C-19 DEMONS – SKIING IN ENGLAND ANYONE?

THE LAST RESORT ?

What is the future for skiing next winter? Avoiding covidiots on the piste? Why even go to resorts with no apres? So will it be ski touring in the Alps? Or maybe skiing in England as a last resort?…

Being over fond of alcohol, nicotine and many pork related products, I’ve never been ski touring. Until now, worries about my fitness have prevented me from ever donning skins. But, given that the threat of infection from C-19 will probably linger into winter 20/21, I might finally be persuaded to try uphill skiing next season.

Downhill skiing has always been moderately dangerous. I’m not talking about self-inflicted injury, being buried in an avalanche or making a navigational error – skiing off a cliff or into a crevasse. The greater danger comes from the other people you share the mountains with. On-piste my radar is usually set to pick up fast approaching ski yobs and generally out-of-control Jerrys. This winter it will have to be recalibrated to detect covidiots too – although I suspect there will be some demographic overlap.

 It might be best to avoid the lift systems

Fortunately, in suburbia covidiots can easily be identified. They wear gloves but no face mask, and have no concept of what two metres looks like. They ride bikes down pavements next to empty roads and sunbathe on narrow country paths. Occasionally you can meet a whole herd of them walking four-a-breast straight at you. They are especially prone to doubling back down supermarket checkout queue because they have forgotten that they needed taramasalata. If you want to do some pre-season honing of your covidiot avoidance skills, just go down to your local park.

Even if the resort operators manage to implement some kind of social distancing, there will inevitably be some skiers for whom the slow forces of evolution have yet to take effect. So, it might be best to avoid the lift systems.

 Do ski resorts work without rammed bars? 

Ski touring would safely get me up into the mountains and away from the covidiots yet a myriad of infection risks will still need facing just getting to a resort. Planes, airports and transfer vans, already places of purgatory, will be even worse if we are forced to wear face masks. Driving to the Alps, instead of flying, might be a better option – although I don’t recommend doing it in an antique Land Rover (anyone who has read SWD1 will know why).

Then there is the small matter of accommodation. A self-catered chalet shared with household members might work. Although, after spending ten weeks of quality time with my family, they are the last people I want to go on holiday with!

There is also the deeper philosophical question that has been troubling me: do ski resorts work without rammed bars? Is it possible to après without touching fomites or exchanging bodily fluids with strangers? Does skiing work, without drinking?

 Would it be fun to ski every ski slope in England ?

Which leads me to another question. Given that I’m going to ski tour and therefore don’t need lifts, and I don’t intend to visit any restaurants or bars, why would I bother go to the Alps? We have mountains that regularly get covered in snow here in the UK.

I’ve long since thought it would be fun to ski every real snow ski slope in England – well, maybe ‘fun’ isn’t quite the right word. However, I often find myself musing about writing a guide book called ‘Skiing in England’. Unfortunately, the idea has yet to gain traction with mainstream publishers.

High on my list of UK mountains to ski is Raise, home of the Lake District Ski Club (main image). To be honest, the list isn’t very long there being only three other ski area in England (Yard Moss also in Cumbria, Weardale in County Durham and Another World in West Yorkshire). The main problem I have with using the drag lift on Raise is that you have to hike halfway up Helvellyn to get to it. Which leads to my second problem – finding someone to come with me.

More of a ski mountaineering than ski touring exercise

Indeed, the snow line on most of the worthy UK peaks is equally distant from car parks making my endeavour more of a ski mountaineering than ski touring exercise which will require even greater fitness, more off-piste courage and less chance of companionship – please feel free to apply. In previous summers I have stood on top of many a UK mountain and seen viable ski descents, while wishing for another ice age. Maybe this winter my wish will come true and lots of snow will fall on the UK.

Hopefully, by December there will be no quarantine needed after foreign travel,  we’ll all have antibodies so the covidiot will just be
idiots once again, and Alpine resorts will resemble some sort of normal. If I can’t go ski touring in the Alps, spending a winter in the Lakes, (probably just walking not skiing), does have its appeal. In the meantime, I’m laying off the pork pies.

Find out why driving to the Alps in an antique Land Rover is not recommended and other cautionary tales from the mountains by Chris Tomlinson in his trilogy Skiing With Demons I, II and III.

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FRIDGE OF LIFE

The ever-chilled Skiing With Demons, Chris Tomlinson on lockdown in the UK is now facing the Fridge of Life and assessing his own sell-by date during his mid-to-late life coronavirus crisis…

Are you spending too much time in front of the fridge? Are you drinking too much furloughed Merlot? Are the aliens in your house still claiming to be your family? While choosing your next snack, are you regretting some of the life choices you made that led you to that particular fridge? Are you considering eating that out-of-date chicken? Even though time is precious, does it appear to be your enemy? Don’t worry, you’re not losing it, you’re simply having a C-19 induced life crisis.

The rest of us are fighting boredom, obesity and alcoholism

While keyworkers are fighting the real corona crisis the rest of us are fighting boredom, obesity and alcoholism – while the curve flattens, we fatten and some of us are going a little crazy. Unfortunately, with the drinking and eating comes the thinking: the fact that you’re stuck at home means that whatever you did for a living before, was clearly not that important to humanity. Then your living room suddenly becomes an existential prison.

This isn’t my first custodial sentence – I’ve done ‘time’ in front of the fridge before. Once, between jobs, I was forced to take nine months of gardening leave. More accurately, it was after my last actual job and before becoming a ski bum. I had then, as most of us do now, too much unproductive time on my hands.

 What we will do differently once the pandemic is over

The corona crisis most of us face, and we are the lucky ones, is not being able to plan; to further a career, move home, organise events (weddings etc.) and importantly plan holidays. When life is on hold, all we can do is make a general resolve about what we will do differently once the pandemic is over.

After nine months of not working, and a lot of staring into a fridge, I decided I didn’t actually want to work anymore. I couched it slightly differently: my endeavours wouldn’t be focused on financial reward. Others couched it as ‘idleness’. I changed my life and now I stand in front of a different fridge – although, to be fair, it contains many of the same contents.

 Looking for divine inspiration

This time, I’m sharing the fridge with other life forms. Two millennials and a Labrador can frequently be seen in front of our domestic altar, looking for divine inspiration. Unfortunately, the dog can’t open the fridge so his interest in it must be vicarious. Although, I’m convinced yesterday he telepathically suggested I ‘combine the leftover anchovies with the broccoli and serve them on a bed of pasta?’

Each fridge worshipper is having a slightly different corona crisis. Not only have the millennials had their future put on hold, but their life has seemingly regressed. Once again, they are standing in front of their childhood fridge – only now, they have facial hair and drink beer not milk.

Who knows how many summers I have left in my legs

Being a tail end Baby Boomer, my corona crisis is about the waste of a precious summer. Assuming C-19 doesn’t get me, who knows how many summers I have left in my legs to ascend and descend my bucket list of mountains? Lockdown has made me acutely aware of my own mortality – I’m staring into the Fridge of Life wondering how best to combine the remaining contents.

What all members of the household have now got in common is a newly found interest in food shopping. The planning of family meal for the week (to have between the snacks) now has multi-generational input. The procurement of ingredients has become so painful (and dangerous) that running down to the local shops for a missing spice, is no longer an option – unless of course you’ve run out of Parmesan or vodka. Never before have so many been so interested in groceries.

I’m worried that the Lakes will be flooded with staycation tourists

Now the fridge door is opened more often than the front door, I have found myself worrying about many things, not least the physical and mental health of my wife – an NHS hero. She has no time to stand in front of the fridge navel gazing – she liked her job, now she hates it. Her life will be the last in our family to return to normal. Once lockdown lifts, I’m worried that the Lakes will be flooded with staycation tourists and how ski resorts will function next winter. I’m also seriously worried about the durability of the fridge door hinges.

Now we are all living from meal to meal, I wonder how many of my generation stand in front of their fridge planning a mid-to-late life crisis. How many will decide do a season in the Alps or open a yoga retreat in Abergavenny? If you too are staring into the fridge of life, my only advice is don’t make any rash decisions – lay off the Cabernet tedium and bin that out-of-date chicken. It’s been a long sentence, but hopefully we’ll all soon be released from our existential prisons.

Chill out during lockdown and read Chris Tomlinson’s trilogy Skiing With Demons I, II and III (if you haven’t already).

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To sleep with my wife, or not sleep with my wife?

Life at the moment is a puzzle for Skiing With Demons author, Chris Tomlinson facing the real demons of Covid-19. When his ICU consultant wife becomes unwell he goes to pieces…

To sleep with my wife, or not sleep with my wife: that was the question. Whether it was nobler in the mind to face the slings and arrows of the deadly coronavirus, or retreat to the spare bedroom?

All those married to the NHS must have asked themselves the same question when the pandemic arrived at our shores. Dr Debs offered to move into the hotel her trust had commandeered, but my reaction was: “And leave me alone with the teenagers?” – not likely.

 My life is rarely under threat

Having no known co-morbidities, apart from my acute hypochondria, we decided to continue living as man and wife. Without the sanctuary of a relatively normal home life, Dr Deb’s job would have been harder. I too would have struggled without regular physical contact.

We often spend weeks apart when I go mountain gallivanting. The difference is, when I’m the one going away, my life is rarely under threat and I find it harder to stay at home than being involved in the action.

After three weeks of keeping the home fires burning, while Dr Debs went out to fight the virus, I had become acclimatised to the new normal – the chronic anxiety military wives must face during times of war. Then on Easter Sunday Dr Debs woke up feeling especially ill and had a new persistent cough!!

 dismissed the symptoms as a compound hangover

I too was feeling rough. I always find it hard to tell if I’m genuinely ill at 6:30 in the morning after the night before. Most mornings in the last month have been preceded by a night before, and I could have dismissed the symptoms as a compound hangover. Long shifts of elevated stress combined with a lack of regular food and sleep, was bound to take its toll on her. In my case, weeks of disinfecting surfaces while trying to police anti-infection rules in a laissez-faire household was grinding me down.

Feeling rough or not, Dr Debs would normally have continued into work, but given the current guidelines she decided to take her temperature before departing. After an agonising three minutes, the thermometer beeped and reported that all was not well – she had a temperature.

A coronavirus nightmares had turned into a reality

She retreated to the bedroom followed by me, alcohol wipes in hand. I retraced her steps and cleaned every surface she had touched that morning. Which was pretty pointless, given that I’d just shared a bed with her – the perimeter defences had already been breached.

She made the ultimate sicky call and a C-19 test kit was summoned from the hospital. I activated the self-isolation protocols erecting a do-not-cross cordon across the bedroom door. One of our coronavirus nightmares had turned into a reality – I would be sleeping in the spare room.

That first evening, Dr Debs requested some medicinal wine, which was reassuring – it meant she was feeling better. She hid it well, but her anxiety must have been greater than mine having seen first-hand how bad Covid-19 can get. Luckily, the wine worked and her temperature abated and I was discouraged from taking mine more than once an hour.

Each of us clutched our own bottle of wine

For the next two days we conducted our marriage through a door frame. When she wasn’t sleeping I’d chat to her from a chair parked in the hallway. In the evenings the subjects of our conversations bounced between the silly and the existential while each of us clutched our own bottle of wine. It was a surreal experience – ‘An audience with my wife’, I think I’m going to call it.

When she was asleep, (and she had a lot of sleep to catch up on), I decided to do a jigsaw of the Alps I’d been saving for my ultimate destination – whatever care home the teenagers put me in. While Debbie coughed upstairs, I did what I once considered to be a waste of time – sort and match coloured pieces of cardboard. But, I had an eternity of time to waste – 24 hours before the test arrived then 24 more waiting for the result and the jigsaw occupied my hands and mind.

 The mountains will have to come to me

After a second sleepless night with the Covid demons in the spare room, I got up and delivered the prisoner her breakfast, then set to work on the jigsaw. In danger of completing it, I ordered a replacement (a jigsaw of the Lakes) online and a new and rather tragic, pastime was born. However, if I can’t go to the mountains then the mountains will have to come to me – courtesy of Amazon.

