RIP Natives

mist tent

Sumer. Not supposed to last until November

Oh shit, is it winter already? Bugger. That’s what you get for signing up for a so-called ‘summer’ season which doesn’t finish until after the bloody ski show. What was I thinking about?

I’d like to say it was some kind of  super-awesome stoke which prodded me out of the summer slumber but I can’t because a) I can’t take myself seriously while doing so and b) unfortunately it wasn’t.

In fact, it was the final death knell of erstwhile seasonnaire website Natives, once the go-to resource for employers recruiting staff, seasonnaires in search of a more or less respectable way of funding a lot of skiing, drinking and sexual excess, and a bunch of grumpy language purists looking for victims (a bit random I know, but that’s the way it was, for some reason).

Having built the site and its loyal following from scratch out of an improvised office in his mother’s broom cupboard (I’m making this up – he might have had a lucrative lottery grant for all I know), founder Iain Martin flogged it off for millions (I’m making that up as well) to the Friday Ad, in order to start Skipedia, a fascinating site devoted entirely to marketing bollocks and its application to all things ski.

The Friday Ad, I ask you. An organisation which distributes a load of free papers dedicated to the private purchase and sale of everything from dodgy leather sofas through pedigree hamsters to vinyl gimp suits. And there’s nothing wrong with that either, but it can’t be denied that what they know (or care) about ski resort work and the people who do it could be written on the back of a postage stamp with their collective willies dipped in ink.

Might contain an ad for some second hand Rodeo skiwear I suppose

Might contain an ad for some second hand Rodeo skiwear I suppose

You could tell things were sliding inexorably into the corporate void when the front page consisted entirely of ads for gap courses and any effort at actual snow-related news disappeared altogether.

The subsequent revamp of the forums in Mr Kipling’s French Fancy colours and with markedly less functionality managed to send 90% of the existing posters into the welcoming arms of Facebook, without at the same time attracting new blood, resulting in a seasonnaire forum which is dead as a doornail in ski show season, a time of year when anyone lucky enough to have landed a resort job is verging on hysterical with anticipation and absolutely wetting themselves in their desire to talk about it incessantly. To anyone, even a bunch of total strangers on the web. In fact, preferably to a bunch of strangers on the web, since all their real friends have long since got into the habit of slapping them round the head every time they open their mouths.

But the final nail in the site’s coffin has to be today’s slogan competition. We Need a Slogan, it thunders, completely ignoring that fact that it already had a perfectly serviceable one in Iain’s ‘Knowledge is Powder’. Presumably that doesn’t suit its ‘brand’. Yes, it now has a ‘brand’, whatever the fuck that means, so the suits in charge need a new slogan which they can use ‘across their brand’. No, I can’t tell you what that means either. Absolutely nothing whatsoever, I strongly suspect, though in today’s spangly corporate world that’s a view which could quite possibly get you summarily shot in the face.

Not a problem they're going to have at Natives any time soon.

Not a problem they’re going to have at Natives any time soon.

But as they feel the need for a new strapline, they are generously offering ‘you guys’ (because you’re their best friends, innit. And they’re cool – you can tell by the fact that they used the word ‘awesome’ three times in three sentences.) the chance to come up with some piece of despicable marketing wank for which they would otherwise have had to pay a firm of consultants an arbitrarily eye-watering sum of cash.

And what are they offering for this money-saving service? A ‘seasonnaire starter pack’ worth £500! A bargain, you might think, containing everyting the noob seasonnaire might need! Er, no – let’s take a closer look at the detail of this fabulous prize.

First up, a Ruroc helmet/goggles combo, something which might come in handy at New Year fancy dress parties, but that’s about it. (I’m sure I’ve been though this before.) I have never ever met a seasonnaire (or anyone else for that matter) who would willingly wear one of these even if you paid them. Which shows you what the Friday Ad knows about anything.

Next, jacket and pants by Westbeach. Spiffy. Except that any half decent outerwear combo would pretty much cost £500 all on its own without the Darth Vader helmet and the rest of the crap, suggesting that either a) the Friday Ad can’t count or b) the stuff is going to be about as good as 20-year-old C&A Rodeo if you’re lucky.

Seriously, why don't they just offer us one of these and have done with it?

Seriously, why don’t they just offer us one of these and have done with it?

Further on, thermals, gloves and headphones. Again, if any of it was any good, that lot would have a total price tag of going on for £300. (Yes I know Skullcandy is a ‘brand’. Take it from me, their headphones are shit – mine are going on eBay the minute I get home from the Fatherland.)

And finally, some complete tat – more Westbeach end of line clothing, some shower gel (seriously, even I couldn’t make that one up), a few stickers.

These people are making absolutely no secret at all of the fact that they think we’re all just a bunch of witless salivating morons. Friday Ad – just fuck right off.

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Posted in Ski Season | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

Seasons in the (setting) sun

Official monster raving UKIP loon

Official monster raving UKIP loon

Time for a spot more Guardian-bashing today I’m afraid – I know I’ve been here before, but when they line themselves up so neatly in the crosshairs it’s hard to resist. I do read other news websites, honestly, and it’s not like I’m some raving UKIP loon out to lynch the lefties, but really no-one writes quality twaddle the way the Guardian does it. I suppose I could try reading the Mail Online, but that’s a bit fish in a barrel even for someone as lazy as me.

Today our champion of equal rights for all was slating outgoing banker Mervyn King for telling the world (well all right, the half a dozen people who listen to Desert Island Discs on a Sunday morning) that he was off on a gap year.

