It’s all downhill from here

Time was when all I required for a day on the piste was a pair of navy and white Salomon rear-entry boots, a nifty one-piece ski suit (padded shoulders, nipped in waist), thermal gloves and a silly hat. Sillier the better. Sun cream and lip salve in one pocket, hankie in another, crumpled piste map stuffed somewhere. Anywhere. Bum bag clipped at the waist. And a pair of skinny two-metre skis towering above my head.

The pre-digital laminated lift pass, hung wrecklessly round my neck on a fragile bit of knotted string, flapped in the wind as I raced downhill, a health and safety risk all of its own. That’s if I’d remembered to pick it up in the first place. Or it didn’t manage to sever itself from the string, location unknown, during my day on the piste.

Those were the days, eh? How things have changed, post-Gremlin.

My skis are shorter, fatter, lighter, my boots custom-fitted and moulded, independently adjustable clips from shin to toasty toes – the latter thanks to the recently installed, battery-operated ‘foot warming system’. Three heat levels. All day toasty.

Out went the silly hats, in came the skull-saving helmet. The digitally-charged lift pass remains safely stowed in its dedicated pocket in my jacket sleeve. No more flapping plastic.

And, somewhere along the line, ‘technical clothing’ crept in. Breathable, wicking, water-repellent, lightweight, layered. An avalanche transceiver pulses silently away at my ribs, hoping never to be called to action. The smallest rucksack I can get away with bursts at the seams with spare clothing, goggles, sun cream, lip salve, hankies, spare contact lenses, spare glasses, spare gloves, mobile phone, notepad and pen, collapsible titanium shovel and a telescopic avalanche probe.

Which rather begs the question, how did I ever manage before?

‘Bend ze knees!’

As for those three short words – surely the most confusing three words in the skier’s lexicon: gone! I’m happy to say. The hours I spent, studying those bloody ‘how to ski’ manuals – all that upping and downing, weighting and unweighting, stepping out, stepping in, bending ze knees in all the wrong places, not to mention keeping that tray of drinks unspilled (you have to have been there). All that? Gone. Please don’t ask me to explain how.

Now all I have to worry about, whilst floating effortlessly down the piste (and if you believe that, you’ll believe anything), is the speed freaks and the sitting-on-the back-of-their-skis nuts (without exception, young and male), for whom other skiers are, apparently, a target. My only consolation this week has been that it is usually they, not me, who have ended up in a tangle of skis, legs and poles but this isn’t always the case.

Our other favourite ski bod, Tim, a great skier and an instuctor of many years standing, may not now work this winter season since a ‘hit and run’ accident left him with a fractured pelvis. The idiot who skied across the front of his skis sadly didn’t hang around to offer sympathy or help, let alone exchange details. Would that he and all the other out-of-control speedsters out there might spend a few hours poring over ‘how to ski’ manuals.

Snow place like home

The first time I skied on snow (as opposed to dry ski slope) – on a fortnight’s holiday in Lermoos in Austria, in the mid-1970s – our twin-bedded room boasted only a single wash basin. No showers then – let alone complimentary toiletries – just a cat lick and a promise with a flannel in the corner. Once a week, we’d treat ourselves to a bath – to secure which you first had to pin down the lady of the house and pay her a schilling, in exchange for a key to the bathroom.

Other hotels were available, of course, and for a period of time, they became the norm. Some you even had to ‘dress for dinner’, by which I mean the gentlemen invariably wore jackets – but then it WAS the eighties.

Then someone invented the chalet holiday. Or should I say, some bright spark had the idea of marketing to the masses that, for a great deal less money, you too could spend a week with a bunch of total strangers you had nothing whatsoever in common with, who would invariably have skied every black run in the resort before noon on the first day – and have your breakfast and dinner cooked by hair-flicking ‘gappies’ who’d never previously had to boil an egg, let alone prepare a three or four course meal for ten or more hungry guests. But at least you could drink yourself under the table every evening on free cheap wine.

Inevitably, some chalet companies upped their game, employing trained chefs and developing gourmet menus, positioning themselves as quasi hotels. Which is fine, until the chef goes home for the week, leaving the kitchen an entirely chef-free zone.

Then there’s self catering. Slob out in your ‘studio’ apartment, eat when and what you like, make your own bed, wash your own dishes, no need to dress for dinner. Perfect. Until your snow boots get nicked from their ‘securely locked’ ski locker, as mine did last year. And nobody but us appeared to give a damn, including the tour operator. Gallic shrugs all round. Which rather coloured the experience.

Which brought us here, back to hotel life and four star luxury. And, crikey, I’ve missed it. Fluffy robes, his ‘n’ hers slippers stuffed into pockets, hang in the bathroom. A knock on the door, five minutes after arrival, brings two glasses of fizz and a wonderfully sticky cake, ‘something to welcome you’. An indoor pool, steam room, sauna and jacuzzi comes equipped with cushioned recliners and big fluffy towels. And there’s an outdoor sauna and pool too – heated of course – and a fully-equipped gym.

No dodgy ski rooms here, or over-heated boot racks threatening to melt your boots overnight. Rather, our skis and boots enjoy overnight board and lodging at the hotel-owned ski shop, including a daily squirt of boot freshener. Febreze for boots. Helpful young men clip us into and out of our boots at each end of the day, whisking them off for who knows what sort of evening. Our boots have a life of their own.

Half board means free choice from the impressive á la carte menu – in a restaurant our ski instructor pal recommends to well-heeled clients – giving rise to slight trepidation on our part, the first evening, when handed the menu.

‘Better check this is right,’ we said. ‘Maybe they don’t know we’re half board’. But no. ‘Choose anything,’ we’re told. And we do.

Our carefully selected wine comes recommended and served by one of two resident sommeliers. We’ve managed to steer clear of the 500€ bottle of ‘plonk’, however. That and the methuselah of Moet for a mere 15,000€. I freely admit to scouring the wine list for anything less than 50€ – Philistine that I clearly am – and we manage to spin a bottle out across two evenings. But still. This must be how the other half live? Non?

The Gremlin, having begun the week in shock at such splendid surroundings has adapted surprisingly well, I must say. Best start saving for next year…

 

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