A FEW weeks ago in this slot I wrote about how we should stop harking back to “golden ages” and get on with enjoying the here and now. Well, I take it back. Sometimes harking back to golden ages can be a blast.
Case in point, a new book by former Scotsman skiing correspondent Ed Rattray entitled Scottish Skiing: The Golden Years, 1950-1990. Snow-sliding in the latter half of the 20th century might have been a little rudimentary, with dodgy gear, rickety lifts and resort access roads that were sometimes closed for days at a time, but in spite of all the hassles, having read this book, it’s hard not to feel that Scottish skiers had more fun in the past than they do today. I don’t mean that they enjoyed the act of skiing itself more, necessarily – I imagine the rush of flying downhill at Mach 2 with your hair on fire will always be much the same –but it’s the social side of skiing that our forebears seem to have mastered, and which contemporary skiers and boarders somehow seem to have forgotten.
The chapter of Ed’s book that really hammers home the difference between now and then is entitled “The Old Club Bus” and it deals with the shenanigans that used to go on after a typical day’s skiing, as posses of weary snow-sliders made their way back from the slopes to their homes in the big cities. These days, of course, skiers tend to drive themselves to the hill in twos, threes and fours, but back then hardly anyone owned a car, so the only way to get your weekly fix was to join your local ski club and avail yourself of their regular bus service. On the way home, comfort stops would inevitably be called for, and the buses would usually pause for refreshments at one of the big Highland hotels: the Fife Arms in Braemar, say, or the Huntly Arms in Aboyne. “On special occasions like club race days,” writes Ed, “the hotels would bring in a couple of musicians and no time was wasted getting onto the floor. The sound of a couple of hundred skiers “heuchin” in unison was awesome.”
A couple of hundred skiers? Yep, on busy weekends the Aberdeen Ski Club, to which Rattray belonged, used to need as many as half a dozen coaches to transport its members to and from the slopes. These days, by contrast, hardly anyone seems to belong to a ski club. Most people just jump back in their cars at the end of a day on the hill and drive straight home. On the up-side, they’ll probably be back in front of the telly in time to watch Strictly, but you can’t help feeling that a night on a club bus might be a bit more fun. No offence Brucey, but not even the classiest telly is a substitute for real life.
Having said that, it’s still possible to get a bus to Scotland’s ski centres if you want to. Citylink offer a very reasonable Snowlink service to Nevis Range, Cairngorm and Glencoe from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Oban – a much greener and more sociable way to travel than driving, plus you get 20 per cent off equipment hire as part of the deal.
Scottish Skiing is a treasure trove of anecdotes, and a must-buy for anyone with an interest in how the sport developed in this country, from an elite pastime enjoyed by the privileged few to a mass-movement that united people across class boundaries.
Now 81, Rattray began climbing in the Cairngorms in the 1940s, and started skiing in the 50s, becoming a founder member of the Aberdeen Ski Club in 1956. Later he was involved in the establishment of the Scottish National Ski Council (now Snowsport Scotland) and took an active role in organising ski races. He reported on them, too, for The Scotsman and for some of the London broadsheets.
Ski races in Scotland used to be massively oversubscribed, but as the great instructor Hans Kuwall commented on Ski Sunday recently, the scene is now a pale shadow of its former self. With fewer people competing, the best aren’t pushed as hard as they used to be, so the chances of Scotland producing world class skiers gets ever-smaller – a shame, because in the past this country has punched way above its weight. The solution? Bring back ski club buses, I reckon, and ban people from travelling to the resorts by car. We’d all save a lot of money and we’d probably have a lot more fun, too.
• See www.troubador.co.uk; www.citylink.co.uk