Just before lunch I got a text. “Do you fancy a cuddle? – I’m negative”.

It was Debbie – The hospital had called with her result.

“What a bloody silly time to get a common cough,” was my reply.

I chose to blame the dog

Relieved, but wondering how you can catch a cold when wearing PPE, I moved back into the marital bedroom. Others must have brought the common germ into the house, or it had been latent within her for some time – I chose to blame the dog. Dr Debs, the trooper, went back to work the next day.

That night I was looking forward to sleeping with my wife. For one night only, I could sleep in the knowledge that she hadn’t been exposed to infection since testing negative – I could sleep without worry.  Just before we turned off the lights, Dr Debs decides to tell me, ” You know the test is only 70% accurate, don’t you!?”  Completely ruining our special night.

Judging by my Facebook feed, the rest of suburbia seems to be enjoying their extended gardening leave. They must feel relatively safe in isolation with their families at home, while for us the virus keeps knocking on our door. I wonder just how different our recollections of the pandemic will be?

When people ask, what I did during the Covid Wars? I’ll be tempted to tell them, I was on the front line (or just behind it) when really, I wiped a lot of surfaces and did a lot of jigsaws.

related blog:  Return To Labrador Island – The Covid Demons

FYI: A sample chapter from the SWD I can be read online here

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Return to Labrador Island – The Covid Demons

Having married a doctor in December, I was all set to live a hypochondriac’s dream. My medical needs, real or imaginary, were further served by the GP surgery conveniently located next door to our home. Now, thanks to Covid-19, that union and its location seem to have rather backfired on me.

With NHS workers and their families at an increased risk of infection and surgery patients coughing on the other side of my garden wall, I feel there is a water droplet with my name on it – just because I’m a hypochondriac doesn’t mean I can’t get ill too.

Apart from going on hunter-gathering missions, I stay at home waiting for my wife to return from her hospital knowing she will be physically and emotionally drained. We might have been in lockdown for three weeks but her war on Covid started weeks ago when the NHS commenced its preparations for the inevitable tsunami of patients.

He should have priority use of the furniture

The new Mrs Tomlinson (Debbie) is an intensive care consultant but like most of her colleagues, she has never experienced anything on this scale before. Almost the entire hospital has been turned over to intensive care. Each morning, despite the fear in the pit of her stomach, she keeps getting up and going to work.

While Debbie helps fight the biggest battle the NHS has known, I wage another war at home – trying to keep the dog off the new settee. Oscar the Labrador, clearly thinks that ’emotional support animals’ are critical workers and he should have priority use of the furniture, but I’m having none of it.

This isn’t my first spell of being stuck at home with the dog. Two winters back, I was marooned on Labrador Island after a skiing injury kept me indoors for eight weeks (now well documented in SWD III).

Being on crutches for most of that period I started to exhibit canine behaviour – lying around all day waiting for Debbie to come home and feed me, and occasionally barking at the postman.

An exquisitely reconstructed nightmare for all concerned

This time, I’m not marooned alone. Our two recently fledged sons have been forced to return for the lockdown – an exquisitely reconstructed nightmare for all concerned. Even though, one of them is trying to sleep his way through the pandemic and the other eat his way out, I’m glad of the human company.

Once again, I find myself waiting for Debbie to come home, but this time I’m waiting to feed her, although she seems to be prioritising wine over food. Our conversation usually oscillates between the deadly serious and the trivial. Have you now got enough PPE? Yes. Did you manage to keep Oscar off the settee? No.

She tries not to relay the full horror she has faced that day – a narrative that is hard for a hypochondriac to ingest. However, I’ve usually watched too much Sky Doom (a.k.a Sky News) on the TV and I’m keen to verify the news reports with her experiences. We usually drink too much then go to bed and her nightmare restarts again in the morning.

Many ski resorts were early Covid hotspots

I’m pinning our hopes of survival on already having the correct antibodies. We were both symptomatic after a skiing holiday in France, it’s possible that we have already had and survived the virus. Many ski resorts were early Covid hotspots. It seems obvious now that places created for international partying would be giant Petri dishes. It also turns out that my phobia of packed cable cars was rational!

That holiday and the joys of skiing feel like distant memories now, even though it wasn’t actually very long ago. The glacial peaks of Saas Fee and the bars of Morzine seem a million miles away. I was worried about a different set of problems then, which all seem trivial now. Like most ski bums, my season was cut short and I’m spending my first Easter in the UK for a very long time. Normally, at this time of year, I’d be planning many trips to Cumbria to get my summer mountain fixes but, for all of us, life is not only under threat but on hold.

Turns out I married a hero last December

Although pining for the mountains, I do realise how lucky I am to be stuck in a house with more rooms than inhabitants and a garden. More importantly I’m currently healthy. I know this because, like any good hypochondriac, I take my temperature three times a day. While sunbathing in the garden, I think of Debbie sweltering in her PPE and worry about her physical and mental health. I wish she could be marooned on Labrador Island with us – but her sense of duty is stronger than her fear. Turns out I married a hero last December, not a doctor, a hero the nation would applaud.

Related blog: To sleep with your wife or not sleep with your wife: That was the question.

FYI: A sample chapter from the SWD III can be read online here

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Farewell to the Hurt Locker – Ski Boot Nirvana

 Until now, a day’s skiing would always start with a visit to the ‘hurt locker’ to put my ski boots on. I had come to accept that my feet must suffer, so the rest of my body could enjoy the slopes. By the end of a season my feet would be so bitter and twisted, it would take most of the following summer to gain their forgiveness.

My first visit to the hurt locker, was a particularly gruesome experience. Naively, I borrowed a friend’s boots for my first skiing holiday – an act of self-mutilation for which my feet still seek justice. I might as well have borrowed my friend’s false teeth; they couldn’t have fitted any worse than her boots. They made the almost impossible task of learning to ski, actually impossible. Everyone kept telling me all ski boots hurt, but they weren’t trying to eat a rare steak with somebody else’s teeth. Since then, I’ve owned many pairs of ski boots, none of which I would have described as ‘comfortable’

You can’t ski in a pair of slippers

Boot fitters have ways of talking you into buying uncomfortable boots: ‘They won’t hurt when you are actually skiing,’ ‘they will slacken up’, ‘they just need breaking in’, are some of their favourite phrases. They use the promise of better performance to justify the lack of comfort. ‘You can’t ski in a pair of slippers’ – I remember the last guy saying.

Once I’d parted with my cash, I’d set about ‘breaking in’ my new boots, knowing that it was my new boots that would really be breaking in my feet. After a couple of weeks’ skiing, I knew that my feet would acquiesce and visiting the hurt locker would become less painful.

If my boots became too comfy,
I’d start again with a new pair

Unfortunately, I had accepted the wisdom that when your ski boots become ‘comfortable’, it was time to buy a new pair because they had lost the stiffness and flex needed for accurate ski control. I used to believed that ‘comfy boots were bad boots’, or at least bad for skiing performance. So if my boots became too comfy, I’d start again with a new pair.

The other common wisdom, I had accepted, was that you need to find a boot manufacturer, who thinks your feet are normal. Each have their own moulds designed to fit what they believe, is a ‘normal’ foot. First I thought I was an ‘Atomic man’, then a ‘Head Man’ and latterly, I became a ‘Lange man’.

 One boot is always going to hurt more than the other

The truth is, nobody has a normal pair of feet. Everyone has one foot slightly larger than the other yet ski boots, like all shoes, come in matching pairs. So one ski boot is always going to hurt more than the other. If you buy a pair that fits your bigger foot, your smaller foot will rub and blister. If you buy boots for your smaller foot, your larger foot will suffer crush injuries. Deciding which way to go makes for a delicious choice if you’re a masochist.

After my accident (now, well documented in Skiing With Demons III) my boot problems got worse. My right foot now has limited dorsiflexion making it difficult to insert into a ski boot. I’ve noticed that just the anticipation of a visit to the hurt locker, sends it into spasm.

I returned  to find a very special pair of boots

Then, one night after Christmas, I saw a light in the southern sky. This star seemed to shine over Abingdon, so I followed it and found the boot fitting messiah – he was called Richard and he worked at Dale Boots.

He understood my feet. He communicated to then in the language of feet; my sores, bunions, collapsing arches and mis-shaped toe nails spoke to him. After a measuring session, I returned a couple of weeks later to find a very special pair of boots waiting for me.

Like my feet, one boot was bigger than the other. The right one was wider than the left one too and both had tailored heel-plated to individually correct my leg alignment. Both had custom made heal wedges (inserted under the footbeds) to give further support to the arch and heel. After mouldered liners and footbeds where inserted I tried the boots on feeling like Cinderella.

The boots were worryingly comfortable

My left foot slid into its boot without complaint and no lengthy negotiations were need to persuade my right foot to do the same. I stood up and did what we all do when we try on new shoes – prance around trying to imitate various modes of perambulation.

The boots were worryingly comfortable. Was I about to ski a season in slippers? Richard assured me they were high performance boots. ‘They might even improve your skiing’, he postulated.

I need not have worried. Two weeks of skiing later, I can confirm my ability to control a pair of skis has neither improved nor deteriorated since becoming a ‘Dale Man’ – other than what can be attributed to the ravages of age.

My feet no longer hate me

I have noticed that I no longer prefer to turn right. My left and right carve turns are now equally effective. The boots have adjusted for my skeletal asymmetry and I can apply equal pressure to both of my inside edges. The other big improvement that I have noticed is that my feet no longer hate me.

My encounter with Richard, may have made me significantly poorer but thanks to him, I shall never have to visit the hurt locker again.

Sample chapters from Chris Tomlinson’s books (the Skiing With Demons series) can be read online here.

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SWD3: missing vampire creates collector’s edition

Just before Xmas, I hastily printed and posted hundreds of copies SWD3 to my loyal readers, but unbeknown to me, a vampire had gone missing from page 203 !

Poor communication between author and typographer meant that paragraph 3 was replaced with a reiteration of a previous paragraph and neither party noticed.

Then an “early adopter” emailed me to ask,

“WTF happened to that vampire you saw on the fells?”

So, if page 302 in your copy of SWD3 doesn’t make sense, or at least less sense than the other pages, here is a “patch” for page 203, print it and stick it over the existing paragraph – if you can really be bothered !

Page 203, para 3 should read:

“Instead of pressing on to the Dodd, I decided that ‘a summit in hand, was worth two in the mist’ and headed directly down to the Helvellyn Youth Hostel for a cup of tea. The descent was easy and, a couple of hours later, I walked into the hostel triumphantly, only to find my Transylvanian beauty serving behind the counter.”

The upside:  

If your copy of SWD3 has this “bug”, and you don’t apply the above patch,  it might be considered a “Special Limited Edition” and will possibly  be worth a fortune some day – or maybe not.   Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

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Life, Limbs & Land Rovers – Finally goes to print!

Good things come in threes. Things that come in threes are inherently more humorous, satisfying and effective than any other number of things, according to Confucius and his modern day equivalent, Wikipedia.  It therefore seemed logical for me to produce a third book to complete the Skiing With Demons trilogy – as I’m calling it now !

So why did SWD3 take so long to write ?

 

With only two seasons under my skis since the last narrative ended, there seemed nothing much to write about. The Après Aliens and the other Agents of Entropy had mostly been dormant. I hadn’t been prepared to poke them with my usual life choices either, simply to create material for a third book.

Then on Wednesday 24th January 2018 the forces of entropy struck and handed me a narrative. In a freak skiing accident my right leg was partially severed, disconnecting my foot from my brain. I was plucked off the mountain by a helicopter and a world of pain, fear and emotional turmoil ensued – a perfect grow bag for humour.

Many skiers find themselves on crutches, usually after knee injuries and fractures. Most survive and return to skiing. Some don’t (ski again that is) but skiing had become the central tenet of my life and, being a drama queen, that life seemed in jeopardy.

