Monday, 14 January 2008

Better late than never

Nevis Range in the evening light

Somehow I’ve arrived at the age of 23 without ever learning to ski. I’m fairly certain that just about everyone I know, at one stage or another, has strapped on a couple of planks and hurtled down a bit of snow somewhere, sometime. I don’t really know how it happened but I never got round this peculiar activity. In order to make up for lost time my turn eventually arrived on Saturday.

A week or more of fairly persistent rain at sea level translated to a whole lot of snow on the tops, and a forecast of no wind and next to no clouds meant that Scotland’s ski resorts had one of their busiest January days for a long time. I was one of those punters falling off the button tow and snow ploughing my way to victory at Nevis Range, but I have to admit, it was a really good day.

There was a good showing of familiar faces, both from Edinburgh and here in the Fort, and even though I was in very unfamiliar territory and stepping in to depths very unplumbed it somehow felt like a pleasant reunion. Fortunately I had expert one to one tuition from Jones. She’s been desperate to get me out on the pistes for ages, but I had managed to resist so far. I’m not sure why I buckled this time. She's been skiing since she was knee high to a Chorthipus parallelus (the meadow grasshopper, sorry, but I’ve got to get a bit of ecology in here somewhere) so was more than competent to teach me the basics and catch me every time I couldn’t stop. In truth, its only fair that I learn to ski, given that I have dragged her up loads of routes and wittered on and on about climbing ever since I met her.

Jones: I'm a skier don't you know?

I was pretty amazed how rapidly it started to come together towards the end of the day, but when I first clipped in to the skis I had no control whatsoever. Everything was sliding one way or slipping another. Knees were twisting and I was swearing. Once I’d mastered staying still I had to learn the seemingly impossible – moving. Then it was stopping. Blimey. Ski Sunday looks like a piece of piss but this was well ‘ard. Eventually I even learnt how to turn, weaving in between the masses of hurtling children, cartwheeling snowboarders and beginners as inept as myself. Not only did I conquer the button tow but I even went on the big boys chairlift and fell pretty much all the way down a blue run. Get me. All in all a good day, followed by some 'apres ski' drinking in the Fort. Suffice it to say scrapercaillie was as delightful as ever.

Sunday passed in a blur of vile clag and rain - top marks to Chris, Grant and Adam for driving up for a day on the wet slopes.

Today (monday) I've actually been gainfully employed for a few hours. I've been the 'mountineer assistant' to the SAIS Lochaber avalanche forecaster Blair Fyffe. This basically entails digging him out if he gets avalanched and lending a hand when he's recording snowpack data. It's been a rather nice day I must admit, walking up to the Ben, digging a wee pit under The Curtain on Carn Dearg, inspecting the extensive avalanche debris under No. 5 Gully and then walking back under the (currently) forming ice on The Shield Direct, Gemini and Boomers Requiem. All are rather thin at the moment, but showing promise. I'll be out with Blair again tomorrow, but this time I think I'm going to be on skis, so once more I will be fully immersed over my head, and then some.

Blair in his pit

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