Richard Phillips knew his first attempt at skiing might end in tears, but he didn't expect the lift to mess with his manhood
As A first time skier in the French Alps, my first few days on the piste had been fun, if a little shaky. Confirmation this was indeed a sport where the worst could happen at any time and when you least expected it, however, came with my near castration.

I had become used to the drag or button lifts, where you tuck a button- shaped disc on the end of a sedately moving pole connected to a wire, in between your legs. The drag lift then pulls you, with your skis on the ground, up to the top of the slope. For beginners, button lifts travel at a gentle rate of knots, and come around in turn at the start of the lift. They are a relaxed way to move around the slopes.

On my fourth day, Philippa, an experienced skier in our party, was determined to introduce me to something more rigorous. She opted for the Lac Blanc run at Alpe-d'Huez, which also uses drag lifts.

As I waddled forward to take the lift, I waited for the accustomed pole to gently swing into reach. Philippa had to point out my error, and tell me to reverse, and grab one of the poles already stacked up in a queue.

Longer and steeper runs require drag lifts with a great deal more power, that move a lot faster, if they are to ferry skiers at speed to their destination. Unaware of these differences, I tucked the stationary button between my legs and waited for the operative to flick the switch to go. With a wrench that astonished me, the pole lurched forward at a remarkable pace, forcing it abruptly higher. The groan of anguish told Philippa that the damage sustained was one peculiar to the male anatomy.

Squeezing tears of pain out of my eyes, I was barely able to concentrate on my progress uphill. Nearing the top, I mis-timed the point where you part company with the button and tumbled back down the lift run, straining a thigh muscle in the process, and narrowly missing Philippa and others ascending in her wake.

It was a steep climb back to the top. As I side-stepped up the lift path, avoiding skiers, Philippa again had to direct my progress. Her help this time was more valuable as she could shout out "duck" each time one of the button lifts made its return journey, this time at head height, and so preventing my decapitation as well.

Side-stepping is a relatively easy exercise, but, at a steep angle with the weight of your skis dragging against you it is exhausting if it is for more than a few yards. Several years of poor fitness made themselves felt immediately. By the time I had reached the start of the ski run I was exhausted, in pain, and, had it not been for the skis, would have been seen suffering from a slight but discernible limp.

And the run down? Well compared to the ascent, it was a doddle.

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