If Skiing With Demons I was about a midlife crisis and II was about an existential one, then 3 would be about an anatomical crisis – trying to gain control of my foot and use it to ski again. Then another crisis presented itself and Skiing With Demons III was on a roll. Assuming I skied again, did I actually want to be a geriatric ski bum? Was it time to end the Chalet Project?  – as I called my winter life in Alps.

Recovering from injury was an interesting, if unwelcome, experience and an untimely one too. Only ten months after the helicopter took off, I had to prove to the Ski Club of Great Britain (SCGB) that I could still ski well enough to continue being one of its leaders.

Skiing with Demons III  is a diary of my battle to ski again and retain my blue leader’s jacket.  It also contains my deliberations on whether, after eight back-to-back seasons, I should end the Chalet Project and stop living my winter dream.  I have interleaved the usual bigoted and politically incorrect observations on skiing people, life and Land Rover Defenders.  And, just in case you hadn’t had enough of it, I’ve added more of my chairlift philosophy. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

A sample chapter here  ‘Life Limbs & Land Rovers’ 


SWD3-icon


SWD3 Buy Now


 

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Monster Moguls in Meribel – “just ignore your inner chimp”

ignore you skiing inner chimpI’ve always disliked having skiing lessons. They seem to serve only one purpose – to destroy the self-image I manage to restore after my last lesson. That image is one of a ‘good skier’ who can ski down most things without falling over.

Having forgotten the above, I headed to Meribel with the Ski Club of GB to lead one of their popular All-Mountain Development holidays, although by my definition, they have stretched the word ‘holiday’ a little far. But if your mission is to become an all-mountain skier, then 7 full days of tuition, by top BASI instructors in the famous 3 Valleys is a very attractive proposition.

My last visit to the 3 Valleys had been over two decades ago, when I was not much more than a beginner. Many of my skiing demons had been born on its famous slopes and I was interested in skiing them again as a self-certified ‘advanced skier’.

Monster moguls in meribelUnfortunately, not even the SCGB can control the weather. It hadn’t snowed in Meribel for two weeks and the off-piste element of the course became a master class on how to ski moguls.

The various school half terms seemed to stretch well into March this season and the Meribel pistes were crowded and even some of the blue runs became bumpy by midday thanks to the excessive traffic.

You either like mogul skiing or you don’t. I don’t. Those who do, have issues too complex for me to adequately discuss here. However, moguls are an unavoidable consequence of busy pistes and a technique for dealing with them needs to be in every skier’s armoury.

Our instructors avoided the black runs in the mornings, leaving them to soften in the baking conditions. However, after lunch I think a génépi or two would have been a better ‘digestif’ rather than bouncing down their monster moguls – no matter how soft they had become.

Like most instructors our BASI boys were patient and relentless. If you failed to implement a suggested change to your skiing stance they would reiterate, rephrase and re-explain the reasons why you should, until you got tired of listening to their voices. I felt like saying, “I know exactly what you want me to do – I just can’t do it”. My inner chimp controls my legs and he already knows how to stay upright and is not open to any new suggestions.

I had once aspired to be a BASI instructor, but somewhere between my Level-1 and Level-2 I realised my impossible quest was ruining my enjoyment of skiing. I would never ski the BASI way and I was better off with my self-image. I told myself, ‘There are many ways to successfully slide down a mountain. I don’t have to do it looking like them – I’ll just ski like no one is watching’.

Love MeribelThe 3 Valleys were as I remembered them. The Russians in Courchevel were still beautiful, the buildings in Val Thorens were still ugly and everywhere was still eye wateringly expensive. The pistes were still full of kamikaze youth treating slower skiers like slalom poles, with scant regard for their safety. Despite feeling like I had a target pinned to my back, I found the slopes less intimidating and this time they were mercifully free from ski demons.

By the end of the week, I did manage to silence my inner chimp and some of the instructors’ advice seeped in. I believe my mogul skiing did improve and my indigestion abated. So with swollen knees, I retreated back to Morzine for an actual skiing holiday. Despite being forced to attend ski school for an entire week, I enjoyed my return to the 3 Valleys. It is an incredible skiing area – just don’t go there in early March, remember to take an oligarch to pay for lunch and always wear full body armour.

Sample chapters from Chris Tomlinson’s books (the Skiing With Demons series) can be read online here.

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Extreme Apres Skiing in Morzine

After surviving the powder bowls of Tignes and the glaciers of Saas Fee, I headed to the Portes du Soleil for possibly the biggest challenge of the season – a weeks skiing with my Morzine Crew.

This would involve very little actual skiing followed by a mammoth amount of après skiing – if drinking and eating from 2pm to 2am can still be called après. The challenge was to avoid being abducted by the most malevolent of the skiing demons – the Après Aliens.

Not long after the wheels touched the runway at Geneva, I got the text – “Meet Vaffieu 2pm”. The typical Savoyard mountain restaurant at the top of the Pleney nursery slopes is famous for its tartiflette and infamous for its flirty tarts.

I thought I would be safe. This was January, not March, so there would be relatively few cougar parties lunching up the mountain.

However, a couple of hours and a couple of pichet of vin rouge later, the rock music started, the table next door unpacked their inflatable air-guitars and the week long party started.

More accustomed to carrying avalanche gear in my rucksack, than après props, I realised that this would be a week of ‘girlfriend skiing’ and may possibly involve days of not skiing at all. All that would be needed was a five–hour debutante’s pass, procured daily, and some short piste skis for commuting to and from lunchtime venues.

It was great to see my old friends. I’d been skiing with some of them for decades. Some of us had battled our way off the nursery slopes together – a fellowship that is hard to beat. It was only really me who’d taken skiing too far. They could now cruise the blues and reds, and that was all they wanted to do – that and party. They had no aspirations to go into the backcountry. They could ski well enough to enjoy a day in the mountains and that was surely enough?

After “Vaffs” we skied home down piste ‘B’ with a member of the piste patrol, reassuringly sweeping up the merry stragglers behind us. The blue run meanders through the forest and at that time of day (5pm), it is more or less empty. The air is still and the light is fading; it’s a magical time to be skiing. We headed to our accommodation to get changed – we’d had enough of dancing in ski boots.

We were staying in the centre of town on the Taille de Mas – Morzine’s version of the Las Vegas strip. Whilst possibly a bad place to stay for an undisturbed night, we would be making most of the late night noise, so it didn’t matter. Worryingly, the flat was directly opposite the Buddha Bar.

 

Officially now called the Tibetan Café, the Buddha Bar was the scene of many an après alien abduction during my time as a chalet host – large parts of which I have no recollection. The bar was gutted by fire last season, but it has now reopened and it continues to be a place of fascination. At least it now has a fire exit. Each evening the bar goes through phases. In the early evening, it seems like just any other après bar with a rubbish band belting out sing-along rock classics. Later on (after midnight), the DJ (Pappie) increases the tempo and all manner of Alpine life forms materialise.

It’s dark, steamy and hot. As the Jager bombs and toffee vodkas go down, the hedonism goes up. Middle aged holidaymakers, dance with seasonaires and French locals. Like the Hotel California, once in the throng, suitably lubricated, I found it almost impossible to leave.

 

That was until the lights went up at 2am and I’d realise the Lithuanian supermodel I’d been throwing shapes at was really ‘Audrey’, a mother of two, from Birkenhead. Well, that’s how it used to be. Now, like Phil Collins, I don’t dance.

The rest of the week had a familiar rhythm. After dragging ourselves onto the slopes by midday we’d have a very late lunch up the mountain and then move on to the après. The week’s well-tested itinerary was as follows:

Monday evening was ‘Open Mic’ night at the Rhodes bar. Selling proper beer and pukka pies it’s Morzine’s answer to Wetherspoons. I don’t know how many international music careers have been launched at this karaoke for wannabies – I suspect none.

Tuesday night was French band night at the Marmot d’Or. Slightly out of town, and too far for tourists to venture, the place is frequented by a mix of ex-pats and pisteurs who drink Pastis and dance to a band which is squeezed into the corner of the tiny bar – revellers frequently falling onto the drum kit, amusing everyone but the drummer.

Wednesday was seasonaires night off. You can tell this because everyone in Beanies Bar was in fact wearing a beanie and using credit cards to buy single drinks for themselves.

Thursday night was spent listening to The Mics in Dixie’s back bar. For 20 years, this Irish fiddle band have been belting out classics from the Dubliners and U2 in the dark, damp and smelly cave – everyone knows the words (mostly) and everyone drinks Guinness and pretends to be Irish.

Friday is Goat Village day. The Lindarets Village, only accessible by ski, is a collection of farm buildings that has now turned into a gastronomic hub. Everyone has their favourite eating shed in the village. My crew traditionally drink Jeroboams of rosé in the Le Petit Lindaret – and the men flirt with its Romanian waitresses. A friend’s 19yo niece joined us, a debutant; she ordered the chicken nuggets from the menu enfant, which she then washed down with rosé – a promising new member of the Morzine Crew.

And every night seemed to end in the Buddha. Every morning I’d wake up with my head spinning but grateful that the après aliens had deposited me in the right bed. I’d wonder how on earth I managed to function when I was a chalet host. After many a similar evening, I’d get up at 8am, fetch bread, cook breakfast, wash up, excavate Landie then drive my guests to the lifts. I’d even ski with them some days!

While drying out on the plane back to Birmingham I reflected on my three-week tour of the Alps. A week of après in Morzine had been the perfect end to it. I’d forgotten that ‘skiing’ wasn’t all about the skiing. It’s mostly about enjoying the company of friends that you do it with. Although I missed the kudos, I concluded it was much better being a punter, than a geriatric in Morzine. A week of that lifestyle is enough for any man who only has one liver.

Sample chapters from Chris Tomlinson’s books (the Skiing With Demons series) can be read online here.

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The Espace Killy & Me – Leader’s Refresher course

Five years, that’s all we’ve got. Five years, what a surprise. Five years – stuck on my eyes’.

I sang along to the track that my iPhone had randomly selected. The Bowie lyrics seemed poignant; it was five years since I’d been to the Espace Killy and, with reluctance, I was on my way back.

For most, the Espace Killy in December is an early season powder heaven but for me it is a place of trial and tribulation. It is The Ski Club of Great Britain’s training ground, where aspirations are realised and dreams are often shattered.

I couldn’t believe five years had elapsed since I’d passed their gruelling Leaders’ course – a two-week boot camp, were no quarter is asked and none given. Five years was the tenure awarded and mine had run out. It was time for me to take the Leaders Refresher course in Tignes, to revalidate and gain another five years of skiing at the front.

I tried not to take it too seriously; I told myself nothing of magnitude was actually at stake – just five more years of subsidised skiing. But, in my small snowy world, being a Ski Club Leader was important for existential reason – I defined myself through skiing. I’m no athlete, but the refresher course was my Olympics and it had come round too soon.

I wasn’t after gold, but I needed a podium finish. Ski Club grades; red, silver, purple, purple+ and gold would be awarded at the end of the course. And, if I made ‘purple’ I’d not be stripped of my treasured blue Leader’s jacket.

The Ski Club grading system is an objective measure of ability based on how well a skier copes with increasingly difficult terrain, but it is open to interpretation. Our trainers, six mountain guides, would be continually assessing us. So for Leaders the course is all about impressing these judges – it is Strictly Come Dancing on snow.

The guides also review our leading grades; C, C+, B, B+, or A. This is a measure of our ‘mountain craft’ – our ability to sniff out fresh powder and more importantly, return those that follow us with smiling faces or at the very least still breathing.

More importantly, our leading grade determines which resorts we can lead in. ‘C’ leaders get the ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ resorts and ‘A’ graded leaders get sent to places with big mountains.. Saas Fee, for instance is a ‘C’ resort, Avoriaz a ‘B, Chamonix an ‘A’ and the Tamworth Snow Dome is possibly an E.

Memories of previous exhaustion on the slopes of the Espace Killy during my Leaders Course and fear of failure had driven me out of bed and into Lycra on many a morning over the summer. It had even forced me to arrive a week early to train at altitude and acclimatise to the cheese, ham and red wine diet. But, as every athlete knows, luck can be a cruel master.