Guardian blogger Ian Martin takes issue with the phraseology here, clearly associating it with getting pissed in Bangkok, having ill-advised sexual encounters with peripatetic antipodeans and boring your co-freshers witless with tales of your amazing time in Africa. Or possibly Meribel.

No, Mr Martin is quite happy for Mervyn to chuck in his job as long as he refers to it as ‘retirement’ rather than a gap year, and spends his time wearing elasticated pants, getting pissed on warm beer and falling asleep in the garden centre before sliding inexorably into fumbling dementia. Which tells you a lot about how old the inside of Ian Martin’s head is, though not much about chronological age or Mervyn’s plans for his time off. Which might well involve ill-advised sexual encounters for all I know – and why not – though he definitely didn’t mention that one to Kirsty Young when I was listening.

Old man pants. No need, really.

Old man pants. No need, really.

But the good news for all of you contemplating the prospect of elasticated trousers and Gardeners’ Question Time with dismay is that while growing old is inevitable, growing up seems to be increasingly optional. ‘Old’ people, having shed the shackles of mortgage, family and tedious desk job, are out there in their droves doing things Mr Martin clearly assumes are reserved exclusively for spotty youth.

On returning to camping for a living after something which is apparently 20 years but which I swear can’t be any more than five, I find myself to be younger than most of my colleagues, a novel experience for the veteran seasonnaire. Europe’s campsites are crawling with ratrace escapees and survivors, lolling around in the sunshine, waving glasses of rosé and sporting lurid uniforms with name badges. I feel like a veritable baby in comparison.

Admittedly I have yet to see any of the older cohort getting falling down drunk in New Jack’s (though I’d be prepared to bet you could find one or two in St Anton’s Krazy Kanguruh) but in their own quiet way they’re having just as much of a whale of a time as their whippersnapper co-workers. And what’s more they seem to be outnumbering the whippersnappers by about five to one, from what I’ve seen so far.

This isn’t to say that the youngsters are no longer doing silly seasonal things of course – they come through a batch at a time as they ever did, enjoying a bit of sun before they trudge off down the long dark tunnel which is responsible adult life (travel tip: there’s an alternative road – it’s steep and rocky, there’s no barrier between you and the cliff edge and the surface can be a tad potholed, but the views are better). The difference is that we’re picking more and more of them up again when they pop out of the other end. They’re looking a bit worn, I grant you, but they’re still up for it. And definitely not wearing elasicated trousers.

Luminous uniform. Making old man pants look like a good idea.

Luminous uniform. Making old man pants look like a good idea.

So while you’re out at the garden centre in your crimplene slacks, Ian, the rest of your cohort is whooping it up on campsites and in ski resorts across Europe. Never mind raging against the dying of the light – this lot come armed with an emergency hurricane lamp and a box of waterproof matches.

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Posted in Summer Season | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

It’s camping Jim, but not as we know it

Proper camping

Proper camping

We all know what camping is about, don’t we – getting out in the fresh air and back to basics, just you and your little tent, roughing it without the clutter of modern life between you and nature. Etc. Often this involves torrential rain, mud, and wishing you’d bought a better sleeping bag, admittedly. But it makes you appreciate those mod cons all the more as you dump your mud-encrusted clothing in the washer and retreat into a hot bath and a glass of wine.

Now, I appreciate that this sort of deliberate discomfort isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I always had a lot of sympathy with those people who went for the pre-erected tents and proper furniture experience offered by commercial camping tour ops. And not only because I got a job out of the arrangement either. Let’s face, it proper camping with three kids and an unruly dog is hardly a restful experience. After getting lost halfway through France, having a blazing row about which way you should have gone, arriving at the site after dark and having to wrestle with a huge tent in the pouring rain only to find that someone forgot to pack the tentpegs, the torch and the teabags, you’re not exactly in the holiday mood.

How much better then, to arrive to a fully equipped tent which someone else has put up, cleaned, and arranged nicely with a little welcome pack and everything. It doesn’t stop you getting lost and almost diovorced on the way down, obviously, but it does make the aftermath that bit more comfortable.

Absolutely not camping

Absolutely not camping

These days though, I feel we may have taken the home comforts thing just that bit too far. Mobile homes were always an option, but the rest of us were inclined to look at them rather sniffily and regard them as ‘not real camping’. Even the people booking them tended to be a bit apologetic and offer excuses about being that much older these days and needing a bit more comfort, and of course we used to do tents when we had the kids etc etc. Yeah, right.

But these days people of all ages shamelessly book huge palatial mansions complete with full sized freezers (Why? WHY? You’re only here for a week, what are you planning to freeze, for God’s sake?), dishwashers and those humungous American style fridges which take up 90% of your kitchen space and go wrong all the time. By the time you’ve added the decking, the garden furniture and the fancy gas-fired grill (no, it isn’t a barbecue – barbecues involve charcoal and blackened sausages, not gas bottles) you might as well have rented a gite. At least you’d get a bit of privacy instead of being rammed in cheek by jowl with everyone else in a field which is beginning to look more like a trailer park than a campsite.

Definitely camping, but possibly taking things too far

Definitely camping, but possibly taking things too far

And what’s more, these people have the temerity to refer to their excursions as ‘camping’ holidays. I have news for you all here – not only is this most emphatically not ‘real camping’, it’s not even camping at all. Be honest, what’s the difference between this fancy caravan and your house? All right, the walls are thinner, but that’s about it. I swear the bloody things are actually bigger than my house. The fridges are certainly bigger than mine, that’s for sure.

