If you want to slide down a hill dressed with the colour co-ordination of Mr Tumble then skiing is the perfect sport for you. The Alps are festooned with an industry that has devised a myriad of ways of take money off of you by exploiting your guiltiest, basest weakness: your vanity.
It’s a very simple procedure: you first walk into a ski shop to get your clothing and already you are going to be spending a small fortune on – lets be frank here – anoraks and yes, they are waterproof and yes, they are warm; but c’mon, they’re anoraks. Instead of going for the cheapest anorak you look at the brands and your vanity grabs you and implores you to wear something that communicates your ruggedness and your survival instincts, something so, so day-glow because you are going way off-piste – so off piste that when you have finished eating your friends you want to be bright enough to be seen by mountain rescue. Because you’re extreme, man – an off-the-chain, krazy, extreme at that – a survivor, intrepidly skiing a couple of kilimetres from a multi-million dollar ski resort.
And if you’re a snowboarder – well! – you have merely taken time out from your gritty, urban existence as some kind if graffiti spraying ragamuffin; part of a music scene so underground it’s primordial and doesn’t have notes, just grunts and yelps. So you take to the slopes on your ‘deck’ lovingly liveried with childishly daubed skulls and multi-layered, faux graffiti that when read makes no actual sense; your overly large headphones clamped to your shaven head, lest you have to endure a moment without the continual grime soundtrack because you want it like Shaun White on the Xbox so, you know: word.
Then they ask you what skis you want. They don’t ask if you want red ones or blue ones. No. They ask you how good at skiing you are, what your level is. Everyone – everyone, me included – answers this question in the same way: well, I’m pretty good, I do black runs and moguls and shit, so I’d say (a bit of false modesty coming in here) I’m intermediate. So, they pull out a pair of skis called Lucifer’s Arrow or something and put you into the most uncomfortable footwear known to man – and your vanity now has the possibility of getting you killed dressed like a children’s TV presenter. Result.
Then – if you are not lucky enough to live an hour’s drive from the slopes – your ski rep (who are a legion of of painfully dimwitted, posh youths called Harry or Tabitha who’s primary purpose throughout the ski season is to drive minibuses, ski and sleep with as many other dim-witted, posh youths called Harry or Tabitha as is possible for their frontal cortex to handle) will show you your chalet, which is a communal ‘ski-lodge‘ where you have your meals cooked by a child…because you are so tired, so exhausted from sliding, that you couldn’t possibly cook yourself a bowl of pasta.
The last choice is then which resort. This will always end up as a bit of a hobson’s choice. If you don’t give a toss about how fancy-smancy the resort is then you ski in one of the minor French resorts that have deadly ski lifts and soviet architecture and are high and cold (Tignes springs to mind…) but the skiing will be fantastic, be full of locals and the ski passes will be cheap. If you want the whole mwah-mwah skiing vibe then you are well catered for with Verbier. Gstaad and Zermatt where the quality of the skiing is offset against the wankers you have to share a chair lift with.
You see, the problem is is that Switzerland is full of very exclusive and expensive ‘finishing’ schools where the über rich are taught how – I assume – to be patronising, talk with braying voices, do their times tables and perfect their already peerless skiing technique. So the slopes are full of grumpy locals, grumpier expats and swarms of English / American teenagers from these finishing schools who make me seriously doubt the benefits of accruing wealth. I heard this conversation going up a chairlift in Verbier (Verbs is how these cretinous individuals refer to it…) and I quote it word for word, pretty much as I heard it:
Porcelain featured Girl #1: Are you in Verbs all season?
Porcelain featured Girl #2: No, I have to go to bloody Zermatt in a couple of weeks…
Porcelain featured Girl #1: What a drag…
Porcelain featured Girl #2: I know. Daddy has a chalet there and he prefers Zermatt so we all have to go. It’s so unfair.
Porcelain featured Girl #1: I thought you were going to New York?
Porcelain featured Girl #2: That’s in April. Mummy wants to go shopping, which is so boring. I want to go to London for Gus’ party, but I have to be in bloody New York.
Porcelain featured Girl #1: What a drag…everyone’s going to be there. Gus’ parties are so good. He trashed the Chelsea house last time, it was so funny. What are you doing in the summer?
Porcelain featured Girl #2: I thought I might go to Argentina? Maybe ride down there…I haven’t decided yet.
Porcelain featured Girl #1: I don’t know what to do either. It’s so difficult…
Maybe I am bitter of their privilege as I started with nothing, in a household with both parents working hard and it wasn’t easy; but I really wanted to push them off the ski lift. Does that make me a bad person? Another conversation I heard was this between three guys on a chair lift next to me in a bit of a patois of English and French. They were dressed so on-trend that they looked like a lost Duran-Duran video from the ’80’s set in a ski resort:
Teenage boy with bouffant: What do you want to do for lunch?
Teenage boy who looked like a girl: Shall we eat at Le Coq du Tete (legendary Verbier restaurant that costs $100 for a knob of butter)?
Teenage boy with bouffant: Sure, I’ll book a table and get them to chill some ’95 Krug. The house fizz is foul. Did you stay at Raoul’s?
Teenage boy with chunky, expensive watch: No, I drove up. In the Porsche.
Teenage boy with bouffant: (laughs) Could you give me a lift back to my Dad’s?
Teenage boy with chunky, expensive watch: Sure. I hate that bloody car. The ski rack is shit and there’s nowhere to put your boots.
Teenage boy with bouffant: (nods sagely) It blows. You should’ve taken the Jag.
Again, does it make me a bad person to want to beat them to a pulp with ski poles?
So that’s skiing. I really enjoy it but I’m not a terribly good skier. I don’t do moguls (like, why would you want to?) and I like pistes so going off piste seems counter intuitive. There are many ski bores and places like Verbier and Chamonix are amuck with people I’d happily decapitate; it’s expensive and you do continually feel like you’re being fleeced. It can be dangerous, but I wear a helmet and try not to ski when I’m tired… But, the beauty of skiing is that for a few moments, early on in the day when it’s just you and a friend skiing through the trees with just the sound of your skis spraying snow in arcs behind you; the icy wind stinging your cheeks and the sun glinting through the trees you think: this is the life. And it is.