Injury struck me back in January (see image below) and my ‘journey’ to peak performance had started on crutches. I couldn’t walk, let alone ski, nine months before the course.

My choice of pre-refresher training camp, the Ski Club’s Premier Party in Val d’ Isere, had also been a bit of a miscalculation. I ended up sharing a room with a drunken Scotsman who snored like an asthmatic hippo – then I caught a chest infection. But those are the breaks you get and every five years, for three days in December, whatever life has thrown at them, the measure of a leader is taken.

The weather is critical too. It’s one thing looking like an off-piste god on a bluebird day and a completely different challenge in poor visibility. Arctic conditions can often prevail in the Espace Killy and the avalanche risk never seems to fall below 3/5 in December. My ski demons can often surface in such conditions and a battle for control of my body rages in my head. The demons make me wonder why I ever thought skiing was enjoyable.

The course itself involves first-lift/last-lift skiing every day, bracketed by early morning and evening avalanche avoidance and rescue lectures. The lectures included video footage and analysis of real mountain fatalities. They basically show you the many ways you can die on a snow-covered mountain, then expected you to follow the guides, without complaint, into whatever white abyss they decide on.

You’ll have to drop in after them knowing there is no going back and hoping there isn’t a long sidestep out at the bottom. There won’t be any coffee stops and lunch will be considered a bonus. If you want a rest or to take an easier line you know you’ll be chastised for it later – you have to pretend you’re a fearless powder hound when your primary concern is really survival.

Knowing all this, I arrived in Tignes, with a great deal of trepidation. However, poor visibility during the first two days meant the off-piste skiing had to be conservative. Inexplicably, the guides kept losing their rucksacks under the snow. Then, as if life depended on it, they would expect us to find them within 15 minutes!

On the final day the mist cleared and the Espace Killy revealed itself to be a place of joy not just one of foreboding. I got my mojo back and I concluded that I did quite like skiing after all.

Although I coughed and spluttered from time to time, I did mange to hold everything together. I fooled the judges into thinking I was fit, fearless and competent enough to avoid skiing into danger. More importantly, I proved I was effective when it came to finding lost property.

I made the prerequisite skiing grade and was given a ‘B’ for leadership. Delighted, I headed home looking forward to getting fat and unfit over Christmas.

I had gained five more years of skiing at the front, five more years of skiing in blue, five more years before I had to return to those slopes, five more years of skiing with nobody watching.

There are those who love Val d’Isere and Tignes and religiously go there every season on holiday. I cannot dispute the skiing is top draw, but for me, the Espace Killy is simply the world’s largest petri dish.

 

 

Chris Tomlinson’s books (the Skiing With Demons series) can be bought online here. And, if you think you have what it takes to become a Ski Club of GB Leader click here.

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Ski Resort Top Trumps

We all have a favourite ski resort. Call me partisan, but mine is Morzine. Since my retirement as a chalet host there, I no longer feel the need to justify why. I’ve always avoided getting into what I call a game of Ski Resort Top Trumps, where the vital statistics of two resorts are compared.

When I did play the game, Morzine would usually win on ‘size of ski area’ and ‘shortness of transfer’, but it would frequently loose on ‘altitude’ and ‘ski-in/ski-out accommodation’. Now I realise that what makes a favourite skiing location, is far more subjective than objective.

With ski resorts, first impressions count. If you are unlucky with the snow, the weather or you made a poor accommodation choice you’re likely to have a lasting downer on a resort. If you went at the wrong time of year or with the wrong people, your assessment will be blurred.

If you left finding the best skiing, eating and drinking to luck, you’ll probably make an inaccurate assessment.

I profess to dislike Tignes for instance. I might have said this is because it has no tree skiing, its purpose built architecture has no Alpine charm and it seems to attract a certain type of skier that I’m struggling to define – without using the word irritating. However none of that is true. My prejudice against the Espace Killy is purely down to a gritty first experience there – and having to share a room with three snorers.

Those who do like a game of Top Trumps will soon start talking about snow records and declaring their favourite place to be more ‘snow-sure’ than yours. They will brag about altitude and the presence of a glacier. They will babble on about foehn winds and gulfstream heating then conclude, quod erat demonstrandum, Tignes is better. It certainly wins the ‘early and late season snow’ top trump. All I know is that the meteorological matrix is too complex for me to understand and soon, thanks to global warming, nowhere will have a glacier.

Like many, I also make gross generalisations about entire countries and mountain ranges based on very small sample sets. I dismissed the whole of the Rockies based on one visit made twenty years ago, because of the American’s approach to mountain food and their nannying off-piste culture.

I won’t go to Bulgaria because the lifts are unsafe and Japan is mobbed with Australians – even though I like Australians. I have Canada down as ‘too cold’ and Switzerland as ‘boring and expensive’. I turn my nose up at Andorra, even though I’ve never been there. I glibly say, ‘ I’d rather spend a week on a child-friendly cruise ship than one in Andorra’.

Despite the French seemingly doing everything they can to put me off, I still prefer skiing in France. France used to get top trumps for ‘quality of food’, but I’m not so sure anymore, now they seem to be giving us what they think we want – crapes, pizzas and burgers.

I agree that the après ski in Austria is unbeatable having had many a memorable time there when I was younger and more alcoholically robust. But I have managed the odd wild night out in France too and I’ve since discovered that hangovers conform to a single international standard.

Italian lovers often say the Dolomites are the most beautiful mountains in the world and I do not disagree, I’m just not too keen on pasta. I prefer the Cumbrian mountains in the Lake District myself, although I’ll admit the skiing there isn’t exactly extensive.

Even within France, I have my prejudices; Courchevel is full of Russian oligarchs and Meribel is full of English chalet girls called Pippa. Megève is full of fur coats worn by folk who never seem to go skiing. Chamonix holds all the trumps for ‘extreme terrain’, I know, but has all the charm of a capital city. Flaine suffers from lift queues and too much Stalinist architecture. Les Arcs is fine, but has no après scene and is often mobbed with university ski clubs.

Morzine is not big on glitz, I know – it’s not a Davos or a Klosters. It’s a place for drinking beer not sipping a negroni. You’re more likely to meet a rugby team from Liverpool there than a pack of Sloane Rangers from Surrey. What I like most about my beloved Zine is that it was a place before skiing. It has an indigenous population and it still feels French, despite being overrun by Brits in the winter. Best of all, the hands Morzine loses at Ski Resort Top Trumps are usually won by its neighbour Avoriaz (which is one lift away).

Having spent so much time there, I know how Morzine works. I know how to avoid the lift queues, where the best restaurants are and on any given day, where to find the best skiing – and on any given night the best après too. Even if (like me) you enjoy visiting other resort, it’s worth investing your time in one special place and nothing can trump that sort of knowledge.

Forgive me if I have dissed your favourite ski resort, country or mountain range above – it was all meant in humour. We can play Top Trumps in the comments below if you feel I need correcting. I’m heading back to Tignes next week, on Ski Club Leading business. Hopefully this time nobody will die in an avalanche, (especially me) and I won’t be billeted with a snorer.

The Ski Club is sending me to Meribel this season too, where I hope to update my assessment of the 3 Valleys. My skiing has improved since my first visit there and it will no doubt be a completely different place to the one in my memory – although I notice my chalet host is actually called Philippa.

You can buy signed copies of the Skiing with Demons books online here

 

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The Morzine Chalet Project Ends

There will be no bacon run, no Land Rover angst, no food allergies to dance around and no living with 24-hour party people. But most of all the author of Skiing With Demons is looking forward to skiing without cooking a bucket load of eggs first.

You can make important decisions with your head or your heart. Whichever one you choose, the other organ usually haunts you. But all I feel right now is excitement – I’m actually looking forward to the forthcoming ski season!

95998160 [Converted]It’s September now and the calls are coming in. It seems that everyone is now thinking about booking skiing accommodation. Of course if you want to ski this New Year or half term, you are already too late to book anywhere and you may want to review your decision to have had children.

I did have a slight pang when I turned down what would have been my first booking. It initially felt very wrong to say ‘no’ to a perfectly good piece of business. Then it felt good, in a wicked way, to be delivering the bad news. However, articulating the very sentence that summed it up, ‘No chalet this year mate, I’ve decided to just go skiing’, I knew I’d made the right decision.

Surprisingly, as the enquiry emails come in, I’ve discovered what I’ve been missing. I’ve received many invites to go on holiday with former guests and offers of accommodation in Morzine. Even the Ski Nazis*, loyal supporters of my project, have booked their own chalet for next season. I may stay with them just for fun one week and complain about the consistency of the porridge. All in all, I’ve got myself three weeks in Morzine and it’s not even October.

Added to that, the Ski Club of GB have come through this year and are sending me to Saas Fee and Meribel to lead two of their holidays. Not wanting to sound like a vulture, I could also be called upon by them to cover colleagues who get injured. Inevitably someone will break a bone or, like me last year, be felled in action. With no commitments this winter other than having fun, I can fill in as requested.

Perhaps, with a season off, it would be a good time to re-mount my campaign for higher BASI status. Part of me knows I’ll need a skiing goal if the Apres Aliens* are to be avoided. But then I know that BASI courses are purgatory. ‘BASI have been ruining skiing since 1963’, as one disgruntled candidate once told me.

But on this one, I’m going with my heart (not my head) and say ‘no’, I’m going to try and actually enjoy my skiing season instead; not toil it away and spend hundreds of pounds trying to ski like a ballerina.

With no chalet to run and no ambitions to become a fully qualified instructor, it might seem like my alpine dream has fizzled out and the Chalet Project is over. I feel like I might be letting down those who have enjoyed my books and foolishly been inspired to create their own Chalet Projects. I’d like to tell them something profound like, ‘it’s a journey not a destination’, but as the Alps are actually a destination, that’s not going to work.

Metaphors aside, my journey has ended, even if theirs is just beginning. However, even though my alpine dream might need a new name, it is very much alive – it has just become peripatetic.

You can buy signed copies of the Skiing with Demons books online here

 

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Sexism raises its ugly head – again

Having heard a Podcast reviewing my first book, I’m forced to respond (again) to the accusation that I’m a sexist. Worse still, that I think ALL women can’t ski!

I normally take bad reviews on the chin(s). I’ll admit, SWDI is not to everybody’s taste – it might even be little bit sexist. Frankly,  I’ve been accused of being a lot of other “ists” since it was published – and I’m usually guilty as charged. However, I do like to think my prejudices are evenly distributed  – I try to take the mickey out of all stereotypes evenly.

I might also be a bit “gammon” – as the millennials call red faced middle aged men who rail against political correctness. However, I was born in a non-politically correct time and place (Yorkshire in  the sixties) – where men were “men” and women were “men” too.  So it just how I speak.

 

But times, they are a-changing and with my next book, I’m going to  use more  no-binary gender vocabulary:  An ‘air hostess’ will now be a ‘flight attendant’, a  ‘housewife’ will now be a “homemaker” and I’ll refer to ‘snowmen’ as ‘snowpals’. I might even adopt a gender fluid persona myself  and call my self “Christine” at the weekends.

Then I discover, by his own admission, that the review hadn’t  actually read SWDI, but was simply regurgitating a review of SWD1 from the Telegraph, then adding his own condemnation.  If he’d actually read the book he was reviewing, he might have noticed that there are many references to brilliant female skier in it – one ( Morzine Mary) even has her own chapter.

It’s all down to that ill advised,  “Girlfriend Skiing” chapter. Now the term “Girlfriend Skiing” seems to have entered the skiing lexicon and I’m irreversibly connected to it. It’s a dubious claim to fame,  but I’ll take it.

I’m discovering that being called a “sexist” is a bit like being called a “witch” in the dark ages – the only way to prove you’re not a witch is to drown. So I’ll stop  trying to swim.

Anyway,  if you read the many review on Amazon (many from women), not just the Telegraph one,  you’ll find my books are generally regarded as very funny , if a little sexist.

