All about skiing

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.


16 thoughts on “All about skiing

  1. You had me in absolute stitches — so true on every count (even though I’m a snowboarder not a skier, the same applies to BOTH sports).

    Thank-you for bringing a smile to my face on this gloomy, snowy Monday afternoon!!

    For those few brief moments when I’m not flat on my ass on the run after catching an edge I forgot I had, snowboarding is blissful. And the views from the top of any mountain are just breathtaking, no matter how small (like our sad, east-coast Canadian mountains are) or tall. It is a taste of freedom that is well worth all the snobbery and over-priced “fashionable” equipment that goes with it.

    Drive (and ride/ski) on,
    – M.

    1. The kit is the thing I find maddening. So much of it is imbued with this concept of skiing / boarding on the edge of physics, safety and common sense and it’s somewhat irresponsible. Skiing is a dangerous sport and if the conditions are a bit sub-par then people get hurt because they’re tired and their technique is not up for the piste but their ‘extreme’ kit gives birth to the lie that they can accomplish anything. I kind of hate it. I would like to create a beige brand that is a 1/4 of the price but does the same thing.

  2. I was dragged towards skiing against my will by my husband relatively late in life, so I have a somewhat love-hate relationship with the whole thing.

    We took our children for the first time last year, and are planning to go again in a few weeks – somewhere a lot less posh that Verbs! I’m sure there’s probably a great post lurking somewhere about the wonders of skiing with children; a whole different experience again!

    1. Oour son is just old enough to ski and our daughter isn’t (well, the Swiss would say that at 2 1/2 she is the perfect age to start…) so skiing with the kids is a bit problematic. I have taken my son up and he loved the skiing but he got too tired and cold and stopped enjoying it after a while.

  3. A cracker!

    Growing up up (proper) North, I spent my childhood winter weekends – injury free – at Cairngorm, but then ‘converted’ to boarding and managed to break my wrist. By sitting down from a static, standing position. On the first day of a hol in Italy.

    I do miss going abroad to ski though, specially as my mother’s about to jet off on her second trip of the season (NOT to the likes of ‘Verbs’ I hasten to add) but until Girl’s more than 1, no way. Boy’s had his first hit – two days being skiied by the oxters round the hills of Cairngorm. And it hasn’t put him off. Which is something of a miracle.

    You must have it all on your doorstep. Jealous.
    Maybe next year. *sigh*

    1. It is nice being able to buy a ski pass for the day and just turn up at any resort you fancy. Best day is Saturday as it’s ‘change over’ day. We haven’t had proper snow for a few weeks now and the slopes are pretty bare.

      I have never skiing in Scotland but Scotland has had the best three seasons in a generation!

  4. For Christ’s sake Michael, get your Mr Tumble outfit on and get skiing. You might enjoy it.

    It sounds to me that you are feeling intimidated by all those fit and handsome young men that are slicing through the snow around you. No need to sneer from a position of envy – just stick on a pair of jeans and a nice warm jacket, two tot’s of mulled wine and you will be careering down the red run with the best of them. And feeling much better for it.

  5. Forget children, the joy of skiing with the family is also with the in-laws, all pretty mad skiers, especially the M-in-L. Here she comes…

  6. Not a world that I’m familiar with.

    I have a feeling I’d be the one at the bottom, warm and waving with a hot chocolate in my hand.

    Makes me glad if those are the sorts of tools you need to put up with. Jayzuz I’d have went for them, spoilt little shits. Oh you do make me larf though.

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