Not all Chalet Girls are on a ‘gap yah-er’

You maybe familiar with the ‘seasonaire’ stereotype, but these days not all chalet girls are called Pippa, wear Alice bands and Ugg boots, and are on a gap yah-er.

So don’t be surprised, the next time you knock on a chalet door, if a more mature breed of “chalet girl” opens it, one who has a northern accent, a beard and introduces herself as “Colin”.

The chick-flick film ‘Chalet Girl’ has done the most to reinforce the stereotype. Despite loving Bill Nighy, I hated the film for that, and many other reasons – but then I thought Reservoir Dogs had too much love-action.

chalet girl

In Morzine you’re more likely to bump into a Colin than a Pippa, even though I’m sure her stereotype still exists in more expensive resorts. Increasingly, now skiing has become more accessible, seasonaires are coming from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds – as indeed, do their guests.

Even though I rarely don furry boots, seldom need a hair restraint and, unfortunately, “Daddy” won’t be paying off my credit card any time soon – I am technically a “seasonaire”.

More accurately, having “done” five seasons in a row, I am a “serial seasonaire”. The prefix ‘serial’, correctly implies some pathological issue associated with the word it precedes. But I didn’t sign up for a one time Alpine odyssey to experience the novelty of servitude, the social acceptability of binge drinking and the opportunity to be promiscuous – I’ve chosen “seasonaire” as a life style!

But at 52, I’m better seasoned than the average seasonaire, and now do all but one of the above in moderation. I believe whatever their age or background, all skiers/boarders deserve a gap-year, a career-break, a midlife crisis – call it what you will. Every snow-sport enthusiast deserves to spend at least one season in the Alps.

The problem with being a skiing enthusiast and living in the UK (Scotland aside) is you can only do what you love once or twice a year. If your passion were golf for instance, you’d get a round in at least once a week without too much sacrifice or indeed too much marital strife. It’s a bit like taking up yachting when you live in Birmingham – ill advised.

snowHead-sqrMaybe this is why Skiing With Demons seems to have captured the imagination of hundreds of UK snow-dreamers on the snowheads.com forum, where most of us hang out. Many have congratulated me on having the gumption to live their dream – although they may change their dreams after reading the book.

More worryingly, many have bought the book as a present for their wives, given the inscriptions they request. This could just be the typical male Christmas behaviour; buying their partner something they want to read themselves. But I suspect many might be trying to send their less snow-orientated halves a message, primarily:

bad-christmas-present-for-women“Shall we bugger off to the Alps too – here is the manual?”

I suspect many will get the same reply as I did:

“What, so you can go skiing with the guests while I cook and clean all day?!”

This isn’t exclusively a male fantasy, I can assure you of that. More than half of the purchasing SnowHeads have been women and, despite the book getting an early sexist yellow card, has been favourably reviewed by the fairer sex. Most of them have worked out that it pokes more fun at the stereotypical menopausal male than the female skier.

anazonfrontI fear a few of the blokes might not have been so observant, having read the sample chapter ‘Girlfriend Skiing’ online, and are hoping the gift will explain why they get so frustrated on the piste themselves with their wives.

They could of course be purchasing what is a fun stocking-filler, for anyone who loves to ski ,without any agenda. Most of my friends and family will be getting a copy – as I think they have already guessed.

But I should really wrap it in a warning, that if you let your other half read it, they might turn into a Colin, and if they do, don’t blame me!

 more …..

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Boyfriend Skiing – Another Ring of Truth

In order to atone for my controversial, Girlfriend Skiing, chapter – I thought I’d add this supplementary blog. I was tempted to simply replace the word ‘girl’ with ‘boy’ and repost the chapter – but where would be the fun in that?

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I refer to it as ‘Boyfriend Skiing’, or BF skiing for short, but any romantic connection between the participants is optional. It describes the common problems faced by women who are significantly better skiers than their hairier halves.

boyfriend-skiingThe first and most common problem for both parties is recognising they are in a BF or GF skiing relationship. Men always think they’re better skier than they actually are, and almost all women underestimate their ability. But girls, if the skills gap is unarguably in your favour, you’ll need to manage the situation carefully, if you ever want him to return to the slopes.

If he is a beginner, it’s not a good idea to dump him in ski school everyday while you bugger off into the backcountry with Jean-Pierre – local guide and notorious Lothario.

And, even if you’re a qualified instructor, it’s a worse idea to try and teach him to ski yourself. If the relationship is to survive you’ll need to spend at least one day BF skiing with your Beau, if you want to keep him.