Why not buy one and make your own mind up ?

girlfriend skiing

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Neuf is Enough

It’s that difficult time of year again. August always means a dilemma for me. Do I steel myself, hold my nerve and stick to my post-season decision to make it my last – or will I panic and frantically start making plans for next winter?

If panic does set in, I’ll need to act fast to find a new home for The Chalet Project while there are some decent chalets in Morzine still available. The panic is induced because I know that by December, I’ll regret my decision. I’ll have forgotten the tribulation of seasons past – and all the irritations of life in the UK, which drove me to Morzine in the first place, will have resurfaced.

But this summer, it will be the ninth time I’ve faced this dilemma and even the rosiest of rose-tinted glasses, can’t seem to prevent me from making a more subjective assessment: Is ‘doing’ another ski season really a good idea? Maybe just one more will do the trick – but will ‘neuf be enough’ to get the seasonaire dream out of my system?

Unfortunately the pros and cons of going round one more time are equally stacked, making a definitive conclusion elusive.

The thought of spending the rest of the summer trying to fill another blank bookings diary fills me with horror – especially knowing there is a sizable chunk of my own wonga at stake. History tells me that I will fill the diary and that by December I’ll be laughing – but an autumn free from sales and marketing activities seems very appealing.

The biggest pro is after a summer of toil I’ll theoretically get to ski all winter. But the reality is that during the season I’m lucky to ski more than once a week thanks to ‘work’, poor snow or bad weather. I will miss those rare bluebird days, where I seem to be skiing without effort. I’ll miss the breathtaking views and the feeling of being at one with the mountain. I’ll particularly miss the view my last chalet offered while sitting on its toilet (image below)!

Chris Tomlinson Morzine

I won’t miss the crowded pistes in February and the constant threat of collision with French suicide skiers. I wont miss queuing for lifts and being stranded by their sudden closures in bad weather. I won’t miss dangling in an icy wind, on a stationary chair wondering if the lift has actually broken. I wont miss worrying that guests are not enjoying their day and whether I can get them back to the right valley safely.

I wont miss being forced to go ‘girlfriend skiing’ on a powder day or waiting for people to finish their lunches. Like most good business ideas, The Chalet Project seems to have been ruined by the requirements of its customers.

If ‘neuf’ never happens, I’ll miss my ski club crew and continuing the friendships forged on and off the mountains. I’ll miss the annual updates from my regulars and the French locals who have been so welcoming. I’ll miss the town of Morzine, itself and belonging to its winter community.

I’ll miss hacking round the Alps in my beat-up old Land Rover, Landie. I won’t miss the treacherous driving conditions: the roads are often covered with black ice and almost always littered with holiday-head pedestrians. I won’t miss hunting fora parking space in town or sipping halves while everyone else is getting plastered. I certainly wont miss driving the old girl across France in January and back again in April when both of us are equally battered.

I wont miss the seven-day working week or the unsociable hours. I wont miss the drunken tourist, the stag and hen parties all on a familiar mission. I won’t miss the ground-hog conversations with new guests and the social exhaustion of living with strangers. I will miss meeting new people, even though I often regretting doing so 10 minutes later.

I could, of course, dispense with the guests and go ‘full ski bum’. Rent a room in a squalid flat and ski/eat/drink/sleep then repeat, for an entire season. Perhaps, with a few modifications, I could make Landie habitable and sofa surf in really cold weather. But I’d have to ingratiate myself with someone every time taking a shower crept to the top of my agenda. Despite being short of material for my next book even I can see that being a disaster.

Maybe after eight seasons I’ve simply become blasé about the pros of being a geriatric seasonaire and I’m blowing the cons out of proportion. If you do anything for too long you always become dissatisfied with your lot – its part of the human condition. Perhaps spending a grey winter in England will sort me out and rebalance my objectivity? I’ll go on a few skiing holidays of course and check out new places, but I’m not sure I’ll like being in a ski resort where no one knows my name and I’m just another irritating punter.

Should I hang up my pinny, the thing that I would miss the most, is the existential gratification. Sometimes, when things are going well, I get a warm feeling of self-satisfaction. I’m living an amazing life in an amazing place of my own choosing.

Having sacrificed many things (some unintentionally) for that life, to deliberately give it up, would make those losses less palatable. However, sooner or later my knees will force me to quit so The Chalet Project needs to evolve with age, along with its proprietor. Right now, in August, I’m just not sure what it’s going to evolve into.

ENDS

Buy a signed copy of Skiing With Demons  here

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An Expensive Day in the Alps

It had to happen eventually – every skier’s luck runs out. After seven straight injury free seasons, mine ran out two weeks ago in the Swiss resort of Les Croset.

In an innocuous collision with a Swiss snowboard instructor, my right calf was sliced open, on what quickly became a red piste. Up to that point, Season 8 had been going well but it ended rather abruptly.

I’d had a bonus week just before Christmas in Les Arcs and I’d even managed to ski in England before that – in my local park. The journey to Morzine had been uneventful and the skiing conditions in the Porte Du Soleil were improving. Better still, I seemed to be skiing rather well – it was finally all coming together.

I had big plans for the season. I was about to head to Laax for a week of Ski Club leading and I’d booked a place on a BASI level-2 course in March. I was skiing so well that morning, I was starting to think I might even pass it. Along with my skiing plans, I’d left the chalet unmanned and my Land Rover parked outside it.

While the snowboarder applied his first aid training to my severed leg, I started to realise that all bets for my season were off and the focus was now on survival. Thirty-six hours later, after a ride in a sledge, a helicopter, an ambulance, a plane and another ambulance, I found myself waking up in a Birmingham hospital, talking to a plastic surgeon.

The journey had cost me €2550 – but it was worth every penny. The helicopter ride cost €968 alone, which seemed like a very arbitrary figure. Does anyone say to the pilot, ‘that’s outrageous, I’ll walk’?

When skiing I carry a first aid kit, but like many skiers I suspect, I was not prepared for my own medevac. I didn’t have my EHIC card on me (it’s still good for a few months yet #BREXIT) and I didn’t know any of my insurance details. I didn’t have my passport either; it was back in Morzine, just over the border in France which could have proved rather problematic. But I did have a chunky credit card on me, which soon started haemorrhaging in sympathy.

I was heading for reconstructive surgery in Switzerland, which I was more likely to survive than my credit card, until my wonderful girlfriend hatched a plan to repatriate me. The thought of a long stay in a foreign hospital was almost too much to bear but mercifully my friends pulled out all the stops and got me on a plane – all I had to do was escape from casualty. Debbie had found a top leg trauma surgeon and had a hospital bed waiting in Birmingham.

I knew I was back in the UK when people in uniforms stopped asking me for my credit card and instead of French accents I heard Brummie – thank God for the NHS, I thought, and that next time there is a general election I certainly won’t be voting Tory.

After the surgeon had sewn my leg back together I still couldn’t feel or move my foot. He explained that, after six weeks recovery and maybe another month or two of physiotherapy I would ‘probably’ get both abilities back.

The good news was, the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang was about to start and it looked like I was going to see most of it. The other good news was, I’d have plenty or time to complete the Skiing With Demons Trilogy.

My third cathartic, snowy memoir was languishing on my laptop. I now also had the material for a suitably dramatically, if gory, first chapter. Most keen skiers will end up on crutches at some stage. If my books were to be a compendium of a geriatric ski bum’s life, then injury and recovery had so far been omitted – I was literally suffering for my art.

I might have welcomed the free time more if the snow during Season 8 wasn’t shaping up to be epic. I might have to un-friend my Morzine friends if they don’t stop posting pictures on Facebook of the fresh tracks they’re making.

Watching the Olympians is proving less frustrating than Facebook because I’ve no ambition (or the ability) to do what our elite athletes are doing on the telly.

I do regard skiing as a sequence of challenges and I suspect, if not winning medals, all skiers have their own private ambitions. Skiing is a sequence of challenges that start when we first put on skis. The first is to master the snowplough then successfully descend on a blue, then a red. Then for some of us our ambitions grow to skiing an infamous black run or complete some famous off-piste decent.

On that day in Les Croset my skiing ambitions were instantly recalibrated. My new skiing challenge was not to qualify as a level-2 instructor, but to ski a green run without falling. The challenges on route would be to wiggle my toes, then my ankle, then throw away my crutches; then complete a successful descent of the Tamworth Snow Dome followed by a triumphant returning to Morzine to collect Landie.

I’ve witnessed other people return from injury and tried to help them with what I now suspect was patronising advice about psychology. I know the biggest challenge will come long after my wound has healed – learning to trust my rebuilt leg to support me.

I know I won’t be the first skier to make a successful comeback from injury, but it’s the first time I’ve faced this particular skiing challenge and frankly I’m a bit daunted.

Anyway, the men’s moguls are just about start and as that’s one competition I don’t mind sitting out off, I’d better put the laptop down and watch it. I might not be on a hunt for a medal myself but I feel like awarding gold to anyone who’s fallen, injured themselves and didn’t give up on skiing.

Sample chapters from Chris Tomlinson’s books can be read online here.

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Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen go Skiing in the Rain

skiing in the rain

I like it when it rains in Morzine – not least because, when it rains, the bookshop sells more of my books!

Even though rain turns into money for me, I do feel sorry for my guests who’ve been looking forward to their annual skiing trip only for it to turn into a snorkelling one.

When it rains in a ski resort other nationalities go shopping and the more sensible British settle into a coffee shop with a good book – but it’s only the English who insist on going skiing in the rain!

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It could be our stoic nature or our hatred of waste that forces us up a mountain when water is running down it. We don’t want to waste the lift passes we have already procured or loose a precious day’s skiing. It might be that, with only other English people on the slopes for comparison, we feel like better skiers on a rainy day.

However, despite our penchant for aquatic skiing and the fact that we come from a green and pleasant land, where it rains quit a lot 
too, we seem to wear the least waterproof clothing of any nation. I know it grinds havi

ng to buy specialist clothing for a holiday but an anorak for George and some walking trousers from Cotswolds Outdoor are never going to cut it.

My guests often set out hoping the precipitation might be snow higher up, but I know they’ll be down early looking like drowned rats and walking in that my-pants-are-wet way.

I also like the rain because it forces most guests to relax. Having been brought up by Ski Nazis, I used to feel guilty if I didn’t “carpe diem” and catch the first lift up in the morning whatever the weather.

There is always someone staying with me who drives the Nazis agenda and makes me set an early alarm. They rush through breakfast, break into a sweat donning layers then frantically assemble the vast array of kit needed to go skiing. I sometimes wish I had adopted a simpler sport; like water polo for instance – you just grab your speedos and go. But rain dampens the resolve of all but the most hardened ski fascist and gives reprieve from the normally hectic agenda of a chalet host.

I also like chilling in the chalet when the weather is lashing against the windows. The empathetic rain puts me in a reflective mood and I often have a productive day of writing. I put myself in a Jimmy Hendrix frame of mind; ‘Rainy day, dream away – Ah, let the sun take a holiday’. In my case, no marijuana is needed to achieve this karma.

Rain means skiing is off the cards for me and I can take a relaxed approach to the day. I can leave the chalet unburdened by equipment or geographical objectives and run a few overdue errands.

Once the aquanauts are dispatched and the errands are done, I like to sit outside my favourite coffee shop in town, watching the other mad dogs paddling off to the lift. I sit outside under a brolly, sipping coffee, listening to the rain pattering on the canopy above and the bellowing of the swollen river that runs below. It’s time to enjoy living in the Alps rather than sliding down then.

jhOnce I’ve got the soggy rodents home, the chalet turn in to a laundry with every available drying surface strung with damp garments. If there is a reward for going skiing in the rain, it’s that it amplifies the feeling of being dry, warm and safe once you finally back by the fire, sat in dry underwear. I’ve noticed that many of skiing’s rewards come post activity – such as the unadulterated pleasure you get when you finally take your boots off. I often think that the sole purpose of skiing it to experience that moment.

Despite still being English, I no longer go skiing in the rain. One of the benefits of being a seasonaire is that you can choose when you go skiing and it’s quality not quantity I’m now after. I now save my knees for better conditions and as Jimmy suggested, I just ‘layback and groove on a rainy day’.

