My parents took me skiing from the age of three around 1956. My first flight on the way to Hochsölden was on a BOAC Comet where I remember spotting the Beverley Sisters!
The pioneers of skiing in the UK could be called enthusiasts. The skis were made of Hickory and Ash with melted wax running surfaces. Metal edges were an innovation, as were ‘safety bindings’. Boots were made of leather and were based on those used for climbing. From the early Telemark turns where you went down on one knee and used a single long pole to pivot around, technique evolved to require a fixed heel and a pole in each hand. Turns were achieved by the use of what the French called Rotation Circulaire where the outer arm was brought round and the turn was ended with that same arm ahead of your body.
I missed out on that technique when I began, as the then new Austrian, or ‘Arlberg’ style was all the rage. The French tended to be more generally facing forward with feet shoulder width apart, whereas the Austrians favoured a more extreme position known as Counter Rotation, or Reverse Shoulder. The shoulders were aimed down the slope at all times and the feet were tightly clasped together. For linked turns, the ski poles on the lower side were quickly readied for planting fairly close to the ski tips. One Austrian instructor who we knew well from his time at Karl Fuchs’ Austrian Ski School in Carrbridge, Cairngorm, one Norbert Uitz, called it ‘The Midnight Position’. He told us we should sleep in that position to train the body. I have been told that even today, my technique is recognisable as the Arlberg Style. Instructors are constantly telling me to keep my skis wider apart.
Curiously, and rather tellingly, all nationalities used the same style when racing. Norbert was an excellent racer who was to train the British women’s team.
Follow the link the link to an excellent article about the French versus the Austrian ski schools. I have the book mentioned: ‘How to Ski the New French Way” which is quite a revelation and is still, I suggest, relevant today.
Equipment improved with technology. Boots became stiffer and thereby transmitted all of your body’s movement to the skis, and bindings became safer. There are still breakages even today, but bones tend to snap higher up the legs, I am told. Touch wood, I have never had a skiing injury although I have strained myself many a time trying to avoid the ignominy of a fall. At the end of a very special Austrian holiday guided by the aforementioned Norbert Uitz, he presented me with a medal he had made and had written ‘Salt Meister’ on its cardboard mount. This was his tongue in cheek tribute to my lack of somersaults during the holiday.
Getting back to my early days skiing with my parents, and especially with my father, he had been a world class amateur cyclist having won, among many other things, a Gold medal in the 4,000 metres individual pursuit at the 1950 British Empire Games in New Zealand. His determination and analytical nature carried through to his approach to skiing. He had had a taste of the rotation technique, so he had to overcome some ‘bad habits’, but his determination and a degree of natural aptitude gained from cycling enabled him to become quite proficient. It is interesting how many serious cyclists took to skiing and became instructors when I was young.
Style was all important in those days, but unfortunately his loose fitting trousers didn’t do him any favours. On a holiday in Austria, he decided to get up to date with some close fitting ones and in the eyes of his instructor, his skiing improved immensely. That was the holiday in Kitzbühel where he was hit with a ski stick on the leg by his instructor for putting in a turn on the Hahnenkamm course after he told him to take it straight!
My first skis were adult ones cut down, but they soon became proper skis right up to getting a pair of 210cm Kneissl White Stars for my 15th birthday. I loved those skis and had them many years until a rock ripped out the sole on a traverse across Coire Cas. The lady from the insurance company which had given me ‘New for Old’ cover asked me if I could replace just the damaged one!
I was dragged along everywhere, abroad and more regularly to Scotland (Cairngorm), The Lake District (Raise) and north Pennines (Great Dunn Fell), as well as more locally to Derbyshire. We were even known to ski on the shortest of slopes on the banks of the reservoir opposite Walls’ meat factory in Hyde, by the light of the street lamps. Such was my Dad’s enthusiasm, we would even be known to ski on frosty grass!
My Dad’s obsession with getting it right led him to come up with the idea of literally tying our legs together. We would ski down with a tight thread around our knees and see if it was intact at the bottom of the run. All the uphill transport was unaided by machinery, of course, except occasionally using a tow on Raise and in the very early days a rope tow on the White Lady on Cairngorm.
Cairngorm skiing for me began when I could fit inside a rucksack, and one or other of my parents would carry me from the bottom of the mountain close to Glenmore Lodge up to what is now the car park. If you were lucky, you might get a lift in a lorry going up the dirt track. After all that, they told me I had been known to refuse to ski! I soon picked up my parents’ enthusiasm and it wasn’t long before I could lead them down the slopes. I am eternally grateful for their encouragement to do what became a lifelong source of fun, excitement and camaraderie.
I could write a whole essay about skiing with the club’s tows in Derbyshire, but that should come later. The title of this article is The Gully. So, after a lot of rambling, I shall tell you about a secret run along a hard to find gully which runs from virtually from the summit of the Snake Pass down to the Reservoir close to Glossop. I was taken there by my father and one of his friends from The Barnsley Mountaineering Club in around 1966. Someone estimated it was over a mile, but I haven’t checked. The gully is so difficult to find that you don’t see it until you are there.
It is essential that you have your uphill transport sorted out by parking at least one car close to the bend on the snake near to the reservoir. Then a full car load of skiers drives to the summit and parks there. If you have someone willing to just drive each leg, all the better. They can drop you off at the top and pick you up at the bottom. The Gully is found by aligning yourself with the road at it goes over the summit. Obviously, there needs to be snow, and this occurs after heavy falls came with a North wind. You can check with binoculars from Hollingworth, close to the traffic lights where the road forks to Woodhead and towards The Snake, near the Gun Inn. Short of sending up a drone, I know no other way to confirm its existence at any given season.
The run is quite gentle, but apart from the occasional ski width transition between slopes it is continuous all the way down to the reservoir. It’s hardly the Hahnenkamm, but what do you expect in Derbyshire in April?