While I could just about live with the 30-year tent veteran deciding that he fancied his own loo rather than the trek to the toilet block (and having the grace to look a bit sheepish about it), I am frankly disgusted by the lack of backbone displayed by the younger camping generation. Really people, think of the harm you are doing to your children. What sort of huge girls blouses will they turn into if they grow up never having had to brave the middle of the night trip to the washblock with a torch? Never woken in terror convinced they were about to be eaten alive because there was a hedgehog clattering round the groundsheet sounding like a herd of woolly mammoths? Never experienced the joys of wading out of the tent in pyjamas and wellies, dragging sodden sleeping bags, then spending the rest of the night shivering in the car? These pantywaists will not be there for you in your old age, I warn you, and it will be your own fault for not taking them on proper character-building family holidays.

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Posted in Summer Season | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Foot in the crosshairs ……… fire!

All right, that's enough of that having fun business.

All right, that’s enough of that having fun business.

Right, you lot. You can stop looking forward to that nice holiday you planned to spend showing friends round your favourite French ski resort. Don’t you realise that what you’re doing is horrifically dangerous? Really, how could you possibly imagine that you are in any way capable of pootling around a few blue runs and eating lunch in a convivial manner without killing yourself and everyone with you? God, you’re so irresponsible.

Or so last week’s court judgement in Albertville would have you believe. Following a case brought by the French authorities egged on by the ESF in Meribel, tour operator staff will no longer be allowed to ski about the pistes with their punters, on the grounds that it isn’t safe and they aren’t qualified to be responsible for said punters. Since there is no real difference between this and you showing your mates around, I think you should be worried.

This has been a long running and increasingly tedious argument led largely by the French national ski school, which seems to think people are going to pay for its instructors to ski around the resort, chat to them and eat lunch. Which clearly they are not, when all they want is an animated piste map, preferably with the odd social skill as a bonus.

It’s presumably because this argument is so blatantly fallacious that they’ve started going on about safety instead, though as far as I can see they have completely failed to demonstrate that a load of overweight British holidaymakers cruising around the marked runs with someone wearing a jacket with a logo on it is any more or less dangerous than me spending the afternoon sliding about with three barely intermediate friends on their annual half term break.

In fact, if we’re going to insist that anyone who ever skis with anyone else has a certificate which says that they once did a slalom course to near-olympic standard when they were 17, the Compagnie des Alpes needs to start looking at developing marmot sanctuaries, because running ski resorts is going to be a non-starter as a business model.

Dangerous criminal. Do not aproach this man.

Dangerous criminal. Do not aproach this man.

Fortunately for general common sense I predict that the whole ski hosting/social skiing/whatever we’re calling it this week will carry on as usual, since even in totalitarian France nobody has the power to stop persons A B and C inviting person D to ski with them even if person D does happen to work for the company with which they are on holiday. Person D is entirely at liberty to ski with whomsoever he pleases in his free time in the middle of the day and he clearly isn’t wearing the company’s uniform, so piss off. The fact that it has been made clear to him on training that he is expected to ski with his guests three times a week is something which is never likely to come to anybody’s notice. Which brings us right back to the position we were all in when I did my first season back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we were all wearing tight pants and Nevica jackets.

In the meantime though, there is bound to be a bit of fallout, during which various people will be inconvenienced while various others take advantage.

The losers ….

The ESF, which will lose whatever private lesson business the ski hosts used to put their way, since part of the host’s role was always to say (in the nicest possible way, obviously), “your skiing’s rubbish mate, get a lesson”.

The ESF, as every tour op which has the option scrambles to recommend any other ski school they can find just because they’re feeling narked by the whole situation.

The ESF, which is quite likely to find itself with rather fewer English customers as people vote with their feet and either holiday elsewhere or just book with different ski schools.

French resorts, which stand to lose business to countries where you can ski with whoever you like. We should bear in mind that this doesn’t just affect UK tour ops – the Belgians, Dutch, Scandis and eastern Europeans provide just the same service to their guests. That pretty much accounts for all of our non-French visitors here.

... or alternatively find some other school altogether.

… or alternatively find some other school altogether.

And the winners are ….

Resorts outside France, which will score for some more punters as those people for whom the ski hosting days are an important part of the holiday opt for Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Andorra, North America, Bulgaria ……… etc. It’s entirely possible that TOs could consider either pulling out of French resorts altogether or at least significantly reducing their presence here. It’s not like France has a monopoly on wintersports is it?

The ESF in Meribel, which has rather bafflingly been awarded something in the region of 20,000€ for ‘loss of earnings’. Though in view of losers one to three above, this could be regarded as something of a Pyrrhic victory.

A bunch of lawyers, since it seems likely that the case will go from appeal in France to further appeal in Brussels or Strasbourg or wherever they do these things.

So that was a really worthwhile exercise then. Well done Les Pulls Rouges, way to convince everyone they’re going to love skiing in France.

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Posted in Ski Season | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ski gear for the worried well

I'm this important, me, honestly.

I’m this important, me, honestly.

I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve being considered important enough to receive press releases, and I can’t help feeling it’s a bit of a dubious honour, but I suppose it adds to the general entertainment value of the inbox. Mostly I bin these things, but the “brand new product” which pinged across the ether the other day looked suspiciously familiar, so I thought I’d give it the once-over.