 

ENDS

To buy a copy of Skiing With Demons I or II go here

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Took the dog for ski this morning in Sutton Coldfield !

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Snow – Love it or hate it?

It’s snowing this morning in Sutton Coldfield!  I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m pretty sure it has snowed here before, but since the royal town adopted me, it’s the first time I’ve seen her draped in white. England is a damp and gloomy place in December and Sutton’s new gown had really cheered the place up.

I’ve always had a tempestuous relationship with Snow. We’d instantly fallen in love on a station platform when I was small. I remember scooping up my first snowball then licking it to see if it tasted like ice cream – it didn’t, so I threw it at my sister. I then realized snow, correctly fashioned, made a lethal projectile because her first brief encounter with snow produced tears.

Since then I have discovered that my lover is actually a killer, having witnessed an avalanche death and that snow is to be feared as well as loved.

My first ever snow in Sutton reminded me of what winter in the UK was like. Having spent the last seven ski seasons in the Alps, I’d forgotten that traffic grinds to a halt and schools close if one snowflake accidentally lands on another here.  I’d forgotten that when it snows in England, the odds on a white Christmas go down, but all other bets are off.

I do remember the frustration I’ve felt at our winter ineptitude. I recall one year when ankle-deep snow turned into waist-deep irony, by preventing me from going on a skiing holiday because “snow” had closed Birmingham Airport.

Depending on their age, the sight of snow brings different emotions to different Englishman. The young get excited, not just because school might (will) be off, but because  tobogganing and mass snowball fights might be on. Snow also changes the world of our less war-like offspring into a magical enchanting place and for most it means Christmas presents are close.

For the not so young snow is often a harbinger of doom – not least because their kids are stuck at home. Snow brings commuting trouble and general disruption to the important activities of their lives. The elderly, batten down their hatches and regard the pavements as no-go zones. They buy excessive amounts of milk and generally stock up, as if preparing for the siege of Leningrad.

I opened the curtains this morning and on seeing the first snow, I questioned my emotions – was I excited, was I still young? Or did I just want to bulk buy milk and ‘stay in the warm?’

I had a seemingly important motorway journey to complete and my initial thought was to abort my plans for the day. However while clearing Landie’s windows, I impulsively made a snowball and threw at my bedroom window (no siblings where in effective range) and my childhood love of the damp fun-dust were rekindled.

Season 7 had left my relationship with Snow at an all time low – Snow and I were not speaking when I left Morzine way back in April.  It might have been a seven-year itch, but for some reason, my lover, Snow had deserted me along with most of the Haute-Savoie in 2017. It had been a bitterly cold season with high winds and the Agents of Entropy had been rampant. To cap that, the lack of snow had meant disappointed guests and poor bookings.

Having spent the summer on less slippery endeavors, the early Sutton snow was a wakeup call.  It was time to forget about those seemingly important life goals and prepare for Season 8.  I checked the Morzine webcams.  A metre of snow had already accumulated on its top slopes and the Portes Du Soleil was preparing to open

skiing in Sutton Coldfield

Took the dog for a ski this morning in Sutton Coldfield!

its lifts a week early. It, along with the rest of the Alps, seemed set for a bumper snow season.  It seemed like all had been forgiven and my love affair with Snow might be back on.

I’d had mixed emotions on finally seeing Sutton in the snow. But once I’d manned-up, stuck to my plans and headed out in Landie, I realised that my predominant emotion was excitement – I was still young (ish).  Maybe for all who ski, it is our fond childhood memories of snow that make us want to go skiing – to once again play in the snow.

 

If you want to play too – I still have a few beds left at Chalet Benjamin this January – for more info click here: myskifriends.com 

And, if you’re after an ideal Christmas stocking filler for a skier or boarder, click here: skiingwithdemons.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What did this ski bum do with his summer? – shocker.

I hope that some of you will be disappointed to hear that Skiing With Demons III (SWD3) will not be published in time for Christmas – mostly because I haven’t written it.

iamawriter.jpgAmongst the ambivalent, there is someone who is happy about this fact, Dr Debs.  She was concerned that I would withdraw for another summer into my man-cave and forget how to sleep, eat, wash and dress in the correct order. Although her happiness is of paramount importance to me, there are other reasons why I haven’t put much ink onto paper this summer.

The first being that not enough shit has happened to me, on or off the pistes, since the last narrative ended.

The Après Aliens and the other Agents of Entropy were mostly dormant last season and this summer, I’ve not been prepared to poke them with my usual rash life choices, simply to create material for a book.

The second reason is that I’ve been working on a better answer to the biggest question posed by the Chalet Project: “What do ski bums do in the summer?”

Telling people I was a writer wasn’t really cutting it and declaring I was a house husband was raising eyebrows further.  The first answer seemed to suggest self-delusion and the second an assumption of idleness. Both seemed to lack suitable respect in my opinion, so I’ve come up with much a better answer;  “I am an electrician!”

Instead of writing, I devoted most of the summer to wiring. I studied hard, passed my exams and generally worked out which way to turn a screwdriver.  Now my apprenticeship is well underway, I’ve discovered that being a “sparky” is very similar to being a chalet host (no, really!)

spaceshipBeing an electrician, like skiing, involves meeting lots of unusual people from a wide socio-economic background and often in a domestic setting.  Instead of vin chaud, I make small talk over mugs of tea which is altogether safer. Instead of sitting on a chairlift I field the groundhog questions while standing on my ladder; “where are you from?”, “got any kids? etc. etc.” to which I’m equally tempted to invent answers.

When pulling people’s wires apart I adopt the same air of confidence I use for ski leading. Instead of trying not to look lost when I am lost, I try not to look shocked, when I am shocked, because I forgot that brown was ‘live’ and not ‘neutral’.

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I rely on Landie to do my job as I do in Morzine. I wonder every morning if she will start or what will be the day’s malfunction.

At least I don’t have to scrape ice from inside of her windows or worry about it forming in her diesel.  Instead of skis, it’s ladders I constantly load on and off her roof rack and often forget to adequately secure them.  Unlike ski boots, I can drive Landie in my specialist shoes, even though they have steel toecaps.

 

My high visibility vest, inscribed with the word ‘Electrician’ reminds me who I am and suggests I know what I’m doing.  The words ‘Ski Club’ on my Leaders jacket play a similar role in reminding me I’m allegedly a good skier (whatever that means).

So, finally, I have a “proper job” to see me through the summers and better still, one that seldom needs further clarification.  And, if an eyebrow is raised, I tell its owner that I carry a big, “fuck-off” drill to work and declare, “I’m not afraid to use it”.  spaceship

The final reason for SWD3 being delayed is that I’ve been working on another book – which isn’t finished either.  Its working title is ‘Walking With Demons’ and it’s about one man and his trusty Land Rover exploring the mountainous parts of England – or at least I think it is.

Bedroom1Be assured that I’m not done with the skiing thing yet; there is definitely another book in it. I have rented a new chalet in Morzine (Chalet Benjamin) for the forthcoming season.  This one is within staggering distance from the centre of town, which should see the return of my more après-orientated clientele. They have historically never let me down when it comes to producing entertaining material.

The Ski Club is also sending me back to Switzerland (Flim/Laax) again this season to run another Peak Experience holiday. Leading fifty year-olds around a mountain usually produces an incident or two, although I hope none of them will be serious.  And finally, I’ve signed up for a BASI level-2 course this season, which is guaranteed to fill a chapter.

So apologies if you’re missing a Christmas stocking filler this winter. I’ll try and make sure it’s present in next year’s sock and not been replaced by excuses. However, there is more to life than skiing or so I’m told, and I’ve been busy sorting my life out – if only to make it sound better.

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To book a room in Chalet Benjamin, click here: www.myskifriends.com

To book a place on the SCGB Flim/Laax holiday, click here: Swiss Bliss

To buy a book  (SWD I or II), click here: www.skiingwithdemons.com

OR if you need an electrician – call me !

 

 

 

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Defender of the Fells

Landrover CampervanHistorically, I have never liked being on my own. So it was with great trepidation that I set off on my solo camping trip to the Lake District. I say, “camping”, but no tents were to be involved. I’d “pimped my ride” and turned Landie into a rudimentary campervan – if the addition of a carpet, curtains, stove and a portaloo can be called “pimping”.

There is just enough room in a Defender 110, the long wheel based version, for an average sized man (me) to lie flat in the back which is a little known and seldom utilised, design feature.

Debbie thought I was mad, but I’d been held in suburban captivity for several weeks and with ½ term looming it was time to get out of Dodge (Sutton Coldfield). We’d had words the night before, a drunken conversation about “my life”, “my future” and “my solution” – to run away again. But the trip wasn’t part of my ongoing existential crisis – it was a proof-of-concept. Was it possible to live in a Land Rover?

High Spy Summit

I had another mission too. I’d long since wanted to climb the 214 fells that Alfred Wainwright MBE (AW) had described in his seminal work, ‘A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells’ – I was going “Wainwright Bagging” as it is known.

AW was a loner and seldom had company on his ascents. He obviously preferred the blank pages of his notebook to people for company – presumably because they couldn’t disagree with him or complain about their blisters. I was a writer too, but was I cut out to be a loner?

Fear of my own company was not the sole cause of my trepidation. Theoretically Landie can go anywhere but I find getting her “anywhere”, the Alps for instance, psychologically stressful. She doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to reliability – she frequently causes my love to labour.

Despite a worrying noise emanating from somewhere in her drive train, Landie made the hyperspace jump up the M6 successfully and when we materialised in Kendal, I started to relax. The noise had been a reminder that the Agents of Entropy are always lurking somewhere out of sight.

Once in AW country the scenery started to feed my soul and I forgot about the noise. Finally in her element, Landie powered over the Kirkstone Pass and when we finally came to rest, on the banks of Ullswater, I concluded that all her problems where in my head.

The beauty of the idyllic spot was marred by the absence of Debbie. I’ve always thought that any experience is always better when shared with someone that you love. I suspect AW would not have agreed. So I decided to do what most modern solo travellers do and upload a selfie to Facebook. “You are never alone with an iPhone,” I thought and wondered if I could sell that slogan to Apple – but there wasn’t a whiff of phone signal, let alone 4G, in the ether.

Half of me was pleased that I was finally off-grid and the other worried that there was no way to check-in with Debbie. My location, my situation and my itinerary would be unknown to her. Seldom a day goes by, even if I’m in the Alps, when we don’t speak or at least have a text exchange – it was a welcome chore. But the lack of a communications channel hadn’t been anticipated and I thought she would be worried.

I found a phone box, conveniently located in a pub, and once I’d worked out how to use it, I broke the radio silence and explained I’d not been ignoring her. I gave her my intended itinerary for the following day and a cut off time after which, had she not heard from me, she was to call Mountain Rescue – all a bit excessive for a stroll on the fells in June, I admit. But, like skiing off-piste, it’s risky heading out into any abyss alone.

I chatted to a stranger in the pub and being a “loner” meant that I only needed to reveal the parts of my history that I was proud of. When you’re alone you can be anyone you want to be, with no friends around to dob you in. I drank what I now know to be the prerequisite amount of beer for a successful night’s sleep in a Land Rover (3 pints) and staggered back to my crib.

I’d parked in a remote corner of a campsite, next to the lake, which only a Land Rover could reach. While staggering past the other campers, all of whom had remembered to pack friends, I speculated what they might be thinking. Did they feel sorry for me? Did they wonder which path through life I’d taken that had led me to sleep rough in the back of a Land Rover?

Once settled in my sleeping bag, I reviewed the morning’s intended route on the map then fell asleep listening to the plaintive cries of an oystercatcher who seemed down on his luck.

Not having to consider others is liberating. You can eat, sleep and drink when the desire takes you. You can get up when you like too and I set off at 6am the next morning to conquer my first Wainwrights of the trip. Although the early start was probably more due to a tea towels lack of opacity than my newfound liberty – so I made a note to replace Landie’s curtains with something more substantial when I got back to Dodge.

