How The British Army, Skiing And Black Friday Go Together

So when I left the army, I also left skiing. But now I’m back...

In a couple of weeks, I will be going skiing again for the first time in five years. And because of this, I have had to temper what is usually a borderline arrogant response to the question ‘do you ski?’.

Really though, it’s not arrogant - it’s logic - I’ve skied enough that really I ought to be pretty competent. My parents are big into winter sports, and my first experience of snow was from a sort of sporting backpack on dad’s back. Dad had one of us, the opare had the other. Mum was left free to do her snow plow (I used to call it her slow plow. Sorry, mum) thang. Naturally I like to think I was with dad, although I could just have easily have been on Hilary’s back. On which note, it has on several occasions struck me that I could secretly be Laura and that they just got confused one day and went, ‘ah, screw it’.

As soon as Laura and I could walk, we were planted on skis (sans poles - mum is everso risk averse) and deposited in various French ski schools. From which the memory of arnica cream and cheese with everything still lingers.

From then, we would ski just about once a year. Occasionally with other families, but just as likely as our little foursome unit (Hillary had left for the States by then to work with a set of same-age twins who would become our pen-pals. I still speak to Megan (Laura’s is called Heather) to this day, but that’s sort of digressing from my point). As we got older, I became hell bent on being the son my dad never had, and would race off with him through blizzards and icy conditions to tackle inordinately difficult black runs and mogul fields. We would generally leave mum and Laura at some alpine cafe or other and join them later, once we’d proved our prowess and one had finally admitted they’d rather like a break.

Then came one of the biggest life decisions I’ve ever made. Now. There has been a path through my life that my logic is occasionally slightly flawed, and following the decision to study history at uni because I fancied my school history teacher, I decided to join the British Army because I’d heard a rumour that they would pay you to go skiing.

Which they did. Admittedly not quite enough to justify the man hours I’d spent digging trenches into frozen ground / patrolling large areas at ungodly hours / bulling my shoes to within an inch of their newly shiny existence, safe in the knowledge that I would spend the following morning tramping through the adjutant’s horse’s poo on the parade square. But still - skiing.

Of course, everything in the army has a purpose that rises above fun. And adventure sports were no exception. Once in situ in Val, Verbier or Alps D’Huez, we would be on the first and last lifts every day for two weeks, and the eight hours in-between would largely be spent ascending and descending a chosen slope to perfect our technique. Which systematically removed all fun from the equation. On the rare occasion that we would break free (always in pairs. Because army) and go off on a wild traverse, I would invariably get my duo totally lost, and end up walking up the wrong side of a mountain after the last lifts rendered it essential.

So when I left the army, I also left skiing. But now I’m back - I’ve got a trip booked for the end of December and I am hell-a excited. Of course, I am also frantically backtracking on all the fanciful, boastful stories of skiing excellence I’ve previously leant upon at dinner parties safe in the knowledge that my skill level would not be tested. Which - I suspect - is a scenario that many ski-dabblers face.

I told my PT last week of my ski plans and was sent home with a list of wall squats, hip rotations and knee mobility exercises. I am spending the Black Friday weekend re-stocking my ski-wear supplies, and have booked an ice skating session at Canary Wharf. I’d forgotten how much homework skiing was…


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