BF skiing means adopting the same attitude needed for successful GF skiing. It means waking up on the designated BF day, and saying to yourself – “today I’m Boyfriend Skiing” then flicking your boots into walk-mode, grabbing some long thin piste skis and taking your camera instead of your transceiver.

Meanwhile the BF will be having a team chat with his reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Today we’re going to leave it all on the mountain”, “don’t let her see your fear.” “Move aside, Jean-Pierre, I’m taking my woman back.”

However, BF skiing is harder to pull off than GF skiing thanks to the fragile nature of the male ego with the additional complication that most men don’t like being told what to do – especially by women. Most also have a sexist opinion of female navigational skills, so girls, you’ve got your work cut out.

Don’t be too bossy. There is an art to being in control, without looking like a control freak, which must be mastered before attempting BF skiing – the passive-aggressive approach works well.

passive aggressive caution_1“Where would you like to ski today darling?” you ask, while having a perfect BF skiing plan in mind. Whatever he comes up with first, just say, “well that’s fine, it’s your day dear, where ever you want to go, we’ll go.” Let him cycle through alternatives until he hits on your plan, then agree it’s the best option.

Before setting off, make sure he has applied sunscreen. He might not care about his skin but if his skiing improves sufficiently, making marriage a possibility, you’ll potentially have to look at his mug for a long time. It doesn’t hurt to run through a full equipment check too before leaving the chalet – remember he’s just a large child and you’re simply taking over from his mother.

Like GF skiing, the choice of terrain is critical for a successful day’s BF skiing. Try and find empty wide blue runs to allow him to ski at ludicrously high speeds without endangering others and always ski behind him yourself for your own safety. Expert BF skiers can occasionally request he slows down – so they can catch up.

If you think your BF is able, it’s always good to find an easy black run he can notch up on his belt and give him something to brag about in the bar later. Avoid all mogul fields, couloirs and heavily wooded areas – they will expose his lack of turning ability. You might get a free helicopter ride out of it, but you’re the one who’ll be helping him walk to the toilet for next ten weeks.

Ski-tracks-chamonix-mont-blanc-retreatThe choice of lunchtime restaurant is important too. It must have a swanky wine list enabling the BF to show his superior expertise in something. Don’t worry, he will always choose the 2nd cheapest bottle from it. For similar reasons, allow him to order his own food in French and don’t laugh when the snail consommé turns up. Also remember to be impressed when he inevitably wants to shows you the top speed of the morning, he recorded on his Ski Tracks app.

After lunch it’s especially important to keep the BF away from ski-school areas. Most men suffer with PLAD (post luncheon attention deficit) and he’ll ski like a missile with faulty guidance software. If he does take out a kindergarten class, ski past until you’re out of sight, then wait until you can’t hear shouting anymore.

Remember, despite the picturesque scenery, the log cabin accommodation and cozy blazing fire – don’t expect any romance in the evening. You might be on a holiday, but he is on a survival course, so don’t wear him out in bed.

I believe it is possible for mixed ability couples to enjoy a skiing holiday equally, but only if the better skier understands the principles of Girlfriend Skiing or indeed Boyfriend Skiing. Interestingly, which approach will be most effective with your spouse, isn’t always determined by his/her sex!

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Related blogs:  An apology to my ski girlfriends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Swiss Wall & The Chairlift of Shame

Excerpt from ‘Skiing With Demons’  chapter 3.

The Swiss WallNothing particularly frightening has ever come out of Switzerland. Graham Greene famously wrote:‘500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they [the Swiss] produce – the cuckoo clock!’ Given that nothing scary begins with the word ‘Swiss’, it amuses me that the most intimidating ski run in Avoriaz should be called the Le Mur Suisse – The Swiss Wall.

‘The Wall’, as the run is commonly referred to, is officially called Le Pas de Chavanette, it’s often mentioned in newspaper articles with titles like ‘The World’s Scariest Ski Runs’. It usually comes in at second or third on such subjective lists. Less subjective are its vital statistics.

It’s 1km long, during which time it drops 400 metres. The top of the run has an incline of 76%, so steep that you can’t see the face of the slope while standing at the top. It’s often covered in moguls the size of VW Beetles.

Given the unthreatening nature of the word ‘Swiss’, its use in this context must be for purely geographical reference, the top of the run being in France and the bottom being in Switzerland. The word ‘wall’ is more informative because walls are usually vertical, hard and unyielding.

the chairlift of shame

The Chairlift of shame

The comparative difficulty of any given run depends almost entirely on the snow conditions they’re attempted in, although, in some cases, the name of the run is important too. Give a run a name like ‘The Wall’ and you give it an auspicious notoriety. It automatically becomes ten degrees steeper than it actually is. With a suitably foreboding name a run can build a reputation – one that gets embellished by those who have skied it, in order to underline their achievement. Comments such as ‘Yes, I skied the Widow Maker – but I don’t want to talk about it,’ followed with a vacant gaze into the distance, being the classic way to do this.