Summit of Angletarn PikesAfter a few vertical miles had been trodden, I looked up at the four looming peaks I’d intended to climb and wished I’d paid more attention to the proximity of their contour lines the previous evening. I realised two things; I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was and that the Far Eastern Fells were vast, uninhabited and a very serious place to get lost in.

With only sheep and meadow pipets for company, I plodded onwards and upwards  wondering if I was really having that much fun. Menacing black rain clouds were rolling in from the West when I staggered to the top of my first summit, Angeltarn Pikes (AW no 143). I grabbed my prize – a picture of me next to the summit cairn. Having toyed with aborting the day’s mission most of the way up, it was a relief to finally get on the scoreboard. However the bleak location and closing bad weather intimidated me and I felt exhausted, frightened and alone. So I quickly started my descent worried that the impending poor visibility might prevent me from finding the main, yet indistinctive, path home.

Demoralised, I decided to abort the rest of the day, accept defeat and head back to basecamp. I hadn’t spoken to or seen a soul all morning and the only conversations I’d had were with the ski demons in my head. I discovered that being alone means being in charge of your own morale and with nobody to keep face with, it’s easy to give up.

Place Fell Summit

While retracing my steps I played with the idea of building my own cairn, nearer the campsite and using it to fake a few more summit-selfies. However, I concluded that I’d only be cheating myself. Seems being alone means being in charge of your own morality along with your morale.

On my way down, I started to encounter other walkers who’d left at a more civilised time. I blocked their paths and forced each one in turn into conversation. They seemed happy to oblige – you can ignore everyone in a crowd but not a member of your own species in a wilderness.

Maiden Moor Summit

With the knowledge that there were now a few people around, I mentally regrouped and rerouted myself home via another summit, Place Fell (AW No 109). While posing for the second summit-selfie of the day my phone received a random text! I was high enough now for it to contact a cell tower in the next valley.

I called Debbie who told me off for being on the wrong mountain and deviating from my original plan. While chatting to her, seemingly from the top of the world, the irony of the situation struck me. Despite bleak isolation being part of their attraction, you’re actually more off-grid in the valleys than on the tops of the fells. I finished my phone call, uploaded my selfies to Facebook and started the final descent.

Maiden MoorAfter a couple more days of Wainwright bagging, I got tired of not being able to stand up in my accommodation. When you get to a certain age, there are some things you can only do standing up – like putting your underpants on. So I cheated and stayed with friends near Keswick – it’s important to have friends in the North.

They persuaded me to join them the next day as marshals for a sponsored fell walk (a gut-busting 20-mile route march around the ridges of the Newlands Valley). I didn’t take much persuading. Like most men I jump at the opportunity to wear a tabard while holding a walkie-talkie.

Despite their curtains having the correct opacity, we set off at 5am the next morning. We climbed towards our allocated checkpoint, the cairn on High Spy (AW No 110) and call sign “High Spy” was “on station” by 7am.

Derwent Water 7amWe watched the sun rise over Derwent Water from our magnificent viewpoint and mused about life. Then, for the best part of five hours, we greeted and triaged some 200 fell-walkers in various states of distress. An independent solo walker, who had clearly picked the wrong fell on the wrong day, stopped too and exclaimed, “I came up here to get away from people!”

I too had seen the sublime turn into the ridiculous. I’d needed to see a few folks that first day on the fells for reassurance, but now flash mobs were diminishing the splendidness of their isolation. I wondered what was the correct amount of people to fell-walk with? AW concluded that, “if you must take someone along, make sure that they are silent.”

On my return to Sutton Coldfield, I concluded that it is indeed possible to live in a Land Rover – for short periods at least. And for equally short periods it’s liberating to be alone. But, if long-term loneliness is the price of a truly liberated life, unlike AW, I’m not prepared to pay it.

With only sixteen Wainwrights in the bag and another 198 to go, I suspect there will be many more nights in the back of Landie ahead before this foolish endeavour is over – so I must get those curtains fixed.

If you enjoyed this blog my books can be bought here

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I love Cox – but not time travel

Thanks to Brian Cox I did a bit of time traveling in Birmingham last Friday. Well, it was really thanks to my girlfriend’s love of the television presenter and his ability to make astrophysics sexy.

I don’t remember the appearance of the professor who lectured me on quantum theory at University, other than that he had a regulation beard and was anything but sexy. And I don’t recall thinking that he could make some serious money by taking his slides on tour. Or that one day, I’d part with a serious amount of mine to listen to another two hour physics lecture – but that is what I had done.

Brian’s lecture was much better attended than Prof’s and held in a slightly bigger theatre – the aircraft hanger currently called the Barclaycard Arena.

However rebranded, the National Indoor Arena (as I still call it) will always have appalling acoustics and for most, attending a concert there will always be like watching a football match when all the action is around the far goal. You stare at the big video screen, instead of the stick insects in front of it, and wonder if you’d have been better off (literally and experientially) watching a recording at home. It would be better if the Arena, like a football match, had stages at both ends then the performers could swap at half time – but I digress.

I don’t know if an intimate evening with Brian Cox and seven thousand nerds can be called a “concert” but it had all the trappings of one. Plastic beer in plastic bottles, long queues for loos, parking purgatory and even merchandise!

When I took my seat around the halfway line, and positioned my body sideways, I realised it was the same seat I’d occupied while watching U2 over a decade ago. I wondered if the seat was actually some sort of time machine. It seemed like only yesterday, when I’d stood in front of it screaming the anthemic lyrics that, I suspect, not even Bono really understands.

I’d bought tickets to the ‘concert’ as a birthday present for Debbie who
sat next to me in a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I Love Cox” she’d procured at a previous “gig”. Seeing her excited anticipation, I knew I would bathe in brownie points for at least a week.

One of the many things I love about her is that she is a “science chic” and an enthusiastic astronomer. However the boyish charms attached to Brian’s large brain were clearly a significant part of his attraction to her and the myriad of other middle aged, middle class mothers around us. Other demographics included young teenagers with their dads, who I assumed were going to do well in their exams.

I spotted Mark, an ex-work colleague of mine that I hadn’t seen in over a decade. He had aged, as no doubt had I, but my transformation was not apparent in any mirror. I had changed slowly, his wrinkles had, for me at least, appeared instantly. Although he was sat within shouting distance, I didn’t alert him to my presence. We had been travelling down different paths of space-time for so long it wasn’t worth getting reacquainted, as our trajectories were unlikely to cross again.

I don’t know if it was seeing him, or the chair that had transported my mind back in time to my former life when I lived in the centre of Birmingham. I’d lived and worked within walking distance of the arena for almost two decades and that evening we’d parked near my old apartment. We had been to a restaurant in Brindley Place, my old stomping ground. While listening to Brian convince me that time was relative, I realised why I’d felt so uncomfortable walking through my old manor.

Being a Friday, there had been a buzz about the place. The bars were overflowing with city types, drinking after work, some still in their suits. That was exactly how I used to spend my Friday evenings when I’d had a so-called proper job. It was a lifetime ago, before the Chalet Project and before I became a geriatric ski bum.

Friday nights were special then and often the social highlight of a boozy business week. Friday nights were sacrosanct; only boring people stayed in on a Friday, or ones with no friends. Now my Friday nights seem to involve going to a physics lecture – time had made more than just physical changes to me.

Brian’s lecture was much more enthralling than any of Profs, or maybe I was more engaged with the subject than I’d been at University, having traversed so much space-time in between. If I’d known then that being good at physics could turn you into a rock star I might have paid more attention to Prof.

After the “gig”, on our way back to the car, we weaved through the smokers drinking alfresco – loud music and excited voices emitting from every bar. I remarked how little Friday night had changed in Brindley Place and I felt very nostalgic. Then I wondered if I might bump into my old self and what warning from the future I would give me – probably “go home”.

Brian explained why Einstein concluded time was relative and why, through experimentation most scientists now agree with him. I concluded their definition of the word ‘time’ was different to mine. Their time was a dimension; I used the word ‘time’ to describe the linear progression of events – I think I might have to start calling it “history book time”.

Brian’s ‘time’ was relative to speed – mine was too. Time seems to stands still for me when I’m stuck or bored, but races past when my life is moving fast. So much had happened so fast since I’d worked with Mark – my chair might not have been a time machine after all.

At least Brian and I agreed on something. You may be able to accelerate into the future but you can’t go back in time. To reminisce about the past is pointless – however you define it, time will change us but we can’t change time.

Chris Tomlinson’s books – can be bought online here

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2017 – The Best and Worst of Ski Seasons

Skiing books

Laax

It had been the best and worst of seasons, as Dickens might have described it – one lacking in snow and beset with Land Rover problems from its outset. Morzine had seen a brutally cold January and tropical temperatures in March – but I’d had some fabulous skiing experiences in the Dolomites and Laax.

Winter 2017 had also seen a particularly eclectic mix of people stay at Chalet Framboise: Old friends and new, some entertaining, some irritating, some flawed and some fascinating – all ripe for literary assassination. The season had produced some good material for the final instalment of the Skiing with Demons trilogy (publication date unknown).

skiing books

Dolomites

There was a lot to reflect on whilst driving north. I’d undertaken Wine Run 7, as my northerly migration is known, alone. One last twist in the season’s tail meant I was without my co-driver, and chief medical officer.

We had been hanging around in Morzine, waiting for a Land Rover part, but Debbie had run out of holiday and had flown back to the UK. There was one day left before I too had to vacate Chalet Framboise. The couriers website, claimed the part (a rear prop shaft) would be delivered before 6pm that day, but I wasn’t confident.

Getting parts delivered to France is tricky. They arrive in Morzine with impressive rapidity, but the last mile to the chalet is always the hardest relying as it does, on the French postal system.

Knowing that French postmen simple cough outside your door and immediately conclude that no one is home, I’d literally waited by my door all day. At 3pm I started to panic. The prospect of driving Landie home with no drive to the rear wheels was daunting. I checked the tracking website again and to my horror the package status had changed to “Failed delivery – returned to depot.”

Livid, I jumped in Landie and nursed her down to the Post office, to protest. There was a queue. The official behind the desk did what all officials do when there is a queue – he proceeded slowly. I watched as a young English couple in front of me had handed over their failed delivery note. He then asked them for  identification. The parcel was addressed to their dad. They had his passport and his surname, and I assumed they were not trying to collect gold ingots for his pre-Brexit stash, but there was no way he was going to give them the parcel.

After their sheepish retreat, and still with a little steam coming out of my ears, I stepped up to the desk. Having just heard him eloquently dismiss my predecessors in their mother tongue I made a rookie mistake – I started the encounter in English.   “You tried to deliver a parcel today, I was in all day, I believe it is back here?” I said, knowing full well it had never left the building. Sensing my frustration his reply was, “Speak French.”

computer-says-no_o_1699339.jpgRealising what I’d done, I apologised and tried again in Franglais. I gave him the tracking number and he typed it into his computer, then gave me the French equivalent of ‘the computer says no’.  I showed him the email proving “Le carton, was dans la maison” “Maybe we will deliver it tomorrow?” – he said, accidentally reverting to English.

I explained that I had to leave “La house of raspberries de matin” and that I had voted to Remain. He turned back to his computer and with out typing anything, decided it was worth looking in the store room.

After a while and presumably a quick espresso, he returned holding what could only be a prop shaft. He placed it behind him and started the paperwork – in France the paperwork often takes longer than the job it pertains to, but at least I could see the object of my desire.

I couldn’t prove I lived at the chalet, they hadn’t left a failed delivery card, because they had only pretended to deliver it. Added to this the first name on my passport didn’t match that of the recipient on the package – he wasn’t happy. I thought about leaning over, grabbing the prop shaft and doing a runner but decide instead to state my intention not to leave the building without it. I asked him what time the post office shut and where was the best place for me to sleep – it did the trick.

propshaft

After successfully installing the new prop shaft, my arms were covered in grease and my fingernails impregnated with oil. I felt very manly and had a strange desire to eat a Yorkie Bar (do they still make those?)