The On-Piste Emitter, brainwave of Cambridge Ski Safety, promises to “bring avalanche safety technology to all recreational skiers”, by which it means people skiing exclusively on piste. And there was you thinking one of the things your increasingly expensive lift ticket bought you was groomed runs secured against avalanche risk. But no. Cambridge Ski Safety is here to tell you that you have been risking lift and limb every time you set foot on the nursery slope: “… there are numerous recorded cases of serious incidents, near-misses and on-piste fatalities due to avalanches crossing marked ski runs”.

Well, they’ve only managed to put their mitts on two examples, according to their website, which isn’t looking like ‘numerous’ to me. More like two, to be honest. I’m not about to count Planet Ski’s generic piece about avalanches across the alps, since they were mostly off piste as usual.

The Snow Be. Sorry, On-Piste Emitter

The Snow Be. Sorry, On-Piste Emitter

Further digging (or possibly probing, this being avalanches we’re talking about) reveals that up until November last year, Cambridge Ski Safety was trading as Snow Beacon Limited, marketing the same ‘brand new’ product which they were then calling the Snow-Be, before they changed the company’s name in a hurry following the utter flaming they got from every ski website and forum which got wind of the thing.

To be scrupulously fair, they have changed the approach and are now marketing their widget, essentially an avalanche beeper without a search function, exclusively for use on piste and absolutely not suitable for backcountry or similar purposes, don’t even think about it. Given that the slating they got before was largely from ski tourers, mountain guides and the like, justifiably miffed at the idea that their companions might be swanning around without the means to rescue them should the need arise, this is probably a wise move.

So instead they’ve gone for the tried and tested scare the ‘rents ploy, aiming their £50 widget squarely at the paranoid helicopter parent market. The On-Piste Emitter is “for families”, they say, because “on-piste avalanches continue to take the lives of adults and children”. All the time. See them every week.

Oops, there goes another one.

Oops, there goes another one.

They go even further with the scaremongering on the Snow-Be website, where they state that “We believe that a child has an equal right to alpine safety because avalanches
don’t just happen off-piste.” Watch it, you’re compromising your child’s human rights there. These devices, they assure us “were designed by a family for all those who want to ski safely in-bounds”, the clear implication being that if you don’t buy one you don’t care about your family’s safety.

On top of all that, they’re trying to lumber already beleaguered school party leaders with the obligation to buy these things. You can even have them adorned with the school’s logo if you like. FFS, isn’t it difficult enough to get a school ski trip together these days as it is?

Now I’m not suggesting that the thing doesn’t work, and nor am I trying to argue, as some have, that it will hinder rescuers in a situation where people with proper transceivers get confused by the multitude of signals emitted by random bystanders carrying transmit-only gizmos (though this would actually be entirely possible if there were enough of them about).

No, what I’m saying is that it’s an expensive irrelevant gadget which you will never need in the entirety of your skiing career, and Cambridge Ski Safety are trying to shift product by frightening gullible parents into thinking that their children are about to be swept to their deaths by a terrifying wall of snow and it will be all their fault because they haven’t bought the right safety equipment. All of which is obvious tosh if you stop and think about it for more than 30 seconds.

Probably better value as safety equipment goes.

Probably better value as safety equipment goes.

While it’s entirely possible to find accounts of on-piste avalanches, they’re few and far between. This is what the pisteurs are there for. That’s why, when you get out there for first lifts on a powder day, you’re quite likely to find half the runs closed until they’ve been secured. That’s what all the big bangs you hear after a major snowfall are about – they’re not chucking bombs about up there just for their own amusement.

Buy one of these toys by all means if it makes you feel good about yourself. But don’t let anyone terrify you into thinking it’s an essential piece of safety equipment and you’ll be neglecting your children’s well being if you spend the cash on sledges, Nutella pancakes and hot chocolates laced with Bailey’s instead, because it’s just not true. In fact you’ll probably get better value for money out of a load of tin hats designed to protect them from meteorite strike.

Posted in Ski Season | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Caning the credit card

It could be said that the tone of recent Guardian-bashing posts has been a tad negative, so to celebrate the end of this summer’s job, the start of holidays (HOLIDAYS! WOOHOO!!) and impending once in a lifetime trip to Canada, I seize the opportunity to get involved with the upbeat pre-Christmas lust for shiny new things.

I know ‘best of’ lists are a bit of a tired old device, but since that deters neither the national press nor the glossy ski magazines, I don’t see why it should stop me either. Besides, I’ve never done one before. So here are my nominations for the best buys out there, all of them things I have bought, might buy or would quite like to buy but probably won’t because I can’t justify the expense. The latter list being by far the longest, as ever.

Not a storm trooper

Like the Guardian, I kick off with a helmet, though definitely not one designed to make you look like an extra on the death star. Sweet Protection’s Trooper is easily the most comfortable helmet I’ve owned, and it’s also light, low profile and clearly very well made. I particularly like the inclusion of a set of foam fit-pads designed to allow you to customise the lid to the shape of your own individual noggin if required. What’s more, thanks to the nice people at flash sales site Sport Pursuit, it didn’t cost me the usual arm and a leg either.
Sweet Protection Trooper HC, £199. www.sweetprotection.com

The thorny question of how to deliver on-snow tunes to your shell-likes now raises its head, since it’s difficult to squeeze headphones in underneath your new helmet. (And don’t start in with all the ‘ooh that’s so dangerous and irresponsible’ rubbish – there’s no actual obligation to crank it up so loud that your eardrums fall off.) Fortunately the nice people at Sweet have thought of this and offer a set of earflaps with built in speakers should you wish. I can’t as yet vouch for the quality of these as they are languishing at a friend’s house waiting for me to pick them up, but I live in hope that the Nazi Nannies haven’t insisted that the volume be limited to such a level that you can’t actually hear the music, as was the case with K2’s risible in-head sound system. They claim to be iPhone compatible as well, obviating the need to faff around in your pockets when someone rings you up. Perfect.
Sweet Protection Trooper Soundpads, £79,99. www.sweetprotection.com

Not enough yellow.

