SCoM text logo

Skiing On Walls' Field

by Ian Cartwright

In the sixties, British skiing was for the wealthy and the enthusiast. My first memory of a foreign holiday was from a BOAC Comet chartered by Inghams flying to Munich. I remember having fellow passengers, the Beverley Sisters pointed out to me as we bumped along the then grass Gatwick runway. Our family came into the "enthusiast" category.

Both my parents have been the best in the country on their bicycles and the sort of dedication needed to be champions was applied to our family skiing. I just missed out on the "rotation" technique which involved the use of the outside arm to aid turning. By the time I was learning to ski (from 3 years) many adults were trying to lose this "bad habit" including my Mum and Dad. Skiing was a continuing search for perfection for my father. As well as a week or two in the Alps and Cairngorm, we would take every opportunity to practise at home.

In those days of White Christmases, before global warming, there was much local skiing to be had in Derbyshire. One of our favourite slopes was just above (and out of sight of) the Snake Pass between the Snake Inn and Bamford. Known by the regulars as Jock's field, it was behind what was then a tiny cafe owned by farmer Jock and close to a building owned by the Barnsley Mountaineering Club.

Sometimes we would set up a slalom course with bamboo canes, and there was always plenty of serious practising. The early 'Arlberg' style was THE way to ski, as taught by the Austrian ski school, headed by the enigmatic, St Christoph-based Krukenhauser (sp?), and also by Karl Fuchs in Carrbridge near Aviemore. The reaction to the discredited rotation technique was a rather stylised counter-rotation, which suited our kind of dedicated, almost religiously obsessive personalities. We were jokingly encouraged to adopt the `midnight position' in our beds at night so that we would not forget this unnatural, contorted posture. We were later to realise that any rigid posing was counter to the fluidity which makes good skiing so enjoyable to do and to watch. It is interesting to note that though ski school styles were often so distinctly different at the time, the racers used the same techniques, whatever their nationality. Happily, modern skiing has evolved into a form of natural, relaxed athleticism.

Another popular slope in Derbyshire was at Ford Hall not far from Chapel-en-le-Frith on the way to Rushup Edge. It is now a wild life Sanctuary, but for many years there was a hefty rope tow running whenever there was snow.

For those who worked during the week, weekends were the only times when they could get on the snow, and it was often infuriating to see the Tuesday snowfall disappear by Friday. For my father and I, and one or two similarly obsessed friends, we used to ski after dark midweek on what we used to call Walls' field. There is a slope in Godley, Hyde that is opposite the Walls factory on, I think, the outside of a small reservoir. We could only get in around five tight turns before having to climb back up, but it was next to the road and lit by streetlights. Whenever I pass it today, I wonder why we bothered.

When the snow was not within an hour's drive, and particularly later in the season, my father and I would, on Saturday afternoon, take the M6 as far as Preston (which is where the M6 ended) and on through Appleby to Dunn Fell, where we would camp out in our VW Dormobile. Bright and early on Sunday morning we would breakfast in a quarry before driving, or sometimes walking, up the M.O.D. road towards the summit. Very occasionally, there might be a tow, but more often than not, we would spend all the daylight hours skiing down and trudging back up. In a good season, we could ski there into May.

As well as setting up slaloms, we might occasionally try something novel such as making very short skis (of about 18 inches in length) out of the tips of the surviving skis from damaged pairs. We might sometimes practise the 'Mambo' which is a very strange sort of counter-rotating no pole-plant wedeln (ask me to demonstrate if you see me on snow). We would also make home movies so that we could later study our technique.

I remember one day in the Lake District near the SCGB hut we decided to see who was able to ski 'perfect' parallels by tying our knees together with string and seeing if it was still intact at the bottom of the slope. Not really recommended these days!

Ahh! Nostalgia. It's not what it used to be.