Roger Cox

The best ski films screening in Scotland this winter, and where to see them

The advent of the high-speed interweb has been both a blessing and a curse for lovers of ski films: a blessing because it’s now possible to watch thousands of them for free on your smartphone; a curse because this means people are less likely to take the trouble to watch them on the big screen. That’s too bad, because there’s a whole world of difference between watching a ski flick at your local cinema, ideally as part of an enthusiastic audience of like-minded souls, and watching it alone on a screen the size of a fag packet while you’re waiting for the bus. Happily, however, not only are there some fantastic new ski films out this winter, there are also plenty of chances to see them in the best possible format.

Gstaad by Martin Peikert (1901-1975) will go under the hammer at the Edinburgh Ski Sale at Lyon and Turnbull

Vintage ski posters to go under the hammer at Edinburgh auction

Of all the vintage snowsports posters due to be auctioned at Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh tomorrow, the one that perhaps best encapsulates the carefree golden age of pre-war skiing is Martin Peikert’s 1939 image for the Swiss resort of Gstaad. Wearing nothing but casual shirts and trousers – no need for hats or gloves, folks, even at 2,000m – a glamorous young couple are riding a chairlift towards two distant snowy peaks, their skis and poles resting against their knees, the gent puffing elegantly on a cigarette. Neither of them seems particularly bothered about the fact that their chairlift is swinging about 30 degrees off-axis – which is just as well, really, as its rakish angle makes the whole composition much more compelling.

Arts and culture
Competitors prepare to tackle the Spring Run at the 2019 Coe Cup freeride contest at Glencoe. PIC: 'Iain''Ramsay-Clapham

Scottish skiers and boarders gear up for a winter of competition (and pray for more snow)

Last winter, due to the historic lack of snow in Scotland’s hills, the competitive snowsports calendar was left with more holes in it than a Swiss cheese in a Wild West shoot-out. The organisers of the SkiMo Scotland ski mountaineering races were forced to cancel events at the Lecht in December, Glenshee in January and Glencoe in February, and it wasn’t until March that they were finally able to run the first (and last) races of the season at Nevis Range. The backcountry skiers and snowboarders of the Scottish Freedom Series also failed to see much action: the contests scheduled for Nevis Range and the Ben Lawers Range both had to be cancelled and, had the Coe Cup in March not gone ahead in somewhat marginal conditions, the series would have suffered the second total wipeout in its six year history.

Ski tourers pictured at the Glencoe Mountain ski area. Will there still be days like this in 2080? PIC: Stevie McKenna

Will there still be skiing in Scotland by 2080? A data scientist crunches the numbers

Readers with long memories and more than a passing interest in the future of Scottish skiing might recall a Final Words interview from 2016 with the scientist Michael Spencer, then a member of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who was carrying out research into long-range snow forecasting. Back then, Spencer’s primary interest was in determining whether it was possible to predict if the winter ahead was going to be a snowy one or not by looking at something called the North Atlantic Oscillation (and no, I’m not talking about the band.) His latest piece of research, however, is an attempt to project further into the future – way further – all the way up to 2080 in fact. Will people still be skiing in Scotland in 2080? Probably. Based on Spencer’s findings, however, it might be more of a niche pastime than it is today.

Helen Rennie at the "Patch by the Pool" on Ben Macdui's north top, August 2017

Record-breaker Helen Rennie on clocking up 120 consecutive months skiing on Scottish snow

Earlier this year Helen Rennie became the first person to ski on Scottish snow for 120 consecutive months, but it wasn’t something she’d planned – she just loves skiing, whether it’s January or July. With a new film set to tell her remarkable story, she talks to Roger Cox about seeking out remote snow patches, close encounters with mountain hares and the benefits of taking life one day at a time

It is estimated that the funicular at Cairngorm Mountain ski area could cost as much as �10 million to repair PIC: Ian Rutherford

Is it time for “the removal of the funicular” at Cairngorm Mountain ski area?

And so the sorry saga of the funicular at Cairngorm Mountain ski area rumbles on. Last autumn, as regular readers of this column will be aware, the concrete pillars supporting the highest railway tracks in the UK were deemed to be structurally iffy. As a result, all trains were cancelled until further notice and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (who took over the running of Cairngorm at the end of last year after the former operators, Natural Retreats, handed back the keys) rushed to implement an emergency plan to rescue the ski season, which included the purchase of a super-sized snow-making machine called a Snowfactory. Happily, this did allow for a small beginner area to be maintained close to the ski area base station, but it was never going to be a substitute for swift, regular trains running to the top of the hill. When I visited the resort on a beautiful spring day in April, staff were using little electric buggies to ferry skiers from the car park up to the snowline in groups of two or three. Kudos for coming up with a way of giving loyal season ticket-holders the best possible experience in difficult circumstances, but clearly souped-up golf carts are not a long-term solution.

