Can it be the Scottish dream of living an Alpine life that makes mountain-top peaks style-free zones, or is it just skiers? I’m not yet a snow person, despite perennial attempts to remedy the situation. I can’t reconcile meeting spam valley (for all non-Scots, the commuter belt) at the top of Glencoe. Mountains are places of solitude and meditation. They demand respect and we should act accordingly.
Despite injury early in the season, I recently found myself hobbling through the diagonal pine-cladding and other architectural misdemeanours in the Rannoch Moor car park. I gave the bogging Welcome Centre a wide berth and made for the chair lift in yet another attempt to catch the vibe which makes bank managers dress like duvets and launch themselves, without body armour, through yah-ing hoards of A and B lifestyle groups. In four hours I saw one face among a thousand which cemented the connection between sex and snow – that link between pheromone and endorphin which turns sport into obsession and fuels the desire to crash and burn ad nauseam.
The subject of my gaze was an unsuspecting medium-sized man sporting a full beard, big hair and woolly hat. He was walking alone from the empty valley behind the greasy-farmyard-of-a-toilet-for-a-cafÃ©. He wore blue Bent Saw Teflon-coated, super-baggy strides with big re inforced patches and a blue anorak made from a fine high-tech fabric. Altogether understated, just the right mix of tradition and technology, a tiny amount of branding and wads of attitude. Biblical allegories floated through my mind, “credibility” was writ large upon his forehead, for the man with the beard carried under his arm the best looking snowboard I have ever, ever seen.
The board was a Santa Cruz, made in Germany. It consisted of a translucent sandwich of plastics over laminated wood. In some areas the central wooden construction was revealed and the whole board carefully formed in a confounding composition of geometric patterns locked in transparent resin. The board looked distinctly four-dimensional. The colours were tones of turquoise, terracotta and Fifties’ yellow. There were no go-faster stripes or tacky car-style brandings, no fluorescents or fades. No nasty bedroom patterns, disco glitter or monster halftone – none of the trappings of the skiing fraternity.
How come skis don’t look this good? Ski imagery has lots in common with the motor trade, with XR3 boy-racer decals and multi-coloured plastic Terminator 2-styled bindings. Skiers walking in bindings are painful to watch, so are skiers wearing jester hats. Snowboarders look more relaxed with their comfy cartoon boots and high-tech streetwise gear. It seems that boarders are controlling and using technology in a new way which allows them to be safe and weatherproof with the minimum of clothing hassle in the transition from street to snow.
Unlike skiing, snowboarding aligns itself with surfing, the indie music scene and humanised technology. It seems more about the personal experience and the journey than speed and competition – altogether a more respectful way of using the mountains. While boarding magazines look like Ray Gun, ski imagery conjures up naff images of log cabin fondues with Barbie and Ken lookalikes circa 1973. I can imagine few less appropriate Highland scenes than Married With Children – on snow. Thankfully, I’m reliably informed that there’s an old guy who skis in the Nevis Range wearing a woollen cape and a stetson hat.
The one enduring image I have which showed that skiing might possibly be sexy was a Ralph Lauren sportswear advert in last year’s Vogue. The picture showed a woman wearing an apparently liquid-silver skin-tight suit which evoked the alloy cop in Terminator 2 – very sexy and practical too, in an aerodynamic sort of way.
However, it’s boarding that convinces me I should persevere with snow in a way skiing does not, because boarders look sexy rather than like blots on the landscape.
Towards the end of a day on the slopes, Doctor Dale, an architect and committed skier, was learning to board for the first time. I watched him doing his messy dance, scootering along with one foot on his snowboard and the other, out of its binding, running to catch up. He crashed like a garage sale.
That evening he confessed that when he’d picked himself up he looked around for “the other one”. Once a skier…