ASKED to nominate the worst moment in my life, sliding down an icy piste on my back would be pretty near the top of the list - so far.

It happened at Argentiere in the Chamonix valley, France, famed for the steeps and deeps of extreme macho-skiing.

The snow conditions were just as they were after Christmas, when the spate of accidents raised awareness about the hazards as well as the pleasures of skiing.

The snow was old, and hard as concrete. I slipped at the top of the Pylons, a black bumps run, under, appropriately, a lift called the Herse. My skis released, and I slithered over the bumps, initially on my stomach, feet-first.

I tried to dig a ski pole into the snow but, going down the bumps, gathering speed, it was hopeless. I turned over on to my back and tried to slow down with my boot heels. That did not work.

Then I saw an orange safety net. My relief was short-lived. I crashed into it, and shot through underneath. I was then heading downhill on my back, off-piste, between boulders.

The awful truth is that you get quite a long time to review the position - the simple mistake that led to this disaster, the likely damage to legs or head, and what to do about that life insurance policy.

I came to a halt, for no good reason, in a bowl of open, hard-packed snow. Skiers who had been entertained by my descent from the lift rescued my skis and I carried on.

I learnt three lessons: to be more cautious on hard-packed snow; to tighten my bindings (now that my skiing has advanced) - keeping at least one ski on can be a lifesaver; and to practise an emergency stop using my ski poles as an anchor, a manoeuvre the ski schools never taught me.