Former Marine Mick Tighe has now skied on over 120 of Scotland's Munros. PIC: Jane Barlow

Mick Tighe: man on a mission to ski all 282 of Scotland’s Munros

A few years ago I drove up to Glen Roy near Fort William with ace photographer Jane Barlow to meet Royal Marine turned mountain rescue expert Mick Tighe. Formerly known as “the Spider-Man of Glencoe” due to the amount of time he spent dangling out of helicopters on the end of a rope in order to pluck stranded climbers from inaccessible mountainsides, in later life Tighe turned his attention to his Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection – a remarkable museum of skiing and mountaineering memorabilia he keeps in a barn beside his house.

The new edition of Whitelines

How snowboard mags survived the print-pocalypse

Not so very long ago – for the sake of argument, let’s say any time between 2005 and 2015 – one of the most enjoyable bits of an overseas snowboard trip was the ritual visit to the newsagents at the airport. Once you’d heaved your boardbag onto the outsize baggage conveyor belt, your next stop, inevitably, was the snowsports section at WH Smith’s. Here, you could take your pick from a whole cornucopia of thick, glossy snowboarding titles: Transworld Snowboarding, Snowboard, Snowboarder, Whitelines... it was less a case of “which one will I choose?” than “how many of these can I fit in my backpack before the zip breaks?”

Taking the easy way up the artificial ski slope that sits on top of Copenhill, Copenhagen's innovative new waste-to-energy plant. PIC: Niels Christian Vilmann / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP

Skiing and great architecture don’t often meet, but when they do the results can be spectacular

Last month, the world’s most expensive dry ski slope opened in Copenhagen. Costing a smidge over £548 million, CopenHill offers a 1,475 ft (450m) slope with a 180-degree turn half-way down and dramatic views of the Copenhagen skyline. There’s also a forested hiking trail for those who choose to walk to its “summit” and an 85m high climbing wall for those who prefer to get there the hard way. All of this sits on top of a gigantic waste-to-energy power plant which yeah, OK, may have accounted for the bulk of the construction costs.

Tiree surfer Ben Larg at Mullaghmore, Ireland

Tiree surfer Ben Larg, 14, rides 30-foot wave in Ireland

The giant waves that break off Mullaghmore Head in Ireland’s County Sligo are as serious as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Last winter, experienced local surfer John Monahan nearly drowned there after breaking his femur and two ribs during a wipeout. In 2017, the surf photographer Ian Mitchinson says he told himself “to brace for death” after he was pinned underwater by a monster wave. The surf forecasting website Magic Seaweed describes the spot as “a savage, shallow, reefbreak” that “handles any size swell, producing massive tubes, but needs to be well overhead to break clear of exposed rocks.” So for Tiree surfer Ben Larg, still aged just 14, to turn up at Mullaghmore earlier this week and ride a wave estimated to be around 30-feet high, almost beggars belief.

The Tiree Wave Classic is the longest-running windsurfing competition in the world. PIC: Richard Whitson

The Tiree Wave Classic: a guide for spectators

Storm season is here, and at time of writing the west coast of Tiree is being hammered by a monstrous 17-foot swell following a close encounter with Hurricane Lorenzo. By Saturday, the first day of the Tiree Wave Classic’s week-long waiting period, the swell should be down in the more manageable 5-7 foot range according to the surf forecast website Magic Seaweed, but there should still be plenty of wind about, so there’s a decent chance that the contest will kick off either then or on Sunday.

Robbie Kerr-Dineen's Surf Notes books come in three different designs

Fife designer invites surfers to make like golfers and log their sessions

Most conventional sports require an element of record-keeping: runners like to keep a note of their personal bests, golfers use scorecards to calculate their handicaps and, of course, footballers (and football fans) scrutinise not just league tables but also more obscure metrics such as pass completion rates and percentages of tackles won and lost. Even some activities which fall into the not-necessarily-competitive realm known as “outdoor pursuits” often leave a paper trail: sailors keep logbooks, fishermen weigh their most impressive catches and mountaineers often keep painstakingly detailed records of their most challenging climbs.

Some of the equipment used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott during his ill-fated British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13 PIC: illustration by Christine Berrie

New book by Ed Stafford reveals what the great explorers took into the unknown

In April 2018, Ness Knight, Laura Bingham and Phillipa Stewart were preparing to paddle the mighty 1,014km Essequibo River in Guyana, from source to sea. If they were successful, their expedition would be a world first, but – as with all such undertakings – there were plenty of things that could go wrong. The evening before they were due to set off, in an attempt to calm her nerves, Knight did what many of us do when we’re about to take a trip somewhere: she laid out all her equipment on her bed and started going through it carefully, making sure she had everything she was going to need for the adventure ahead. Then, while Knight was in the middle of this painstaking exercise, Bingham sneaked up on her, whisked away the bedsheets and deposited all her gear on the floor. Fortunately, Knight was able to see the funny side and decided not to strangle Bingham with a mosquito net, but given the gravity of the situation – and how seriously some people take the act of packing – it was the kind of prank that could easily have gone either way.

