Skiing holds no appeal for Lucy Baring.
The kitchen is full of cured meat and blocks of cheese. The washing machine is on and Alf is asleep at midday. I can’t see the oversize bars of Suchard chocolate, but they’re probably still in the suitcase. Alf and Zam have returned from a four-day skiing trip and it’s been a bumpy ride.
This is my considered opinion of the skiing holiday: it is eye-wateringly expensive, the food is dull, everybody has to do enforced group activities, which require endless conversations about where to meet for lunch and a disproportionate amount of time is spent queuing. It is possibly relevant that I don’t know how to ski.
Apparently, we went twice in my childhood, but I have no memory of this. Family folklore has it that I was reduced to tears by the daily appearance of the only dish on the menu—chicken-noodle soup—and photographs show that I made it onto a sledge. I can see from the expression on the face of the person pulling me that they wanted to be slaloming down a mountain not tugging a toddler on a toboggan. You can see the same expression on the face of the person rowing you across a Scottish loch with your trout rod dangling over the side. They are old enough to be on the river, but you’re not and this is not a good feeling.
There followed a happy 30-year interlude when the question of skiing never arose, but, when the children arrived, up it popped again. Zam likes skiing and it seemed churlish not to allow the children the opportunity, so he took Olive off to stay with a godfather who is a demon skier with demon skiing children. Olive did not enjoy this.
Then, he took Olive and Will to stay with another godfather, who had employed a man with whom he usually climbs mountains to instruct the nervous novices. The mountaineer dec-lared my children gâté, which translates as spoilt. Neither child enjoyed this.
Then, he took Olive, Will and Anna to a different venue, where the mood improved, but Zam came home so shattered by the responsibility of three children on the slopes that we agreed that, next time—if there had to be one—I’d go too.
I sat in a cafe at the bottom of the slope drinking overpriced hot chocolate for hours on end. I sat in the window of the restaurant halfway up the mountain guessing which of the dots coming down it were my dots before eating overpriced chips. I went for a walk, but, once alone in an eerily silent white landscape, realised I didn’t have appropriate snow shoes and wondered if I’d be eaten by wolves.
I felt I was missing basic life skills.
We are now in a 50-50 situation with two children having declared they don’t care for the sport. One is undecided and the youngest, who has only been once and who broke his collarbone before last year’s school ski trip, was mad keen to have another go. As a result, Zam booked a last-minute deal and departed with Alf for a French resort mostly popular with university ski groups.
Within the first hour, Alf had a nosebleed in the ski-hire shop that lasted 10 minutes, to the horror of his father and the staff. He didn’t like the food. The Soviet-style hotel had very narrow beds in which neither he or Zam slept well. He skied as hard as possible for 2½ days before waking with a high temperature on the last day.
Back in his own bed, he sleeps for hours. I check his high temperature, which he confesses he thinks he had all along. Looking at the photographs they sent through, I see now that he looks feverish throughout. He was off his food, not complaining about the cuisine. ‘How was the actual skiing?’ I ask. ‘I absolutely loved it,’ he replies. I remain mystified but really, I’m glad.