 1 – Friday 4th January I left home around 6pm. My bag was packed, I had my passport, Euros and travel insurance document. I was good to go. I got to Pav’s house just before 7pm and was surprised to not find him there. He had text me minutes after I had left Wycombe and I had replied with my ETA of around 6.45pm (ish). I got a lift down with Pav’s Dad and brother Rav. We parked behind the Crowne Plaza and walked around the back to the Island Bar. As I got the umbrella open, I cut the inside of my finger on the metal bracket. This would not be the first time I would cut my fingers in the next seven days but never mind. I was a man and struggled on, handing the umbrella over to Mr. K and walking in the rain under the bridge, to the other side and up the stairs and then down the stairs across to the bar. It looked quite good, lit up this winter evening, reflecting in the water. We headed upstairs and I was given my first task of the evening. To fold over cream napkins. Not sure how many I did but I flew through three packs, so over around seventy five? My next job was the role of designated photographer of the evening but I hardly did a good job. It is always awkward at family gatherings, some people just do not want their photographs taken, others do not want you to stop. Well I did get some great candid photographs in the end, particularly of the birthday girl. The party began to wide up around the witching hour and we began the clearing process. As always, food and drink had been over ordered. We cleared the first floor area and loaded the Frontier. We then headed back to the house, the plan was for me to swing back around with the A3 to pick everyone else up but they caught a taxi back. It was approaching 1am, as Mrs. K began opening her presents in the lounge with a big audience. I was glad she liked the present my family and I got her. Even though it was quite a tight delivery schedule, the newspaper was expected before 1pm but arrived around 3pm. After the present opening ceremony, Pav headed to the study/dining room and transferred his photos onto the family PC. I noted the time on the screen, 01:05. I went upstairs and changed out of my suit into my clothes and put my prized t-shirt on. I was ready to go. Time to pack the car. Quite a lot to fit into a small car really. A snow board bag (containing two boards), three holdalls and a small bag. I put the seat down at the back and we eventually squeezed everything in by having the snow board twist through towards the front seats, the end resting on the arm rest. We were off into the night. It felt strange to be leaving but I did not feel an ounce of tiredness. First stop was around the corner. It was time to meet up with Geoff and Foxy (also known as t_dogg, just in case you think I’m talking about another member of our group). Pav had called Foxy as we were on our way and he didn’t believe we were in the car, until I honked the horn a few times. Em was not impressed with the sound. I reluctantly hit the steering wheel again while parked outside his house, although thought it was a bit rude to perhaps wake up local residents. Seconds later the Fox appeared along with Geoff. They were given their t-shirts, told to put them on and we headed onto the A329(M). I put my foot down and cruised at around 80, with the t_dogg in his black Ford Focus not too far away. It was strange to see the intellectual Thomas Fox in his glasses behind the wheel concentrating on the road. Particularly when you recall his antics from May last year. When we got into the M25 we lost the Focus. He got paranoid by the speed camera markers on the road. He didn’t seem to understand that the cameras are only switched on when the variable speed limit is in force. It was painful but I slowed down to a crawl to enable them to catch up before we took the exit for the M23. TomTom had given an ETA of 2.59am and as usual it was perfect. We got to the APH car park a few minutes before 3am. It was surprisingly busy for the time in the morning. It was a great feeling to get out of my car with my t-shirt on. I was finally going on that group holiday with my friends which I had waited a whole lifetime to do. I booked the car in, it felt strange leaving my car open with the car key on the driver’s seat but never mind. I had a spare set with me, just in case. Pav had loaded my bag onto the coach and I got on. I checked how Pav was on the “excitement” scale and he was still holding firm on one (out of ten). We were ten minutes away from Gatwick. If I did not know it before, I knew it now. We were on our way to Austria, I was going skiing.