The truth is you don’t need a death wish to ski the Wall. Dozens of not especially accomplished skiers (like me) get down it each day without significant incident and live to embellish the danger they faced. Taking on the Wall, like most skiing, is a mental challenge rather than a physical one.

The most important ingredient for any descent is confidence. If you think you’re going to fall – you will fall. Skiing can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and my main prophets of doom are the Ski Demons.

The Ski Demons are the voices in my head that feed on my self-doubt. They tell me I’m going to fall. They tell me, ‘Frankly Chris, you’re not capable of completing the skiing challenge ahead.’ They doubt my ability, my fitness and my courage. If I pause too long at the top of a pitch they drag me into a debate about the difficulty of the terrain below. ‘It looks a bit icy Chris’ or ‘it’s too steep for you Chris.’ They give me plausible excuses I can use to wimp out. ‘I’m nursing an injury’ or ‘I brought the wrong skis.’

If I man up and drop in, I usually silence them by making those all-important first turns successfully. But if I fall they pipe up again with ‘We told you so.’

If things go completely pear-shaped, and I suffer a sequence of falls their voices become deafening. ‘This time Chris you’ve started a descent you’re not going to finish – you’ll need a helicopter to get out of this one!’

We all have Ski Demons that feed on our mortal fears. Sometimes the fear isrational: fear of injury or death. Sometimes it’s primeval: fear of heights or being buried alive. Sometimes the fear is emotional: fear of failure, fear of embarrassment or fear of fear itself – panic. Skiing is a veritable buffet for demons if we let them eat.

When debutants take their first look at the Wall’s steep and icy entry point, many audibly swallow. The slope seemingly vanishes into mid-air and is often shrouded in mist for dramatic effect. On busy days, the entrance can be blocked with skiers, peering over into the abyss, straining their necks like meerkats to see the extent of the slope, some obviously wishing they hadn’t agreed to ski it in the bar the previous night.

Those who change their mind can watch their more courageous friends descend it from the Chavanette chairlift, which runs down its side. I jokingly call it the ‘Chairlift of Shame’ because it’s ridden by those who’ve wimped out.

Goaded by a mate, I first found myself on the Wall too early in my skiing career and grew to hate what became an annual pilgrimage to it. But, no matter how many times I’d successfully got down it, a battalion of butterflies still amassed in my stomach whenever I approach the wretched run, such was the terror it had engraved in my psyche. Until one day an ESF guide cured me of the problem.

The guide had been organised by a Ski Club Leader and a few of the members, including me, had signed up for a day off-piste. His chiselled facial features were darkly tanned from spending a lifetime in the mountains. His faded, red jacket, with a gold medal hanging from his breast, were signs that he’d reached the highest ranks in the organisation. He was also wearing a white, knitted sweatband that only an ESF guide could wear without looking camp. This head garment was clearly a fashion accessory; he was never going to break into a sweat skiing with ‘Les Anglais’.

After several sweaty and exhausting hours of extreme-skiing (for me at least), we found ourselves at the top of ‘The Couloir of Certain Death’ as it surely must have been called. ‘He never mentioned a couloir, did he?’ I said to my companions.

Swiss WallLike most skiers, we had hired a guide to take us out of our comfort zone and he had spectacularly succeeded. He didn’t flinch when we exhibited the telltale signs of a First Refusal – probing the snow in front with our poles and adopting an ostrich-like stance. He assured us that it was within our capabilities, and that it was part of the ESF’s esprit du corps that they always returned with the same number of clients they’d left with. Not wanting to blot his record, we dropped in.

I tentatively picked my way down using little jump turns; stopping to congratulate myself after completing each one. He was right; it was within our capabilities since most of us made it down without falling. One foolhardy comrade chose ‘route one’. He pointed his skis directly down the couloir and accelerated past me like a missile. Presumably hoping to find somewhere flat enough at the bottom to lose the immense speed he would accumulate, or at least to find somewhere soft to crash. As the couloir exited onto the Wall, neither option presented itself.

After my own less spectacular exit from the couloir, I found myself perched on a mogul halfway up the Wall. While catching my breath with the other survivors, I spluttered, ‘Never thought I’d be so happy to find myself on the bloody Wall.’ They all laughed, but I wasn’t joking.

