The skiing season is upon us and plane loads of Brits, along with the Duke of Cornwall, head for the slopes. It is a time of year which brings back memories of my first skiing holiday in 1965. The holiday was a delight, the mountain air, the beauty of the (then) non-commercialised Austrian villages with their welcoming locals. The wine and hilarious night life, (après ski) and the companionship of people on their first skiing holiday all inoculated with a type of euphoria about it all, very different from the serious skiers one meets today on these holidays.
Our first holiday was in a small village with no ski lifts. You just had to clamber the best way you could to the top of the ski run. You also had to learn very quickly how to stop in full flight as if you did not stop where the ski instructor waited, you whizzed past him to go down the long valley with him shouting gaily, “Bye Bye”, and were not seen again until lunchtime. It was rather like Cornwall used to be years ago in the summer when the visitors and locals joined together in the local watering holes and were looked on as friends who paid their way rather than an industry. The races at the end of those early holidays were nothing like today’s imitation Winter Olympics. Instead the whole village turned out in fancy dress whooping down the runs with laughter and delight, and what got things going were the bottles of schnapps strategically buried in the snow where flagging spirits could be uplifted… happy days.
Now, the holiday itself was great, I enjoyed many until our last in 1977. The only drawback for me was the actual skiing. In my honest opinion anyone who straps two planks to their feet and hurl themselves down a mountain is obviously seriously deranged. I found the whole thing terrifying, undignified and above all impossible. Getting to grips with it, at least to the stage where you could get around to enjoy yourself, used to be a painful humiliating, business. Your blisters grew blisters, your bruises took on the hues of a Cornish sunset, yet you still could not turn without a tumble and in my case, once on the floor could never get up. It is then that you begin to wonder what on earth you are doing it for.
I hear that a revolution in equipment and teaching has made the whole business easier. Well it has come too late for me and I’ll bet the ski class which starts off at the beginning of the week with twenty hopeful learners still ends up with just about half staying the course.
Reading in a travel item that “Westendorf in the Austrian Tyrol claims to have taught more British skiers than anywhere else in the world over the last 30 years”. I for one was one of their failures as far back as 1968. Oh! but how well I remember with fondness the sheer delight of hurtling down the mountains on a toboggan shouting “Achtung achtung my andsums.”