Still vaguely following the Guardian’s lead, we come to thermal underwear, or ‘base layers’ as the manly sporting goods websites like to call it. Presumably they wouldn’t sell nearly as many if they used words like ‘vest’ or (much worse) ‘tights’. Having bought a merino wool neckwarming thingy last year (largely because it was bright yellow), I am impressed with the quality of merino over artificial fibre. Warmer, lighter, dries in an instant. So I may very well treat myself to spangly leggings from New Zealanders Mons Royale, thereby ensuring that should I be mown down by a piste basher my undies will be more than respectable. Gutted by the lack of acid yellow in this year’s range though.
Mons Royale merino leggings for men or women, 54,95€. www.blue-tomato.com

What do you mean? Of course I look like that.

It’s a symptom of male arrogance anyway, calling vests ‘base layers’, since over half the population wears further garments under its vests. Come on boys, don’t try to tell me loftily that you hadn’t even noticed that women have breasts, because I know for a fact that you all think about them all of the time. My sports bra crop top thingies finally gave up the ghost this summer (not surprising after 20 years of use though, full marks to Calvin Klein), leaving me wth the utterly unexciting prospect of bra shopping. It was a close run thing between Nike and Under Armour, but Under Armour’s Gotta Have It compression top won the day by virtue of being a tenner cheaper.
Under Armour Gotta Have It sports bra, £16. www.underarmour.com

Snug, warm, cheap. Bargain.

Moving up through the multiple layers required for getting out and about in arctic temperatures, we get to Decathlon’s ubiquitous fleecy jumpers. Warm, snug, decent quality and under a tenner a pop. What’s not to like? I don’t think I know a seasonnaire who hasn’t got at least two of these.
Quechua Forclaz 50 fleece for men or women, £6,99. http://www.decathlon.co.uk

When it comes to outerwear on the slopes, it’s my considered opinion that high vis is good, and it doesn’t come more visible than 686’s limited edition Snaggleface jacket. I bought this last season as a birthday present to myself and it’s up there amongst my top five favourite possessions along with the bike and the log splitter. As well as looking cool and fabulous (oh yes it does, and in no way do I look like a very silly person so ner) it boasts the only powder skirt I’ve ever had which actually works. Bit lacking in pockets though, I have to say, especially a sleeve pocket for your lift pass. I ask you, what’s the point in not putting a pass pocket on a boarding jacket?
686 Snaggleface jacket, £200. www.686.com

WTF did you mean, you didn’t see me?

If you’re going to wear an eye-watering jacket, you might as well go the whole hog and get alarming trousers as well, no easy task at the moment for those of us of the female persuasion. Really, what sort of a world is it where the boys get all the best colours? I was after bright green or amazing orange, both of which would have been widely available were I a bloke, but most of the girly gear was limited to sickly looking off-pastels or various shades of pink. Rubbish. The only colour worth having was acid yellow, which is fine except that I already had one pair like that and fancied a change. So two pairs in acid yellow it is then.
Burton Bovary women’s snowboard pant, 89,97$. www.jibtopia.comsno

Next up ……. a mobile phone case! Yes, I know it’s silly, but the Guardian did one, so I’m going to as well. The main difference between two being that this one looks as though it might actually be useful. US company Lifeproof’s iPhone case promises to be shockproof, waterproof and tested to military standards. Whatever that means – I didn’t know the MoD had standards for mobile phone cases but you live and learn. Fifty quid for a mobile phone case may seem a tad pricey to many of you, but when you consider how much it would cost you to replace your iToy after dropping it on a rock, it starts to look quite reasonable.
Lifeproof case for iPhone 4/4S/5, £49,99. http://www.lifeproof.com

Not purchased merely for the appropriate graphic, honest.

After that foray into frivolity, it’s back to the serious stuff with a snowboard. K2’s Fling, to be precise, which strictly speaking is last season’s gear, but I’m not about to buy a new board just so I can witter about it on here. Besides, if you hunt about a bit you can probably pick one up in a sale somewhere, which will be an absolute bargain. The Fling is a true twin with a seriously fast base, which means it turns on a sixpence and goes like shit off a shovel. It makes the run down to La Fee so much more fun when you sail past disgruntled skiers poling along the runout and wondering WTF is going on when everyone knows snowboarders need skiers to tow them along the flats.
K2 Fling, £190,72. www.snowboard1.co.uk

A watch or a dinner plate? Hard to tell.

Finally, and just because unnecessarily techy widgets seem to be all the rage, a fancy watch. This definitely comes in under ‘things I won’t be buying because I can’t possibly justify the expense’. Suunto’s Core tells you all sorts of handy things like altitude, barometric pressure, how far under water you are and whether or not there’s a storm on its way. And probably whether you’re being tracked by bears as well. It even tells the time, should you wish to know anything so mundane. I fancy this for hiking in the summer rather than skiing, but short of a lottery win or a load of them falling off the back of a lorry, I’m not about to get my paws on one any time soon, so it’s largely irrelevant. Natty gizmo though.
Suunto Core, from £235. www.suunto.com

And there we have it. You’ve got to agree it’s better than the Guardian’s poor effort, even if you’d have to be paid to wear a jacket with a ridiculous toothy face on the back.