The next morning I set off at 5:30am with a full moon and the stars illuminating my way. A deer and a fox, were the only traffic I encountered as I wound Landie down the mountain to Cluses and joined the motorway.

Once on the motorway, the prospect of being imprisoned with my thoughts for 16 hours was daunting. Having done the journey 6 times before, the navigation was easy – west, past Geneva then turn north towards Dijon. I was also familiar with the psychological way markers.

Dijon seemingly takes forever to reach and there is an overriding feeling of foreboding, as every new rattle and squeak Landie makes is a harbinger of doom. Once Dijon is captured the cities of Troyes, Reims and Saint-Quentin seem to fall easily. Passing Reims is always poignant for me having spent a night in its hospital. Finally, when the first sign to Calais appears the smell of diesel fumes are diluted with a whiff of success.

I stopped for fuel just after Dijon and noticed something leaking out of my left rear hub. It wouldn’t be a proper Wine Run without Landie leaving a trail of some kind of liquid, I thought. I took no action, other than to drive faster in order to get to the ferry before whatever was leaking ran out.

During the journey, for distraction, I tried to recall all the people who had visited me that year. Like the snow, my regulars had been a bit thin on the ground. A new type of guest, ‘my readers’ had filled the ranks. Many had come to visit the crime scene of Skiing with Demons and to meet the central protagonist. They had made me feel like an attraction at a freak show. I wondered if they had been disappointed? I was no longer the party animal of Morzine and was now a recluse, hiding in a remote chalet on its outskirts and seldom seen in its bars.

I also pontificated on whether this would be my last Wine Run. Landie had caused me a lot of stress that winter. Even when she had been running well the anxiety of not knowing where and when she would break down next had been crippling and even though I’d replaced most of her parts my confidence in her was at an all time low. The problem was I knew my collection of new parts were held together by the same rusting chassis and idiosyncratic design.

Perhaps I could return to Zine without Landie? But it wouldn’t be the same without her. She had become part of my persona and was often a source of misguided pride. I wouldn’t be “Chalet Chris” if I drove around in a Toyota Yaris – the world’s most reliable car. I concluded that :

“You can take the man out of a Defender, but you can’t take the Defender out of the man.”

doverOnce Calais fell, I pulled into the EU citizens queue at the ferry port. I wondered if post-Brexit there could be three lines: one for non-EU citizens, one for EU citizens and one for Remainers?

The ferry was full of the usual suspects: parties of annoying school kids, lorry drivers, Eastern European migrant workers and those too fat or too frightened to fly.
I hid in the boats posh restaurant.

As the white cliffs of Dover loomed, the next psychological part of the journey began. The cliffs reminded me that the English section of the journey home, is actually the hardest. The traffic, the road works and physical fatigue make it the most painful. Despite the comfort of being within the reach of the AA’s home relay service – the last 150 miles are always the longest.

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Sutton Park

Finally Sutton Coldfield was in sight and the prospect of a canine welcome lifted my soul. Only dogs know how to do a welcome home. It took me 15mins to get past Oscar before I could embrace Debbie. She felt guilty that I’d had to drive home alone. But alone had been better – the forced solitude had given me time to think. Landie had been my decompression chamber as I transitioned from my winter environment to my summer one.

I’d promised to do a lot of things that summer – mostly “sort my life out.” I’d been through the best and worst of times, but now it was time to make good on those promises and not just hibernate until winter came around.

Want more ? order signed copies of Skiing with Demons here

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Style Altitude – interviews a “geezonaire”

Interview with a geezonaire

Definition of a Geezoniare : a ski bum over 50

Being asked for an interview by Elaine Deed,  Style Altitude’s editor in chief and former fashion editor at Tatlor, was flattering. Being called a “geezonaire” –  not so much.

Not really being known for my dress or indeed skiing style, she was more interested in my books  and the Alpine life of another 50 year-old ski bum or geezonaire as she calls us.

Anyway – does this mean I’m finally famous ?

Full transcript here :
http://www.stylealtitude.com/chalet-guy-the-man-behind-the-morzine-chalet-project.html

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Who are the Agents of Entropy ?

Excerpt from The Agents of Entropy

morzinenightsky

Photo by Harry Flashman @ snowheads

Scientifically speaking, entropy is a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system. It’s also a fundamental law of thermodynamics: that any closed system evolves toward a state of maximum entropy.

I believe the forces that create entropy are constantly working on me. I’ll save you from my full thesis on the subject, which I’ll admit has its scientific flaws, but I’ve noticed that the thermodynamic system called ‘my life’ tends to a state of disorder and I constantly lose irretrievable energy trying to prevent it from falling into chaos.

I may not be alone in this. For example, have you noticed how a house becomes untidy all on its own? Objects don’t just leap out of the cupboards, something or someone, has used energy to move them and you must deploy an equal amount of energy to put them back. In the thermodynamic system known as ‘a chalet’ this is a constant process and the energy used is entropic, it cannot be reused for constructive purposes – it’s gone forever. I call the ‘somethings and someones’ the ‘Agents of Entropy’ and I’ve unwittingly been at war with them all my life.

Most of the Agents are human, although some appear in animal form, usually disguised as domestic pets. Others are mental constructs, like the Ski Demons, that cause disorder and a lot of heat in my head. Some are simply forces of nature (extreme weather) or the passage of time (ageing) that destroy the order we humans create.

Chalet guests are the most common Agents of Entropy in my universe, especially if they’ve had a drink. Some are worse than others: the feckless, the bad timekeepers, the accident-prone and those who always seem to get into a scrape.

Children start out as Agents and don’t need the influence of drink. But some get better at fighting for order once they’ve been through that teenage Agents of Anarchy stage.

Even well-disciplined adults can temporarily become Agents, especially when they go on holiday. I think it’s called letting your hair down or reliving your youth. Such Agents have a tendency to leave their stuff all over the chalet or randomise the molecules of a glass or plate by dropping it onto the floor. If I’m forced to enter their rooms mid-stay, I’ll often find towels, clothes and other, often unsavoury, items scattered all over the place. But I don’t wonder if we’ve had burglars; I just know that an Agent of Entropy has been at work.

Interestingly, when I show guests to their rooms, men will usually mark their territory by dumping their suitcases on their allocated bed then immediately return to the living area to drink beer.They never unpack, but take items out of their cases when they’re needed.Women, however usually disappear for at least an hour and unpack their bags, utilising the room’s storage furniture and setting up their toiletries in the bathroom – and heaven knows what else. Given this difference in gender behaviour, it’s interesting that the laws of thermodynamics are not sexist and by the end of their stay nearly all the rooms look like a burglar has been through them. Anyway, enough about sexual stereotypes – it’s got me into too much trouble before.

The most prolific Agents are the clumsy and the impatient. They work away at the fabric of the chalet.You could call it wear-and-tear, but there’s a never-ending list of maintenance issues I have to waste entropic energy rectifying. Showers, windows, door-handles and kitchen devices seemingly malfunction all on their own. Not a day goes by when I don’t have to replace or repair something and I’m staggered by the number of toilet seats I’ve had to fix/replace since the Chalet Project began – what on Earth are people doing in there?

I’ve devised a simple test to identify the Agents of Entropy, which I call the ‘French Door’ test. If a guest can consistently operate French door furniture without breaking it, they’re safe to leave on their own (more about the French Door Test later).

Some friends are worse Agents than others and whenever they come into my life an increase in disorder, if not chaos, is usually the result.They can lead me to change sides and engage in entropic activity myself. I sometimes think I become a double Agent of Entropy when I’ve done something stupid or self-destructive, or something that cannot be undone, or said something I didn’t mean that can’t be unsaid.

The worse Agent of Entropy is time. It has a slow but unstoppable effect on the randomness of the human body. I have to put an ever-increasing amount of energy into biological maintenance – by eating well and keeping fit enough to do battle with the other Agents.

The alpine weather is a powerful Agent too.Wind, snow and ice cause chaos and disorder, blocking roads and bursting pipes and avalanches are particularly good at randomising stuff that gets in their way. No matter how much we humans create order, a violent storm or biblical flood can mix everything up again.

I’m undecided if Mother Nature herself is an Agent of Entropy: ivy attacks our walls and tree roots undermine our foundations. Then again, living things are highly structured in a biological sense. She can organise oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and calcium atoms in some amazingly complicated ways. Maybe she has a different definition of order. Humans order things in straight lines and separate them into groups, but Mother Nature’s idea of ‘order’ is higgledy-piggledy and evenly mixed up. Anyway, that’s enough about gardening.

Entropy’s agents often like to work together which is why bad things happen in threes. Landie always breaks down when I’m trying to fix something else and then a ‘someone or something’ misplaces my phone. I’ve also noticed that the Agents wait until I’ve got a hangover before springing their coordinated attacks.

The Agents of Entropy work on a macro as well as a microscopic scale. Empires fall, civilisations collapse and humans, like the dinosaurs, will eventually become extinct.The Earth itself is on a march towards randomness and will eventually be consumed by the sun. If you view a life, a chalet, a planet or a solar system as a closed thermodynamic entity, then you know that the war for order cannot ultimately be won. Everything we build will be broken, grown over, eroded and, sooner rather than later, we too will be turned into dust.

I know that believing in supernatural entities masquerading as humans, makes me sound like David Icke (more about skiing with David Icke later) , but my conspiracy theory is based on science. I’ve simply extended the laws of thermodynamics to explain the chaos that goes on in my life. You may have suspected that forces beyond your control have been working against you all your life too – well now you can give them a collective name.

You can buy SWD II – The Agents of Entropy  – here.

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Season 7 – Fancy Skiing With Demons?

landiewheelcoverThe clocks have finally gone back and it will soon be time for me to go skiing rather than writing about it. The Bacon Run looms and it’s also time to put winter tyres on Landie, fix everything on her that broke last season and rename her  Trigger’s Broom.

chalet-framboise-morzine

Framboise

The Chalet Project is returning to Chalet Framboise in January, where I hope some of you will join me. Then I’m going on an actual skiing holiday in the Dolomites (early Feb) –  although the Ski Nazis have organised that trip so it might not be so relaxing.

I’m also leading a Peak Experience holiday for the Ski Club in Laax (25th March) and I hope to see a few more familiar faces there too – Laax is a lovely place. It should be an interesting season – but then, they always are.

The “The Bloody Book II” (BBII), as Debbie calls it, is finally finished or at least I hope it is – you never can be certain that a book is finished until you hold it in your hand. I hope you’ll  enjoy reading it when I finally get it printed.  It’s mostly about an existential crisis, and I’ve suffered even more existential angst writing it. But I’ll publish and be damned.

Don’t sartreworry, it contains plenty of skiing and drinking anecdotes too, and makes fun of the English, the French and myself in equal measures. To quote my biggest fan:

“If you enjoy jokes about gender or regional stereotypes and self-serving anecdotes disguised as false modesty” – then you should love it.

If you fancy skiing with me (demons optional) this season, February is mostly booked now, but I still have space in January and March. You can book a room, for just a few days, or the entire chalet for a week – I promise not to write about you or make you ski The Wall!

I always wonder, if a forthcoming season will be my last because the Chalet Project can’t go on forever (one of the themes in BBII). However Season 7 is afoot, the fitness campaign has started and so has my marketing campaign to fill the chalet.

I do think it’s ironic that the Project was designed to prevent me from having to using the ‘M’ word ever again, yet it has dragged me out of retirement.

 Once the clocks have gone back and everyone is returning from work in the dark, they start to plan their winter holidays to cheer themselves up – so book early to save (my) disappointment.
kilts

 It’s going to be a bit more expensive in the Alps this season. Although #BREXIT has made life easier for those not good at maths by creating a global single currency (£1=€1=$1).  At least I have two years of being a European left, so I’m going to enjoy Season 7 and possibly Season 8.  After that the Project might have to move to Scotland – I wonder if I’d look good in a kilt ?

P.S.  Let me know if you can work out where I was standing when I took the top photograph. Here’s a clue – I wasn’t in Morzine.

Buy: Bloody Book I      |      Book: Chalet Framboise

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