Elsie Pinniger - one of the wetsuit repair experts on the Patagonia Worn Wear tour PIC: Mike Guest

Patagonia’s needlework ninjas to teach westuit repair 101 in Dunbar

Like most surfers, I’ve never given much thought to the environmental impact of my wetsuit, but it turns out that the thing that allows me to bob around in the North Sea for hours on end without getting all purple and hypothermic is in fact a climate calamity. Hub Hubbard, wetsuit development manager for the eco-conscious California-based outdoor gear company Patagonia explains: “Most wetsuits are made from neoprene,” he says, “and neoprene is made from either petroleum or limestone – using coal – so right there you’re talking about drilling or mining and, as you might imagine, using those ingredients to make anything is not going to be a very clean process.”

Michigan surfer Dan Schetter looking for waves a still from Surfer Dan

Ocean Film Festival to introduce Michigan ice surfer to Edinburgh

The Ocean Film Festival World Tour washes into Edinburgh later this month, offering a tasting menu of short films concerning the life aquatic. Highlights include Manry at Sea, a documentary about US newspaperman Robert Manry’s bold 1965 attempt to cross the Atlantic in a tiny, 13-and-a-half foot sailing boat called Tinkerbelle; I Am Fragile, in which filmmaker Florian Ledoux trains his lens on the landscape and wildlife of north-eastern Canada and western Greenland; and A Peace Within, which follows “extreme artist” Philip Gray as he attempts to execute an underwater painting in subterranean pools in Mexico – pools, incidentally, which some locals still believe are gateways to the afterlife.

Sherman Poppen, inventor of the Snurfer

Why snowboarders owe a debt to Sherman Poppen – and his Snurfing daughter Wendy

Christmas morning 1965 was hard work for Sherman and Nancy Poppen of Muskegon, Michigan. Nancy was due to give birth to their third child in a matter of days and was feeling unwell, and as a snowstorm raged outside their two daughters, Wendy, 10, and Laurie, five, were, as Laurie later described it, “bouncing off the walls.” Having been instructed by his wife to get the girls out of the house and into the snow, Poppen first tried to get them sledging, but the layer of snow on the sand dunes near their home was too thin and their sledge didn’t work as the runners kept sinking into the sand. Then he had an idea. Taking a pair of Wendy’s skis, he nailed them together using small wooded battens at the tips and the tails, creating a single board that could be ridden sideways like a surfboard and could float over the surface of the snow. It worked. “We just went crazy,” Wendy recalled in a recent interview. “We were taking turns sliding, laughing.”

Detail from Casting the Nets by Moonlight, by Colin Ross - just one of the many artists exhibiting work at this year's Pittenweem Arts Festival

Welcome to Pittenweem, home to Scotland’s saltiest arts festival

If it took place at any other time of year, the Pittenweem Arts Festival would be huge. Massive. It would have big bucks sponsorship and a national and international profile. It would be the kind of event that Visit Scotland would spend a small fortune promoting to prospective cultural tourists. By stubbornly continuing to share a start date with the World’s Biggest Arts Festival™ down the road in Edinburgh, however, it seems destined to remain a little bit off the radar – which, you suspect, may be just how regular attendees like it.

Arts and culture
Merryn Glover - inventor of the Cairngorms Lyric

Forget haiku - Cairngorm Mountains inspire new type of poem

Merryn Glover, author, poet and educator, is sitting in a cafe in Edinburgh’s New Town, telling me about “The Cairngorms Lyric” – a new poetic form she’s devised in her role as writer in residence for the Cairngorms National Park.“Initially it came from the idea of a haiku,” she says, “and what Allen Ginsberg did with that, the American Sentence, which he thought was more fitting for American culture. [The American Sentence was a single sentence of 17 syllables.] “I thought, ‘Why can’t we come up with a poetic form that’s unique to the Cairngorms?’ So the idea of the Cairngorms Lyric emerged.”

A nine-foot, 400lb porbeagle shark similar to the one caught off the Fife Coast in May PIC: Jerryrogers/Bournemouth News/Shutterstock

Number crunching: what are the odds of a shark attack in Scotland?

Shark fear: every surfer has experienced it at some point, and the ones that tell you they haven’t are lying. Even though the chances of being killed by a shark are vanishingly small (one in 3,748,067, apparently, compared to a sobering one in 79,746 chance of death by lightning strike) there’s something about the idea of being suddenly dragged off your board by an enormous, dead-eyed killing machine that makes the blood run a little chilly.

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