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Posted in Ski Season | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Fashionista fail

Now, I realise taking the piss out of the national press and its risible ‘lifestyle’ ski coverage is a rather lazy low-hanging-fruit approach to blogging, but in my defence it’s nothing like as indolent as putting up a load of tweets and pretending it’s a blog post (yes I am looking at you, Illicit Snowboarding). Besides, what are you lot doing with your Sunday morning anyway? Bet you aren’t even out of bed yet, let alone slaving over a hot Macbook.

Back to the Guardian again this week, and its list of ‘This Season’s Best Ski and Snowboarding Kit‘. It says ‘best’ in the headline, so the reader should expect to see a comprehensive roundup of the latest useful good-quality gear, right? Er …………. not as such. In fact they seem to have gone out of their way to combine the utterly ridiculous with the merely mediocre, while adding a sprinkling of the mundane just for a change.

I am your father, Luke.

In number one position we’ve got Ruroc’s RG-1 Core, a helmet and goggles combo specifically designed to make you look like a cross between Darth Vader and The Stig. These things have been around for a few years, so I have to assume they do actually sell the odd one, though I’ve never seen one in action. Possibly because they make you look like an extra at a Star Wars convention while at the same time rendering it impossible to talk to anyone, answer your phone or eat crocodiles on the chairlifts.

Next up we’ve got a set of frankly hideous thermals from a company called Sweaty Betty, which I could suggest is not the best monicker for an outfit trying to flog baselayers, items which you hope will remove sweat from your immediate vicinity. Following your granny’s advice that you should always wear respectable underwear in case you’re knocked down by a tram, I’d give these a miss.

Moving on, we come to possibly the most ridiculous thing to hit the world of wintersports since …… well ever, really. Ladies and gentlemen, the dual snowboard. Because snowboarding was just crying out for a snowblade of its very own. The Angry Snowboarder has already more than adequately ridiculed these ludicrous contraptions (and in fact managed to kill two birds with one stone by slating both them and blades in one post, good effort), so I’m not about to go any further here. Suffice to say that they have no place anywhere near anyone’s roundup of best wintersports kit.

Further down the list we come to the apres ski cape, another of Sweaty Betty’s dubious offerings, which they list under ‘key looks’ and call a ‘snow statement‘. The statement in question being ………. what? The mind boggles. Team it wth Ruroc’s helmet for the full Darth Vader look, which will come in handy over the New Year fancy dress party season at any rate, though I can’t think of any other use for it.

Spangly kiddy kit

Scroll through a few fairly ordinary odds and ends, and we come to a kids outfit from Horsefeathers, according to the Guardian a ‘new brand’ which ‘skiers are raving about’. Unfortunately for the hacks in question, Horsefeathers has been on the go since 1989 (something it clearly states right under the company’s logo on its website) and you’re not going to catch skiers ‘raving about’ their stuff any time soon, since they make boarding gear. Which is also very clear from even the most cursory glance at their website. Still, their kiddy range is indeed rather jazzy, and if you want cool outfits for your anklebiters this season you could do worse. The little chap modelling it certainly looks happy enough.

Further down the list we arrive at ……… a mobile phone case! A Nokia/Burton collaboration (complicated things, mobile phone cases), this promises to keep your smartphone warm. Well yes, that is all it does. What did you want for 20€? Tests show that a Nokia Lumix will stream music at -10°C if rugged up in its fleecy case. Personally I find that my iWidget will do much the same while stuffed into an inside pocket, but maybe the Nokia is particularly susceptible to cold. Bit odd for a product designed by Finns, but there you go.

No, I have no idea either.

At the other end of the tech spectrum there’s the Recon Mod Live, a £300 widget which records fascinating information such as the amount of time you spent in the air when you misjudged that lumpy bit, and projects it onto the lens of your goggles. I have no idea what to say about this gadget other than that if you ski into me because you are reading the inside of your goggles you are going to get such a slapping.

Finally, we have a pair of ladies ski pants courtesy of  established French skiwear company Degre 7’s Henri Duvillard range. £220 for the privilege of looking like an elderly French lady, I think not. If I want to do that I can spend a fiver on one of those flowery aprons, thanks.

In amongst this tosh we find a few perfectly respectable bits of kit (jacket courtesy of Sweet Protection, backpack by Dakine) and some average mid-range innocuous items (ladies outerwear from The North Face, fashion gear from Burton), but there’s not a lot which could resonably be described as ‘best’ by any stretch of the imagination.

Seriously, Guardian, where do you get this rubbish from? It woudn’t be difficult to cover the whole ski/board thing well if you could be arsed, though admittedly you’d have to employ a few writers with some idea of what they’re talking about. But that’s not exactly hard either – there’s a fair few of us out here. Belle de Neige might be a bit rude for the average Guardian reader, but I imagine the Francophoney could be relied upon to provide well-informed and largely profanity-free copy. Further suggestions in the sidebar, if you can be bothered to look. Just think, you could be the first national publication ever to cover the industry with any degree of seriousness. Has to be advertising revenue in that, surely.

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Posted in Ski Season | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Ski scam of the week!

I saw one! I did!!

Winter seems to be upon us once again, the telltale signs being ski and board shows in London, online over-excitement following occasional snowflakes spotted on resort webcams, and stupid articles in the national press, a sector which seems to be staffed entirely by non-skiing London-based fashion victims. (No Evan, I do not mean you. Get back on the chairlift.)

