IT’S been a long time since I put on skis and took to the hills. They’re Nordic touring skis and they’ve been languishing at the back of my garage for more years than I care to remember. Other than last winter we’ve not exactly had the kind of conditions that make mountain ski touring a joy and a couple of half hearted attempts to ski on less than brilliant snow conditions simply made me vow to take to snowshoeing whenever there was snow on the hills.
And that’s what I’ve been doing over the past few winters, stomping the hills on snowshoes whenever there’s been a snow cover, and stomping the hills whenever there’s been no snow, which has been most years.
I used to ski a lot. Indeed at one time I was the Nordic ski co-ordinator for the Scottish National Ski Council. I spent winters working as a ski instructor and even raced in Nordic events but I felt more at home on the hills, just using the skis as a fun way to get around. I’ve no idea how the equipment has developed in recent years, or what the difference is between Telemark Touring and Nordic Touring, but all the snow in recent weeks has encouraged me to look out the old gear and check how fit it is for purpose.
On close examination I reckoned the skis could do me a while yet. They’re pretty old Asnes Nansen Mountain skis, with steel edges and Rottefella 75mm toe bindings, but my boots looked well past their sell-by date. The leather had gone very stiff and the toepiece was pretty worn so my first job was to hunt down a pair of boots that were compatible with the skis and bindings.
And what a job that turned out to be. Everyone wanted to sell me stiff and heavy plastic Telemark boots, boots that are more suited to the pistes of Europe than lightweight hill touring in Scotland. In actual fact I already have some Telemark boots but I’ve rarely used them. For the handful of times I have skied in them I felt as though someone had encased my feet in concrete blocks. Horrible things. When I walk the hills I wear lightweight boots or lightweight trail shoes, so I wanted something appropriately light for my ski touring too.
Eventually Rob from Mountain Spirit in Aviemore found me one remaining pair of Crispi 75mm leather touring boots and by luck they were my size. They weren’t cheap, but no ski gear has ever been cheap, so I treated myself to a Christmas present. I was set to go.
On the first available day I drove up to Cairn Gorm but it was packed. It was also cold and cloudy and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face so I backtracked and went where the weather looked a bit better and where there were less people. I put the skins on my skis, clipped my new boots in place and stomped up the old Burma Road past the Allt na Criche Christian Centre near Aviemore. Other than in the lower few hundred feet where the snow was a bit thin conditions were excellent and I made good time all the way to the top, then up the ridge to the Corbett summit of Geal Charn Mor.
So far so good but would my downhill techniques cope with years of not ski-ing? Much to my surprise they did. I guess ski-ing is like cycling. Once you get the hang of it you never lose it but while I managed to get back down to the Burma Road track without any great difficulties it was then I discovered muscles I’d forgotten, particularly on the front of my thighs.
Because the track is fairly narrow you have to more or less schuss down it – there isn’t the room to do turns. Every so often I would slow myself down by snow ploughing and it was then that my thighs would begin to seize up. By the time I got back to the car I was euphoric, but I could hardly straighten my legs. My wife had to prise me out of the car when I got home, but the old legs will get used to ski-ing again, and more importantly, I’ve got the bug again. My new boots will be put to good use this winter, provided the weather gods keep providing the snow and if all goes well I might even be tempted into buying a new pair of skis as a kind of après-Christmas gift!
Best wishes to all of you for 2011.