Amateur anthropology and Alpine tribes

As peak season hoves into view, most of our regulars have now arrived and resort has gone from a ghost town of well under 2000 inhabitants to a bustling metropolis with a cosmopolitan flavour. (Well, all right, I exaggerate – there’s a bit of a queue in Marché U now and then.)

Snowblades. No need, really.

For most of the winter the clientele is fairly homogeneous – they’re here for the snow. They might ski, board or (if they absolutely have to and don’t mind being completely despised by all right-thinking people) snowblade, and they range from serious off-piste powder fiends through aspiring park rats to families bimbling round the blue runs, but they’re all here for the white stuff one way or another.

The summer punter is more difficult to nail down – there are bikers who might ski now and then, skiers who fill in the afternoons with a swim, walkers, marmot spotters, kids on summer camps, families, random tourists who just wondered what was up here, mad Dutch cyclists, you name it. Must be a total nightmare for the marketing chappies trying to create their ‘brand image’. Serves them right for having such a bloody silly job.

Despite the untidy diversity, there are distinct and identifiable tribes, all of whom turn up every year and have their own hangouts and habits. Here’s a handy pocket guide to the most common species.

That thing can barely walk, what's it doing on skis?

The race trainees: serious skiers, some of them so young they’re barely able to toddle. You don’t see much of these at the lower altitudes as they start the day at 07:00 when the first lift opens and spend the morning whizzing around the sheet of ice which is the glacier at that time of day on one leg. Or sometimes the other leg, just for variety. It is a mistake to get in a cabin with a bunch of these going down at the end of a morning, as they proceed to strip off in the lift and stuff boots, jackets and mid-layers in the enormous backpacks they all carry. This is alarming and often frankly malodorous.

Sick, dude. With or without comma.

The park rats: all snowboarders, despite the fact that in winter the park population is probably 60:40 board to ski. 2Alpes has the biggest summer park in Europe, and attracts freestyle boarders from all over. These often tend to be the extreme end of marketing-inspired cool-kid dudery, and can frequently be heard to use  words like ‘sick’ and even ‘gnarly’ on an entirely serious basis. It hasn’t yet occurred to any of them that if Jake Burton wants to advertise his kit on walking billboards then perhaps he should be paying for the space.

The ramblers: mainly middle-aged to elderly, sporting sensible boots, Scoutrageous shorts and silly fishing hats. Quite jolly, a bit wet and often British.

Mountain of Hell

This one seems to have got a bit lost.

The mountain bikers: these come in several varieties – serious types who clearly do it all the time and are kitted out in special cut-off trousers with ‘Troy Lee’ written on them and long shirts which fit over the body armour; people who are clearly road cyclists giving it a whirl and going up in lycra shorts, fake Tour de France team shirts and those polystyrene hats which look as though they’d be as much use as something your granny knitted; and multi-activity tourists with rented bikes, random old clothing and ill-fitting armour tied haphazardly onto various more or less appropriate parts of the body.

The Italians: oh good grief. An entire nation of people which talks when it should be listening. What can you say.

Jews in the alps

The Jews - nice beards there, chaps.

The Jews: surprised you with that one, didn’t I? Alpine resorts are overrun every August with Hasidic Jews (or other very orthodox types – as an escapee from Catholicism and confirmed realist I wouldn’t know), mainly because we have lots of under-used hotels and apartment blocks which they can rent wholesale before arriving en masse with their own kosher kitchen staff. They come from all over the place, huge families all in black and white, the men with sidelocks and impressive beards and the women wearing wigs which must be ridiculously hot and uncomfortable. Though I notice that a lot of them have gone into hats and headscarves this year, which seems a lot more sensible and certainly looks a great deal less risible.

The random tourists: bit of a cheat this one, as they aren’t really a tribe, having nothing in common with one another other than their total gormlessness. They have no clue what there is to do, how the lifts work, or even why all this infrastructure is here in the first place. They’ve never been to the Alps before and are only here because they were passing through in the camper van/they just fancied it for a change/somebody said it was nice/they saw a picture of it somewhere. But they rave about the mountains and turn into big kids at the mere whiff of a marmot. Easily the most fun summer punters.

Batty tourists, we love them.

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About misplacedperson

Camping and snowboarding for a living. It may not be a career, but it's certainly a life.
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5 Responses to Amateur anthropology and Alpine tribes

  1. Am loving “Sick, dude, with or without the comma” – tres funny!

    • R.B.Sheridan (1751-1816) Anglo-Irish playwright, on being required to apologise for insulting a fellow member of Parliament: “Mr.Speaker, I said the honorable mmber was a liar it is true and I am sorry for it. The honorable member may place the punctuation where he pleases.”

  2. Charlotte says:

    I am now officially in favour of the word ‘sick’ since my van has been pronounced this as high praise indeed!

  3. Peak season has arrived here too. A 15 min drive to the local supermarket now takes 2 hours. Sometimes its better to starve than shop..

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