The next book on my reading list: The Snow Tourist, by British author and journalist Charlie English.
“TO SKI, however well or poorly, is a reminder—whatever one may for a long time have suspected—that one is alive, and that living is tremendous fun. There isn’t any other game to compare with it in the world.” So wrote James Riddell after winning the Kandahar Ski Club’s Inferno downhill race in Mürren, Switzerland, in 1929. Riddell went on to become the father of modern ski journalism. Charlie English is his heir in more ways than one.
Mr English, an associate editor of the Guardian, is a polymath who wears his learning lightly. His book is a cracking read that deserves to be by the bedside of every keen skier or snowboarder. Indeed, it is the phenomenon of snow, as much as skiing—or boarding, which he prefers—that fascinates him.
He began skiing as a child in the Cairngorm mountains, in central Scotland, and even remembers taking home a Thermos flask of snow as a souvenir. While researching this book Mr English makes a moving return to the Cairngorms, even camping out alone there in the snow. But he also travels more widely, to Washington state to try to ascertain whether Paradise or Mount Baker has the highest annual snowfall in the world, and among the Inuits where he learns to build igloos. In Vienna he goes in search of Bruegel’s “The Hunters in the Snow”, which he believes to be “the fairest portrait of winter” ever painted.
He describes his (failed) attempt to complete the Haute Route, one of the world’s most renowned ski-mountaineering itineraries from Chamonix to Zermatt. Along the way he became afraid and lost his nerve. At the same time his relationship with his French guide, Philippe, became fraught, especially when the guide challenged him: “I think you are dead while you are alive. More and more I think society is made up of people like you. You take risk unconsciously. When you are in the town, or driving your car, you take risk but you don’t think about it. Now you are with me, and this is a conscious risk, you say you will not take it. But if you do not come, you will feel bad. Will you take it?”
Mr English hears what he has to say, but opts out all the same. Many off-piste skiers will identify with this situation. This is a well-rounded work by a well-rounded, if snow-obsessed, writer. But then, there are worse obsessions.
This is one of the reasons why I love The Economist so much … it’s not only in-depth and objectively reported world news (and not just economic news), but also feeds some of my other obsessions.
I’m battling a nasty cold right now, and yet, I’m still planning on heading up the canyon today to put in some turns. Am I crazy? Possibly; but I prefer to think it keeps me sane.