The Guardian kicked off the fun this season by sending someone off to write a load of sycophantic rubbish about a chalet host training course. Not one of the training courses which tour ops routinely run every year for all their chalet staff. (Because they kind of have to, right? Assuming they want staff with a vague inkling of what they’re supposed to be doing at any rate.) No, this course was run by Ski Weekends, marketed as some sort of holiday and actually paid for by a bunch of people who I assume have an even more tenuous grasp on the principles of basic arithmetic than I do, if that’s possible.

Consider the figures: working as a chalet host isn’t likely to pay more than about £350 a month for a four-month season. At £545 for the week plus flights and transfers, the cost of the course has just wiped out half your earnings. I’m all for investing in your own development, but really that’s beginning to make £9K a year for a degree in Klingon Studies look reasonable.

Getting to be less of a joke by the minute.

Still, you have to hand it to Ski Weekends – I didn’t think there were any new ways for employers to rip off their seasonal staff, but making them pay for their own training, that’s genius. Presumably they even make a profit on the deal. Their staff, meanwhile, subsidise Ski Weekends to the tune of half a season’s wages and deprive themselves of a week’s earnings to boot since the company no longer needs to run a training course at the beginning of the season and can bring everyone out a week later.

And where did I read about all this? Yes, in the Guardian, that left-wing champion of the low paid, scourge of unscrupulous fat cat employers and tireless campaigner for the introduction of a living wage. Where’s Polly Toynbee when you need her, I ask. FFS, Guardian, what are you thinking about? If it was hospital cleaners and catering staff paying half their wage for training and being fobbed off with lousy accommodation as part of an ‘employment package’ you’d be up in arms about it all over the front page. We just don’t have the necessary working class cachet, do we. Maybe I should get a flat cap and a ferret.

Presumably they imagine the fact that chalet skivvies get to spend their free time skiing rather than hanging around trendy London wine bars with irritating tossers who write drivel for the Guardian makes up for all the rest of it.

Actually, they might just about have a point there, when I come to think about it.

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I like to ride my bicycle …..

Not sure he was into the fat-bottomed girls much either.

Actually, I bet Freddie Mercury never got on a bike in his life. Though there’s something appealing about the idea of of the catsuit-clad and abundantly moustachioed king of camp perched astride a sit up and beg contraption with onboard shopping basket.

The rest of us, however, more or less grew up on two wheels. Yes you did, you sedentary porker. Try to remember what life was like before you got a driving licence and a job, and  gave up physical activity in favour of lager and the telly. It’s nice to see that the exploits of  Mr Wiggins and colleagues seem to have given biking a boost despite the ‘har har lycra shorts’ mockery. Presumably these people would also take the piss if you wore ski clothing for skiing or suits to work.

My first ever bike had three wheels, and was therefore technically a trike. I could also call it a fixie, on the grounds that the pedals were stuck to the front wheel, which means I can legitimately say that I was into fixed wheel bikes before they got so mainstream. Take that, pansy hipster city-cyclists. Unfortunately I didn’t realise at the time how terribly cutting edge this was going to be and spent most of my time coveting a playmate’s trike which had a chain, a place for stand-up passengers between the back wheels and even a sort of boot arrangement in which you could cart your favourite stuffed toys about. This was what passed for sophistication in 1960s Falkirk.

My first foray into proper two wheelers was on another playmate’s bike (small, red, fat white tyres), which I managed to keep upright for just long enough to crash into a rather large middle-aged lady who was walking about minding her own business. (I say large and midde-aged – she was probably a completely normal size and just out of school, but everyone looks old and fat when you’re five.) The only thing I could think of to say as she turned round and eyed me beadily was “I didn’t see you”, which struck me even as the words left my mouth as utterly moronic, given that I was convinced she was the size of half a house.

Having outgrown the trike, I went through a bit of a cycling fallow period until I was presented, aged about eight, with a Raleigh Twenty, something which looked like a folding bike but wasn’t. At the time, I thought this machine was the very nuts of the mutt, though looking at pictures of it now I can see that it was in fact a ridiculous contraption with stupidly small wheels. I spent most of my time swapping it with a mate who had a Moulton Mini, a rather pointless activity snce the only real difference between the two was that hers was a slightly darker shade of red.

Stupid wheels. You’d think it was a shopping trolley. Oh wait ………..

Even sillier wheels, if that’s possible.

The trusty Raleigh only bit the dust when a parental windfall resulted in the purchase of – wait for it – brand new bikes, a ridiculous extravagance in Penicuik in the 1970s. This gave me exclusive rights to a purple Raleigh Caprice complete with those rubbish Sturmey Archer three-speed gears which always got stuck in second gear after the first week. I seem to remember that what I actually coveted was an 18-speed racer with drop handlebars, but I have a vague idea this wasn’t deemed girly enough. Still, the fact that it was blatantly your granny’s shopping bike didn’t stop me razzing round the place pretending to be Batman, though having seen what Batman is really riding I have to confess I now feel a tad foolish.

No, mine did not have a basket on it thank you. Would Batman have a basket? I think not.

Batman’s wheels. Do you see a shopping basket? No.

I am now forced to confess that as a student I abandoned cycling, my completely pathetic excuse for this being that I was at university in Sheffield, a city which resembles Rome in that it was built on seven hills. (This is the only way in which Sheffield resembles Rome.) These days I would think nothing of cycling up and down most of the city’s hills, which gives you some idea of what a bunch of pantywaist pansies students are.

