BY SUZANNE MARTIN
This is the question I asked myself when compiling a list of ‘things’ I’d always wanted to do but in my mid-forties had never got round to. Ok. Truthfully? The menopause is making its presence felt and the fear that physically if I don’t do the ‘it’ now – I may not do it ever, is powerful. So in my version of a mid-life crisis I’m learning to ski (and I’ve fallen not a little in love with it!).
In my head, skiing involves me experiencing a moment of true tranquility on a scenic mountain top prior to plunging skilfully down an untouched piste with John Barry’s ‘Ski Chase’ from James Bond’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service running on a loop in my head – you know the one! In reality, this all actually happened (apart from the skilfully and untouched bits). Skiing is actually everything I’d imagined it to be – now how often does that happen? So at age 46 I now have a new hobby, and inside the joy makes me feel about six-years-old.
Lessons started last year on dry slopes at The Glasgow Ski and Snowboard centre in Bellahouston Park with my 11-year-old and his giggly mate. Costs for group lessons are surprisingly reasonable, even cheaper if you are a member, and include hire of skis and boots. Over the course of a six week beginner’s block and a further six weeks at intermediate level, we had three friendly, patient and pretty chilled instructors (skiers are a pretty chillaxed bunch). We learned to snowplough and stop and are making headway into parallel skiing. More lessons beckon as our technique is still far from pretty but it’s good enough to get us out onto the real slopes up north.
Beside ourselves with excitement, this February break we headed up to Nethy Bridge just outside Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park. What a gorgeous drive up the A9 from Perth it is, too. Our destination? The Riverside Lodge booked through Handpicked Lodges. With three bedrooms and two bathrooms the grandparents came too – so a real three generation family break. And what a luxurious stay! With granite worktops in the open plan kitchen, antler chandeliers suspended beneath exposed beams, underfloor heating throughout and a wood burning stove in the lounge area, it’s super-cosy too. With a wall of huge sliding doors opening out onto a lovely patio and the River Nethy rushing along just below us, we reckon the private outdoor fire pit area set among the trees looks inviting, though maybe not in snow. Looking across the river to the forest beyond we are wowed by the beauty of the setting.
Settling in done we plan a day up at the Cairngorm Mountain Resort for our inaugural family ski trip. Booking the day beforehand is essential, especially as we needed to hire all our gear (apart from clothes). With some of the green runs open and the car park t-bar in operation as well as a favourable forecast for the next day we are set. An early departure and a mere 30 minute scenic drive and we are kitted up efficiently and good to go on our first t-bar run at 9.30am. And, how was it you ask? Nerve-racking! Getting there early is great for missing the crowds but means no-one has churned up the ice that sits atop the snow first thing either (a sad lesson learned as I tried to parallel ski into the soft stuff to slow down only to find I went flying over the top of it instead). The t-bar was a challenge too, we’d only ever used the Poma at the ski school before. Tell me this, how do you go downhill on a t-bar in sliding skis without shooting along ahead of the dratted thing?! Well, we learned. And we were not the only ones struggling – nothing like a touch of the old shadenfreude to help you feel not such a freak show. After the second run, plenty of skiers ploughing up the powder and as the sun doing its job, the snow grew softer and much more to my geriatric style of skiing. After that? We were all hooked.
With a day off to recover we headed to The Lecht next – just 30 mins in the opposite direction. The roads were a bit more treacherous this time, the A939 is often the first road in the UK closed due to snow. A smaller operation than Cairngorm, there are however plenty of runs for beginners and intermediates. Initially I stuck with the magic carpets slowly shuffling me up the kids area but was soon convinced by my eldest to go on my first intermediate slope ‘The Grouse’. All was well on the flatter section till I saw the slope disappear and my new found confidence with it. As I side stepped down a ski instructor kindly asked me if I was ok as he led his class of four and five-year-olds down. Yeah, I definitely need more lessons and some of the cold stuff to cool my now beetroot features. Learning a new skill is supposed to challenge me and this did. After a quick bite in the Day Lodge we asked the lovely staff for advice and were advised the intermediate Eagle 2 run didn’t have any scary gradients on it and that was us, sorted. Back came my theme music swirling about my helmeted noggin’. Back came that feeling of awe when standing ready to take off at the top of the blue run. I’ve discovered that compared to my husband and two boys I’m a complete fearty and like to stay within my comfort zone. Last year I couldn’t ski and look at me now, I want to say to their rapidly retreating backs after a bit of healthy ribbing, but I don’t really care, and anyway John Barry’s just started up again.
With an abundance of forested walks in the immediate area around our lodge, and a gorgeous cafe serving home-made fare at The Nethy House Cafe only a 10 minute saunter away, we left Nethy Bridge feeling truly refreshed and invigorated. We also discovered the Strathspey Steam Railway is a mere couple of kilometres cycle away from the lodge – great news for our train mad eldest and a reason to return in more clement weather.
So thanks Nethy Bridge you’ve been a blast!
As this blog heads out on the ether I can confirm both Cairngorm Mountain Resort and The Lecht are back open – there’s a silver lining to the recent return of the bad(?) weather.