By Stuart Elliott and Sharon Tickle
It’s the kind of question put to companions to fill spaces between downhill runs. If nothing else, snow skiing provides endless opportunity for idle chat; long, slow double chair lifts, thirty minute sardine queues for the Lagazuoi cable car, and double bubble rides. At some point someone is going to ask, ‘Why do you ski?’ A simple, personal question requiring reflection to answer honestly.
Now, trapped as we are in a mountain refuge in a whiteout at 2413 metres, weather Italians describe succinctly as ‘Brutta’ (ugly), this is the perfect time to answer that question.
Why He Skis:
The eternal beauty of the mountains enhanced by the purity of the whiteness of the snow glistening in the sun. The contrast of the strong colours of sky, snow and trees. The unwavering solidity of the rock.
Floating and dancing amongst such beauty is uplifting for the soul, awe inspiring and joyful.
The sense of being on the edge. But what does this mean? It is the thrill of speed, the potential danger, the adrenalin rush.
Then there is the sense of freedom, of almost being released from one’s body, gliding. It’s probably the closest I’ll get to being a bird which I hope to return as in my next life.
But the complete skiing experience for me in my latter years includes the welcoming and warming mountain huts with their panoramic views, sun decks and hospitality.
As with most experiences in life, all of the above is enhanced by sharing it with loved ones and friends.
Why She Skis:
My answer has changed slightly over the thirty-plus years I’ve been hurling myself down mountains. At first it was a key part of our courtship. Skiing was something Stuart did as a winter holiday in Europe when he could afford to. He was 25 and I was 20 when we met. He’d already been skiing fifteen years and I had only ever water-skiied in Australia, but I was game to try.
Of course it didn’t always go smoothly, I’m a hard person to teach and bad weather skiing is testing for any relationship. But weather it we did. I love speed and the exhilaration of being constantly on the edge of disaster is addictive.
Ski holidays a deux became ski holidays a quatre as Stuart inducted our sons into alpine holidays. When they became teenagers and more proficient than me I took a step back and encouraged father and son excursions. Both boys loved boarding and skiing and went on to make their own adventures with few, but precious opportunities for skiing en famille.
There came a time in my fifties when I had to make a decision whether I would ever ski again. The economic benefits to communities and whole cities of skiing are indisputable, but the environmental practices and impacts troubled me. Stuart still wanted to ski and with semi-retirement he had even more time to do so. We reached a compromise. Most years I would ski with him one or two weeks and he found ski buddies to ski with more often.
My answer now to the question, ´Why do you ski?’ is essentially the same, but with a twist. I ski because I still enjoy spending time with my husband doing what he loves best in the world besides motorcycling (which I choose not to do with him any more – that’s another story), but I have also grown to love skiing more for its own sake.
Every day, every hour, every slope is different. Each time I point my skis downhill is an opportunity to lean down the mountain and submit to gravity, not knowing what will happen next. Time stops. Thinking stops. Responding refexly starts. I try to meld my body with boots and skis and let them find the best way to navigate a route down (without coming into contact with any other skiier!).
Most days there will be at least one run that opens the floodgates of joy, that fleeting feeling of intense happiness. Duende.
One morning this week we happened on the perfect black run (normally I only take black runs when absolutely necessary). Incline, snow quality, few other skiers and great visibility. Perfection.
We skiied it three times in quick succession and each time I came as close to flying as an earthbound person can get. I could have stayed and played there all day…..
We skiied the Dolomites again this season. It’s hard to better Italian hospitality, vast, well maintained ski areas and the staggering grandeur of their mountains. The first week we stayed in our favourite Ortizei hotel, The Albion, then in the second week we met up with Australian friend, Michael, in Cortina D’ampezzo to stay in his favourite hotel for three nights, the Menardi, then moved up to the top of Mt Averau four nights in a rifugio at 2413 metres.
We had a mix of glorious sunshine the first week then more unsettled weather the second that deteriorated to a 24 hour blizzard which kept us all off the slopes. The fresh snow next morning was delicious! The difference between icy corduroy and powder is like nails on a blackboard versus the touch of silk.
Unfortunately Stuart hurt his low back pulling off a sudden avoidance manouvre on day eight and, although he got treatment at the rifugio (his therapist, Piero, arrived on skies with his collapsible table) and in Cortina, his back wasn’t stable enough to go on ski safari with Michael as planned for the third week. Hence he is here in Edinburgh with me making more happy memories with the Scottish side of the family. The wee lassie is just over ten months now and a bundle of joy.
Piero Fabrici, the very mobile therapist.
Goodbye, finally, to Stuart’s very heavy, very long Rossignols!
Pops on duty in Edinburgh.