A postgraduate move to Portsmouth saw the purchase of yet another shopper bike (what was I thinking of?), this time in pink, for some reason. This is about the only mode of transport a junior reporter on local newspapers can even think of affording. Besides, commuting to Gosport in anything on four wheels involves getting up earlier than necessary, circumnavigating the harbour and sitting in traffic fumes on the M27 when you could be in bed. Bugger that, quite frankly.

Looking at all this, I am at a loss to say why I’ve neglected biking until this summer and the ripe old age of wossname. Possibly the preponderance of hills in this neck of the woods, though since other people come from the ends of the earth (well, Holland mostly) and pay a lot of good money specifically to cycle up our alps that excuse doesn’t really cut it. I suspect it’s some kind of specialised early-onset dementia in which the gradual deterioration of the mental faculties produces the delusion that biking up 10% gradients to somewhere near the snowline might be a fun way of passing a Sunday afternoon. At least I’m not trying to do it on something which resembles a shopping trolley with a saddle.

Still no shopping basket.

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Picking the perfect pet

‘Aaaawwwww that must be lovely, all the cutesome little animals!’ people inevitably drool when you tell them you’ve landed a summer job working for the local vet. Honestly, have you all lost any capacity for logical reasoning? Think about it – do you take Fido to the vet when he’s young, healthy and in fine fettle? No, you don’t. You haul him along there because he’s got diarrhoea or exotic parasites, or he’s taken to biting everyone he meets.

Cute. Or would be if it wasn’t in the breadbasket.

Certainly there is a liberal sprinkling of kittens and puppies, and these are indeed cute even if the puppies do have a tendency to wee on the floor in an excess of excitement. But their appeal is rather outweighed by the abundance of huge smelly hounds with matted fur and halitosis. Seriously, why would you think of keeping 50kg of incontinent rottweiler in the house? The stench in there must be worse than the zoo’s lion enclosure at cleaning time on a hot day in August.

If you really must keep an enormous hairy thing the size of a small bear, then possibly think about brushing him now and then. And I venture to suggest that he’d smell a bit less like something marinated for three weeks in rancid yak milk if you bathed him accasionally. Yes, I know hauling eight stone of reluctant Rover into the bath is no easy task. Getting the bugger onto the operating table when he’s out cold isn’t funny either, let me tell you.

Furthermore (and I know you don’t want to think about this, but it comes to all of us), when Fido reaches the end of his rich and varied existence and the vet releases him to gambol off into the afterlife, somebody has to get him into a big plastic sack and stash him in the freezer until he can be respectably cremated. That would be me then. And I can tell you that wrestling my own body weight in dead dog into a plastic bag is not easy, especially when he’s covered in wee. (Look, if you euthanase something half the size of a horse at a moment when he was just about thinking of going out for a tinkle, there’s going to be a lot of wee, all right?)  Apart from any one of the many other considerations, it makes the bag slippery.

Not cute. though at least it wouldn’t actually fit in the breadbasket.

All of which has taught me that there’s far more to choosing a pet than just taking whichever mutt looks at you with the biggest eyes when you’re browsing in Pets ‘R’ Us. In fact, what I’ve mostly learned is that if you’re going to keep an animal at all, you’re probably best off giving the pet shop a miss altogether and shopping at the taxidermist. An ex-boyfriend once bought a house from someone who kept a stuffed Jack Russell on top of the piano, something which I thought strange at the time, but which I now fully understand.

But I accept that despite the clear advantages offered by a stuffed best friend, many people might feel that it lacks a certain something (though I bet there are others out there who even now are wondering how much it would cost to have their life partner stuffed and mounted in a glass case on top of the piano – I can see serious plus points in that arrangement as well).

The first thing to consider here has to be size. No matter how much of a ‘big softy’ that rottweiler is, the fact remains that he weighs nearly as much as you do, and if he decides to take off after something you’ll just have to hope that you didn’t wrap the leash round your wrist, because if you did you’ll be picking gravel out of your skin for months. He could also eat you if he decided he fancied the idea, which is rather worrying. Rule of thumb: do not keep aggressive household carnivores unless they are at most a quarter your size, and preferably a lot less. Reject the rotty and consider a chihuahua – I know they look ridiculous, but you have to admit they have comedy value.

Not a dog so much as a rug on legs.

Next, I’d look at hairiness. You thought people left hair in the plugholes? You should see how much loose fur there is lying around a vet clinic at the end of a day. You could make one of those ’70s Starsky and Hutch style cardigans out of it by the end of a week and still have enough left for a scarf and matching woolly hat. Share your house with one of those Bernese mountain hounds and it’s going to be all over carpets and furniture all of the time. You’ll be changing the hoover bag every two days. Short is good in the fur department. Bald could be better. Consider the attractions of a fish tank.

Finally, think about hygiene. While cats, being fastidious critters, can be left to get on with their own housetraining and will generally only wee on your bed when they wish to communicate displeasure, puppies take a lot of convincing before they get the idea that the world is not their toilet. So you might as well get rid of all your carpets straight off, because you’ll have to do it eventually and it will make mopping up easier in the meantime. Or entertain the idea of a gerbil, an animal which doesn’t wee at all. Ever. (Seriously – they live in the desert, can’t afford to waste the water. If they did wee they’d have to drink it, and how disgusting would that be?)

In summary, your ideal animal companion needs to be small, bald and continent. Ladies and gntlemen, I give you ……….. the perfect dog!

That mohican’s going to have to go

All right, he looks like a cross between Dobby and Gollum, and I can’t actually guarantee the continent part, but cross him with a gerbil and you could probably sort that out in a couple of generations. Result.

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