Do we still enjoy skiing?

In the old days we skied badly but cheerfully. If only that was still the case today

Sir Arnold Lunn's History of Skiing is full of good stuff. Did you know, for example, that skis "were in use in Great Britain long before they ever appeared in Switzerland"? Miners in Cumberland apparently used to "she" to work in winter in the 1840s. And were you aware that when the Swiss finally caught up, in the late 1880s, it was largely thanks to us? As Sir Arnold says, we "can claim to be among the first to introduce skiing to Switzerland".

Much of his book is devoted to such matters: the unearthing of prehistoric skis from Swedish bogs, the ideological disputes (one ski pole or two?) between the Austrian and Norwegian schools of skiing in the late-19th century, and so on. But suddenly, on page 340, Sir Arnold turns introspective: chapter 28 is titled "Do we enjoy skiing?"

He has his doubts. In the old days, he says, "We enjoyed ourselves with the happiness of children ... We skied badly, but we were cheerfully resigned to our incompetence". So dismayed is Sir Arnold by what has happened to the sport, "the Frankenstein which I have helped to create", that he is tempted to form an association for the discouragement of skiing. Among his proposals is that "a special staff of sandwich men with arms in slings and their heads in bandages, bearing large placards [saying] 'Victims of skiing accidents' would be engaged to hobble up and down platforms at Victoria and Charing Cross, in order to persuade outgoing winter sportsmen to abandon skiing".

The ultimate object of the association would be that "in time, the standard of skiing might be lowered to the primitive condition of happy inefficiency". Sir Arnold does not dispute "that British skiing has improved out of all recognition since the war

I should perhaps point out here - if you haven't already guessed - that the war to which Sir Arnold refers is the First World War: his History of Skiing was published in 1927. But the issue he raises is still relevant, probably more so. Now that we have got to grips with living in an age of leisure we have learnt to make most of our pleasures last. Think of your other favourite pastimes - perhaps sex, cookery or night-clubbing. If they were meant to be done in a hurry no one would have invented foreplay or home-made pasta, and there wouldn't be clubs that open at 3am on Sunday morning when the others close. Yet with skiing, the better you get at it, the sooner it's over. It is, specifically, good skiing that has to be discouraged.

When it comes to being a spokesman for lousy skiers, I suspect that I am better qualified than Sir Arnold. But my position is more moderate than his: I firmly believe that everybody has the right to ski. All we need is a policy of segregation, to protect the lousy skier from the pressure to become a good one.

For those whose heads are full of finer things than just powder and wax, a chairlift can be as much fun as the piste: the more you climb, the further away you get from cities, crowds and pollution; the view of the mountains becomes bigger and better, and the amount of skiing time you store up increases. As with altitude, so with mood: when you are up you are up, and when you are down you are down.

So a lousy skier does not take a mad dash down the mountainside. With his "happy inefficiency" he makes the most of the benefits conferred by the chairlift (which, in Sir Arnold's day were much harder won, by walking up) descending in gentle traverses, stopping frequently to admire the view or hug a tree, and frightening no one.

Here lies the first argument for segregation. Beautiful slopes are wasted on good skiers - all they see is a blur - so the most attractive resorts, particularly those with wonderful runs winding through woodland, should be reserved for lousy skiers. Good skiers would, of course, be offered a suitable alternative such as Sierra Nevada in Spain, where most of the skiing is on a kind of motorway.

Perhaps, indeed, the Alps should be entirely devoted to lousy skiing: ecological groups such as Alp Action are particularly concerned about the damage done by off-piste skiing, and lousy skiers only rarely go off- piste because they are caring and environment-friendly people ... and because it's so bloody difficult.

Secondly, it is axiomatic that lousy skiers use lifts less frequently than good ones - they must do, because they spend more time on the slopes. It is a matter of simple justice that they should be spared the queues generated by skiers who use the lifts over and over again.

Third, as resorts are segregated they will be better able to serve their particular clientele. Thus those for lousy skiers will have more and better restaurants on the slopes, because everyone will stop at them. Similarly, ski schools will specialise, with beginners' classes-only in some resorts (a lousy skier must at least be able to ski) and flashy, advanced instructors in others.

Sadly, Sir Arnold Lunn had to admit that his association for the discouragement of skiing was "an idle dream ... Man is a competitive animal, whatever the Socialist may say".

My plan to protect the lousy skier has no future, either. What would happen? All the good skiers would want to go to their resorts, so they would learn how to ski badly. The crowding would be intolerable. (Sir Arnold's sub-text was that he wanted a bit more solitude: what would he make of Courchevel 1850 on a fine Sunday morning?) The only solution, then, would be to become a good skier. And that would destroy the object of the exercise.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral