We watched them with awe, the wrinkled old dears, skiing gracefully down the mountain in their ancient kit, their baggy-kneed racing pants, faded anoraks and home-knitted bobble hats.
Watched and wondered – fresh-faced with the arrogance of youth, in our brightly coloured one pieces, brand new skis and wacky hats – whether, one day, when we were ‘that old’, we too might still be skiing.
And now here we are. Well, here I am anyway. Forty years on, better clad and far more colourful than they were then and not a baggy knee in sight (honest), but definitely wrinkles. And grey hairs.
And still skiing.
Despite the battle scars, the occasional tears, the tumbles on and off the piste, on plastic and snow (some of them particularly spectacular), and definitely despite the tweaky knees and the creaking back, the arthritic joints, the snapped extensor tendon in one hand, and two sets of stitches in the other (one injury sustained on the dance floor before even stepping boot on snow).
Yes, despite all that, still skiing.
Sometimes gracefully, I hope. Sometimes, in control. I’ve even been known to cut a short but curvy ribbon through powder snow but then I’m equally as likely to fall over with the sheer amazement of having just done so.
And forty years on, I still love it (whilst occasionally cursing the Gremlin for leading me into territory I wouldn’t otherwise have braved, but then somehow rising to the challenge), and I’m still learning, still taking lessons (thanks, Inspired to Ski), still hungry to do it better.
On the way out from the airport to Tignes, the young man acting as rep on our bus was asked how he intended to spend his forthcoming week off.
Already a skier, ‘I’ll probably go boarding,’ he said.
Adding, ‘I don’t really want to spend a week learning something I can already do’.
I can’t think of anything more limiting than those two sentences.
Doubtless one or two of the 3000-odd Oxford and Cambridge university students sharing the piste with us last week wondered how this ‘old dear’ can possibly still have the energy, much less the will, but I wasn’t alone. All around me were wrinkles and grey hairs – all perfectly proficient skiers – having a ball in the snow and still striving to ski even better.
Here’s hoping I’m still cutting ribbons through the snow in another twenty years time (though forty might be pushing it). And if I am, it will largely be thanks to the ever-expanding contents of my suitcase.
Forget the advancement of fabric technology and the perfectly-crafted skis (or the husband willing to carry them). Forget the helmet, duel lens goggles (sun and white-out), avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe, and a rucksack stuffed with spare bits and bobs (albeit every single item essential). Forget striving to be ski fit prior to each trip (and generally, in my case, failing miserably). And forget everything you were taught, back in the seventies and eighties, and even the nineties, about how to ski (because all that’s changed).
The secret of my future presence on the piste will simply be this.
1. My heated boots, a new addition last year. Charge them up overnight, plug them in, switch them on, toasty toes all day long.
2. My heated gloves, an early Christmas present from the Gremlin. All of the above, but with fingers.
3. Varifocal contact lenses, also new this week. Oh. My. Word. But these have made a difference. Now I can see where I am going AND read the piste map. Not to mention the menu! Always a bonus.
4. Yoga mat (for yoga, obvs), Yamuna exercise ball (for loosening up those twangy muscles) and yellow, prickly therapy ball (for really hitting the spot) – all part of my daily routine, at home and abroad. Almost as much time required now off the piste, loosening, stretching, balancing and remembering how to breathe, as time spent on it. If only I’d known this sooner, I’d be awesome.
5. My trusty hot water bottle, complete with cosy tartan cover, purchased in Tignes two years ago and which now travels everywhere with me. And I mean everywhere. Just in case I need it.
Call me a wimp if you like but having just spent the best part of two years and a shedload of cash on a variety of therapies, exercise classes, therapy tools and books – and a great deal of personal effort – rehabilitating a bulging disc, right-sided sacroiliac pain and mild scoliosis, and what a radiologist encouragingly called ‘severe spinal degeneration’ (they do so like to dramatise), I’ve found falling asleep each night with the soothing warmth of a hot water bottle under the trouble spot incredibly effective.
6. Last but not least, Arnica, in whatever form I can find it: soothing cream for the inevitable bruises, massage oil for the aching muscles and little white pills, for good measure.
Those bloody blue trays
There’s nothing quite as certain to bring you back to earth with a post-holiday thud as an airport security queue.
Outbound, a flash of our Easyjet ‘speedy boarding’ pass and we were waved on through ‘priority’, free to divest ourselves of loose clothing and upturn the contents of our cabin bags without pressure. In a leisurely manner.
Not so on our return via Geneva, when the bar code reader failed to recognise just how important we are, dispatching us to the end of a very, very long queue, six lanes deep with anxious travellers collectively willing their flight delayed.
Onwards to those bloody trays we shuffled, stanchion by stanchion, pillar by pillar, unzipping a boot here, slipping an arm from a sleeve there, then another boot, then the other sleeve. Then the gilet.
On and on and on, mining our pockets for liquids and lippies and bronchial inhalers, all now oddly buried. We knew where they were when we carefully packed them up, a pocket each, but that was 4.30am and so many pockets ago!
On further still, wrestling watches from our wrists, unclipping earrings, jabbing our iPads and phones into flight mode while we remember (in case we later forget and somehow trigger an incident), finishing that bottle of water we really thought we’d need but then failed to drink on the transfer bus for fear of bladder overload, unwrapping the scarf from round our necks whilst tottering, foot to foot, to remove those unzipped boots.
Finally, finally, arriving at the unsmiling security operative, sock-footed and submissive (guilty until proved innocent), juggling the teetering contents of our pockets and bag, the now empty water bottle and cabin bag, a collection of loose clothing, and our boots. It’s ‘Crackerjack’. Without the cabbage.
Less legging it, more leg room
Since moving to Cumbria, a good two hours further from any airport than my previous home, I’ve had to steel myself for sleepless nights and early starts at either side of my ski trips.
Once upon a time, with Manchester airport a mere twenty-minute taxi drive away, the temptation was always to sleep longer. On arrival at check-in, we’d be greeted by snaking lines of skiers, a tortuous, impatient scrabble through security, no time for breakfast or duty free and, on occasion, a last minute dash for the gate (always the furthest possible distance from passport control).
Lack of sleep aside, I’m far happier now we can set off in the wee small hours, dump the car in the pre-booked car park, take the shuttle bus to the terminal and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, before making our way to our pre-selected ‘extra leg room’ seats (worth every penny).
But coming back? Rarely do we find ourselves delivered to the airport with time to spare. Those who organise things back in resort never seem to factor in just how much faffing it takes to get fifty people, scattered in chalets and hotels across two sides of a lake, out of their beds in the very early, still pitch dark, morning and onto a coach, with all their luggage.
Add in a heavy overnight dump of snow, icy hair-pin roads and an accident in a tunnel on the only possible route to the airport – and the chances of getting through security and not having to run straight to the gate are slim indeed.
Fortunately, this time, as we hopped and shuffled towards those bloody trays, the gods were listening. The relief was palpable as the buzz went along the queue: a one hour flight delay! The perfect breakfast ‘window’.
And all that extra leg room, paid for, ready and waiting. What more could we ask?