Wednesday, 7 April 2010


I jumped into the front seat of a taxi, having slung my skis into the back with a sporty flourish.

‘Howdy,’ I said to the driver. ‘Great weather for skiing. You been out there ripping up the piste? Showing the snow some action? Proving what you're made of ?’

‘Nah,’ he said drearily. ‘I don’t like the mountains. Don’t bother going skiing.’

I nearly choked on my liquorice chewing gum. ‘WHAAAT? Are you nuts? Are you not Norwegian or something?’

‘Sure I’m Norwegian. I just hate skiing. I don’t like being up in the mountains.’

Well knock me down with a snowflake....I was amazed. I’d never met this particular brand of Norwegian before. Where had he come from? ‘Don’t you get lonely down here at sea level, when the whole of the rest of the country has gone skiing? How do you pass the time? Fishing? Knitting? What flicks your switch?’

‘Look, Lady,’ he said, sounding a little peeved. ‘It’s not mandatory. Even if you’re Norwegian you are allowed to NOT like skiing.’

I looked at his feet under the steering column. Sure enough, no skis. ‘I guess so,’ I said, with some doubt.

You might think all this talk of skiing is rather snotty. But I suppose I’m used to assuming that everyone here skis. Back in the UK the image of skiing is relentlessly middle-class, so purely for the ‘Hurray Henry’s of this world. Jocasta, Persephone, Sophie, Sophie, Caroline and Sophie are renowned for their chalet-girl skills, training which used to be seen as useful in terms of preparing them for the marriage market. It was always hoped they might meet some suitable banking type, relaxing from his frightfully important job in the City by enjoying frolics and fun up a mountain.

It was all very specific, down to the actual list of requirements one should import to France or wherever in an effort to sook up to one’s chalet girl. If you arrived at your chalet and presented her with a pot of marmite and Hello magazine, you got much better cakes, apart from anything else. I expect these consumer goods are available in ski resorts these days....I’m rather out of touch as I haven’t bothered with an Alp for a while. And I suppose the credit crunch has meant the City boys have rather lost their sheen in the eyes of prospective mothers-in-law.

But I have always felt rather aggrieved that skiing should be labelled with this 'toff' image. As a kid, skiing in Scotland was about as far away from Hurrah Henrydom as going down the bingo. It involved sleeping on village hall floors in painfully thin sleeping bags, or staying in caravans full of condensation and dripping clothes. I remember having to hang up my wet pound notes on a piece of string by the electric fire to dry them for the next day. It was cold, soggy, and uncomfortable. And without cakes. Ah, but how we laughed. It was a proper way to understand a mountain in winter.

I suppose the new image is inevitable due to the immense cost that skiing now involves. If you go abroad to ski, there is no denying you have to fork out big time. But if you are prepared to attempt Scottish skiing, then all power to your elbow, and indeed your other limbs.....sometimes, it can be great. Indeed this year, provided the roads were open, it was grand. Not everyone in Scotland is prepared to give it a go.

I love the fact that here in Norway, skiing is universal. It is assumed that when there is snow, everyone will go skiing after school or work each day. Skis are one of the few items that appear to be cheaper in Norway than elsewhere, particularly for children. If you don’t ski, you could end up feeling like Johnny No Mates. It’s a bit like being brought up in a place like is assumed everyone will ski.

The cost of going abroad to ski is certainly prohibitive, but in the UK I do rather tire of people being put off and thinking it is not for them. It’s the same with opera...apparently that has an elitist image, and yet the tickets are often far cheaper than tickets to a football match or a rock concert. I wonder how many people are put off both skiing and opera because they fear the cost is too much to ‘suck-it-and-see’.

There’s something magic about skiing....I could swear it's good for both your physical and mental well-being. But, as the taxi driver proved, it’s a matter of taste.

1 comment:

  1. 'I looked at his feet under the steering column', you wrote. I wanted to write a comment here but maybe better not :-).