I’m met at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport by a curious sign on the wall that reads, “Go reversely prohibited.” The phrase becomes my mantra for ten days of trans-Pacific skiing in Japan’s Hakuba Valley and Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb mountains. Go boldly, don’t look back, fear-not awkward adverbs or ice-encrusted precipice.

Standing near the top of the men’s downhill ski run of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics it becomes apparent that going reversely is not a realistic option anyway. Gravity will always find a way. My heart’s made a mad dash for my mouth because it was on this very spot that one of one of skiing’s most spectacular and famous wipe-outs occurred during those Olympics, when Austrian Herman Maier (perhaps emboldened by the same sign I saw at the airport) launched himself 30 feet into the air at 128km/h, flipping upside down in an uncontrolled but strangely graceful arc, before landing on his head, smashing through three safety barriers and cartwheeling down a decidedly off-piste tree-laden gully. Undeterred he dusted himself off and went on to win two gold medals. Trying to summon some of Maier’s freewheeling spirit I hesitantly turn my skis down the mountain. It doesn’t go well. I catch an edge on an icy patch and fall with a thud, my hip bone indenting a pot hole in the ice so impressive I’m worried they might need to call the council to fill it in. I put it down to first day nerves and quietly repeat my mantra…

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