I was lucky to be put on skis almost as soon as I could walk. They were blue (or was it red), my brother and I shared them and they had some lethal cable binding attachment! One of my earliest memories is being in a PVC sou’wester mac and hat, sliding on snow and having cold hands. In fact I can remember tears and my dad buying me a hot dog with onions to warm me up.
Growing up in the Lakes, winters brought hours of endless fun using portable ski tows in a field near Walla Crag, Blease Fell on the side of Blencathra, or over at High Row. I think my brother and I would have been 11 and 12 when we walked, carrying our skis and probably wearing ski boots, all the way to High Row from Threlkeld. We skied all day on the portable tow, and then walked home. Dad came to find us when he came home from work as it was dark; we were making our way down Threlkeld Common amongst the snow drifts, bogs and reeds. We went out in all weather, and all snow conditions, and my love of Lake District skiing started there. Today I choose the same; I’m a telemark skier (more advanced bindings than my original little skis) and I choose to go out in any weather. Last winter, one wet Sunday afternoon, we made our way up the bog of Threlkeld common and up Clough Head. My dad said we must be desperate, but there was a really great drift of solid packed spring-like snow from the summit down to the coach road. A wet ski definitely beats a run in the rain.
We had some customers in the shop from Utah this spring, and they were surprised when I told them you could ski in the Lake District. It’s true, and I’ve had many great days, however our Cumbrian definition of snow and that of someone from Utah are very different. They’re used to vast bowls of snow and I’m happy with a skinny linear drift; we both use the same amount of snow to ski on, it only needs to be a turn wide. Admittedly if you’re a Lake District skier you also have to be adept at skiing on grass, bog and ice. I’m lucky in the fact I have touring skis and skins so can go and find snow on my days off. Last year I linked a series of powder drifts from the summit of Dodd to the road at High Row. There’s a particularly lovely drift that often forms on Stybarrow Dodd, I do generally have to carry my skis up the first steep section before you can put the skis on to skin up the shoulder. I treasure these days in the Lakes as the winter sunlight is often golden and fills the memory, so there’s no room to recall that strong icy wind or those hard-to-turn-in ice-capped tufts.
As a parent, I really wanted to create snow memories for my children. The first family ski holiday was to Valmorel when they were three and four. I never thought I’d have as much fun playing on little pommel lifts and green runs; their desire to hurtle straight down, again and again, was born. We’ve spent years enjoying blue sky and whiteout conditions. We skied as a family together in the mornings, then the children had ski school in the afternoon; this always worked as we didn’t feel the pressure to get out of the door first thing for ski lessons, which helped make it feel less like a boot camp and more like a holiday. As our children got older, work and school limited our choices so we had to go early season Christmas or late Easter, and had to choose resorts that were higher up. We therefore had many great trips to La Plagne, and Christmas dinner at the Borseliers in the blue sky is a life memory.
Our children are no longer little, but still keen on a family ski holiday. Last Easter we headed out to Sestriere, it was the last week of the ski season so snow was a bit of a gamble, but luckily for us, we were treated to days of fresh powder. The excellent conditions were a huge incentive to be the first on the lifts in the morning and to make fresh tracks; there’s nothing quite like that feeling. By lunchtime my thighs could take no more and we either picnicked in the warm sunshine, or found a little mountain hut for an Italian bolognese then had an easy afternoon on the piste.
Having the right clothing is crucial to the enjoyment of your holiday. When ski touring, waterproofness and easy venting are my priority. I don’t want to keep stopping and taking my pack on and off, so I usually use a Gore-Tex shell over Patagonia Nano-Air insulation, and Powerstretch next to the skin.
It’s years since I’ve used a combined insulated and waterproof ski jacket, but last winter I got to use a new women’s Arc’teryx Airah Jacket, using Gore-Tex with a Polartec Alpha insulation. It is an amazingly light garment, not restrictive to wear, and despite the hot spring sun I never overheated. Skiing in it earlier in the season, in freezing conditions in the Dolomites on the Marmolada and Laguzoi, I stayed comfortable all day. It also worked well later in the season when I thought I might overheat in Sestriere in April.
I also used the Osprey Kamber 32-litre ski pack, which is really well thought-out with lots of attachment points and carry options, you can carry your skis diagonally or on the side of the pack.
Skiing is a brilliant family holiday, but also it can be something totally different if you start to explore the Lake District on ski. Memories for life.