Now, whenever I find myself panicking on the Wall, I look up at that couloir, I’ve now renamed ‘The Couloir of Almost Certain Death’, and consider myself to be in a comparatively safe position.

The Wall may not be the most difficult run in the Alps, but its notoriety increases with every skier who conquers it. Once I’d got over the Wall, so to speak, no marked piste would ever hold any fear.

Except from ‘Skiing With Demons’ by Chris Tomlinson

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An apology to My Ski Girlfriends

 

UPDATES here : Sexism raises its ugly head – again !

I’ve decided to take Sample Chapter 19 ‘Girlfriend Skiing’ offline!

Girlfriend SkiingA lot of people (mostly men it has to be said) thought it was hilarious but a few people (mostly female it also has to be said) thought it was sexist – it was meant to be funny and I apologise.

My actual Girlfriend (Debbie), on which it was based, laughed out loud when she proofread it – but that could just have been at my atrocious spelling. I’m mortified, that it came across as sexist, having made the point early on in the chapter that ‘Girlfriend Skiing’ can be done with both sexes. However ‘Significant-other-of-lesser-ability Skiing’ wouldn’t have been so catchy.

The problem with writing my memoir I discover, is that I will unavoidably get tagged with a lot of ‘ists’: narcissist, fascist, jingoist, ageist, fantasist, hedonist, anthropomorphist, alienist and now sexist – please feel free to add to the list in the comments section below.

The problem with trying to be humorous is that it’s so easy to step over the line between funny and offensive. Most jokes play on stereotypes and people laugh at them because they have a similarly long list of ‘ists’ themselves.

Unfortunately (fortunately?) I cannot remove Chapter 19 from the actual book at this stage. So maybe you can order it, read it, and let me know what you think?

I apologise now if it offends you too, but there will be no refunds!

Update: by popular demand Girlfriend Skiing is now back online.

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Cheers

Chris

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Why did I write a book ?

Chris Tomlinson - Ski Club LeaderI’m not sure why I wrote it, or more accurately, I’m not prepared to tell you the real reasons. In fact I’m not even prepared to be honest with myself about its purpose.

It could have been a cathartic exercise to purge myself of the demons it alludes to. It could be an attempt to gain fame and fortune (unlikely), or simply an act of vanity (likely) – there can surely be no more narcissistic act than writing a memoir?

It could have been an attempt to gain immortality, a record of my insignificant existence on the planet (probably).  It could just have been that I wanted to set the record straight or maybe to apologise for my behaviour (evidently) – you’ll have to read it and decide.

Ski Demon

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Excitement builds – the cover illustration arrives

Just got the cover graphic from the illustrator (Dan House) – very pleased.

Of course you need to read the book to understand why it’s so perfect for Skiing With Demons. It shows the Apres Aliens arriving, a backdrop of Mt Blanc and one of my skiing/drinking  companions.  What do you think ?

( click image to enlarge)

Skiing with demons

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You really never finish a book – it just gets published!

Its been 3 years in the writing and finally I’ve finished it. Well, actually, my editor and girlfriend (Dr Debs) have forbidden me from fiddling with it any more.

Every time I proof read it I want to change something. Mostly because my opinions and recollections have changed. It really started out as a cathartic process of documenting what happened to me – it didn’t really have a plot or a story line. Somehow I hope I’ve managed to turn it in to a ‘book’, not just a collection of rants.

Part memoir, part observational humour, it now documents my transition from a city living executive, to a garage dwelling ski bum over four winters in the French Alps.

Hopefully, it will be enjoyed by anyone who has either been on a skiing holiday, is thinking of running a ski chalet, wants to be a ski instructor or is planning a midlife crisis.

Skiing With Demons – is due to be released mid-September (2015) – in time for my 53rd birthday!

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Why Self-Publish ?

Because nothing else made sense.

Skiing With DemonsAfter almost being suckered by a vanity publisher – I did my research and discovered that the world of book publishing is now completely different to how I, and most of us, conceptualise it.

You no longer need an agent or a publisher to get a book published. You probably need an editor, a graphic designer and a printer – all of whom are for hire for a modest price.

You might need a publisher to help you market your book.  However, no literary agent or traditional publisher will take a risk on a first time author (like me),  unless they’re famous,  have a staggeringly original work or have friends and influence – none of those predicates applied to me.

I was actually offered two publishing contracts (from vanity-publishers), but it was clear that neither  were going to put any effort behind marketing the book, yet wanted me to contribute to the production costs, sign over most of the royalties and, more importantly, relinquish editorial control.

So, I found a great editor, a great designer and a great print-on-demand provider.

The marketing is down to me – and here I’m doing it!

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