Monthly Archives: October 2011

31/10/11 – Here’s something that could get annoying on the slopes

Yesterday, en route back from the Alps, approaching Dover on Seafrance, I saw something that made me go, “Gggrrrrr!”

On deck, as the white cliffs loomed closer, a family was enjoying the view. The mother was pointing to the horizon behind the vessel, right to left, saying, “It goes Holland, Germany, Denmark,” – she paused, and gesticulated further north-west, “then Norway is over there.” She had clearly paid attention in Geography and her young children were satisfied with the correct explanation of what lay where. Her husband, though, looked doubtful.

Out came the iPhone, and he began squinting at it through his spectacles and fiddling with it, calling up an appropriate app to prove his wife – who looked rather Norwegian or Danish herself – wrong. Ten minutes later, their children bored with his gadget-gazing and his wife increasingly irritated, he was still peering at the wretched thing and muttering that he was going to find out. By the time they filed down to the car deck, his wife was fuming.

Is there an app that would make sense of this? Photo by Nick Lowe

Oh no, I thought, this sort of thing has probably been happening on the slopes. Resorts and organisations have been falling over themselves to produce clever apps to track speed and altitude, check snow reports and see where you are on the lift map, but have they thought properly about how maddening these things will be for people like this sensible woman on the ferry?

I’ve had just one brush with an app on the slopes. A Swiss friend told me about one called Ski Tracks (here’s a useful discussion about it, which tells you things like maximum speed and gradient, and I decided to try it out in the Inferno (

I borrowed an iPhone, turned on the app and wedged it down the front of my catsuit – then couldn’t resist getting it out to take a photo near the start. As my turn approached I struggled to re-find the app, then couldn’t work out if it was still running. Off I went, and at the finish, the gadget revealed that my top speed had been 509kph.

No doubt a user error. Still, I can’t help thinking it’ll be a shame if, every time people stop for a breather, they whip out the gadget – possibly also taking time to check texts and emails as well as route and location.

At least technophobes can take comfort in the possibility that multiple blasts of winter air might drain the batteries and allow everyone a few carefree hours of exploring by using a few pairs of eyes and that nifty pocket-filler, the traditional fluttering paper map…

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Filed under Canada, Gear, Racing, Ski touring, Transport

26/10/11 – A blizzard – just when we needed one

Trockener Steg yesterday morning

Yesterday, I went sledging. There was a howling gale and snow lashing down. My sister, my nephews and I were the only people out in it apart from the piste-basher drivers, and I think they thought we were pretty odd. Although on second thoughts, as we were in Zermatt, which has welcomed its share of British eccentrics over the years, perhaps they didn’t.

We were there to test out various types of sledge for an article I am working on, and to visit friends of ours who run a hotel there. After an uncertain start to the day – 80kph winds up top, no ski runs open, rain turning to snow – it turned out to be rather a success.

En route to Trockener Steg

The tourist office had arranged for us to test the sledges at Trockener Steg, where the pisteurs had bashed us a nice smooth slope between the lift station and the (closed) Furgsattel chair, with a good run-out and even a bump at the end to stop us overshooting.

We spent an hour up there, calling it a day when we were all shivering and my camera was getting soggy.

But it was after we returned to Furi by cable-car that the fun really started.

Furi, a surprise sledger's paradise

At least 5cm of snow had settled on the grassy lower slopes, all the way down to town at 1,600m. We climbed back on board our toboggans and followed the ski run back to Zermatt, attracting baffled stares from the only other people around, groups of ski-testers taking a walk in the absence of open glacier lifts (they will have been pleased that the Klein Matterhorn and three t-bars opened today, in glorious sunshine).

I’m keeping our findings of the toboggan tests under wraps until the article is out – I’ll let you know where and when. But I will reveal that, thanks to the bonus run back to town, we identified one sledge that is truly brilliant for use back home – thanks to its amazing performance on the warm-ish snow we found, just covering an unpredictable mix of grass, stones, a few ditches and the odd manhole, which simulated British conditions perfectly.

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Filed under Gear, Switzerland

19/10/11 – Why I have mixed memories of the ski show

Our 1999 stand at the London Ski Show, then at Olympia

Today I’m going to the Ski and Snowboard Show (19-23 October), at its new home at Earls Court. I love the show – checking out the gear, dreaming of holidays all over the place, having a gluhwein, mingling with hundreds of other ski fanatics – but I fell briefly out of love with it 12 years ago when I was forming a tour operator, More Than Skiing (see ‘About’ on this blog), with my sister.

We’d decided that the best way to promote our fledgling company, which ran holidays to Obergurgl, would be to have a stand at the show, which was then at Olympia.We lived in nearby Chiswick, so it was convenient, and we hoped it would be fun as well as good for business.

Our home-made brochure - many of which went in the bin...

In those days it was 10 days long, spanning two weekends, and it ran well into the evening on weekdays. We set up our (rather ‘busy’ and home-made, I see now, but at least quite original) stand with a good deal of excitement.

The first day or two passed swiftly as we enthusiastically chatted to passers-by and handed out hundreds of home-made brochures (the ski show was our big spend: we did the rest of our set-up on a shoestring). We roped in a few mates to man the stand with us, and made friends with the neighbouring stands – various Canadian resorts, I recall.

The other side of our foldable brochure

By about Tuesday, though, after a couple of quiet-ish days, we lost a bit of impetus. It was disheartening when punters wandered past our stand looking straight through us and ignoring our smiling entreaties to holiday with us. And after thrusting brochures into thousands of hands and then spotting them discarded in bins or on the floor, we started counting the hours until it was over…

We did pick up a handful of firm bookings, and the dirndls got a good outing. But as regular exhibitors will know, after a while the days go slowly and it can be a discouraging business – especially if, like me, you’re not a natural salesman.

I’m happy to be ‘on the other side’ now, but I wish luck and patience to everyone who is spending the full five days there manning a stand.

And what our stint there in 1999 does mean is that I have become a sucker for stopping at almost every stand to chat to its inhabitants, and I end up lugging a sackful of brochures and leaflets home. More recently, though, this habit has become a bonus: as I’m always on the lookout for fresh ideas for ski articles, the chit-chat and paper mountain are pretty much compulsory.

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Filed under Austria

8/10/11 – Here’s my 1/21st of Wanderlust’s snowy special

It's worth it - once you get there

I chanced upon a link this morning – to one of my own stories, which is being used as an online preview for a bumper winter special in my favourite adventure travel magazine.

Wanderlust, which is published eight times a year, is running 21 articles about intrepid winter trips in its November issue, which is out next Thursday (13 October). The magazine largely avoids downhill skiing, but the editor wanted a piece on ski touring and I was lucky enough to be asked to write it.

Here is the link:

To see it in full technicolour, and find out what the 20 other snowy activities are – I reckon it’ll range from dog-sledding in Scandinavia to winter trekking in Morocco – get down to your newsagent from 13 October and buy the glossy real thing!

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Filed under Food and drink, Gear, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland, Transport