Roger Cox

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.

The Lecht on 2 February 2019. Scotland's smallest ski resort, at least, had a reasonably good season PIC: Jasperimage

The Scottish ski industry’s second-worst winter on record: what went right?

By rights, the 2018-19 Scottish ski season should have been an unmitigated disaster. Not only did the hills stubbornly refuse to turn white for much of the winter, the funicular railway at CairnGorm was out of action all the way through, effectively preventing skiers from gaining access to the resort’s highest, snowiest slopes. If you’d predicted, at any time between December and April, that this was going to be the worst Scottish ski season on record, you probably wouldn’t have seen many raised eyebrows.

Iona McLachlan plans to run most of her surfing lessons in the beginner-friendly waves of Dunnet Bay

Scottish surfing champ Iona McLachlan on her plans for a north coast surf school

For a few golden years from 2006 to 2011, the town of Thurso played host to a professional surfing contest sponsored by surfwear giant O’Neill, known first as the Highland Open and later as the Coldwater Classic. During this period, some of the best surfers in the world visited Caithness to compete in the thumping waves of Thurso East and Brims Ness, from veterans like 2000 world surfing champion Sunny Garcia to new kids on the block like John John Florence – a hotly-tipped youngster when he first visited Thurso who went on to win back to back world titles in 2016 and 2017.

Tignes, open for summer skiing from 22 June until 4 August

The best summer ski destinations: Zermatt, Tignes, Hintertux, Glencoe...

Only a very brave man or woman would ever declare an official end to the Scottish ski season. Long after the resorts have closed, you can be pretty sure that there will still be a few hardcore backcountry enthusiasts out charging steep, narrow gullies on some inaccessible north face, where a few patches of snow are clinging stubbornly on. And, of course, there’s always the novelty of the Midsummer Slide at Glencoe Mountain ski area, which resort owner Andy Meldrum says will be going ahead as usual next month “as long as there’s a decent-size patch of snow left to ski on.” This year, however, there’s been a lot less white stuff than usual, so the gully hounds who might typically have spent much of May and even early June seeking out still-skiable lines around the Highlands face a stark choice: either pack away the ski gear until the start of the 2019/20 season or look elsewhere for those super-late-season turns.

Cover of The Sea Journal, by Huw Lewis-Jones

Seafarers’ Sketchbooks: historic journals capture drama of life on the ocean wave

For as long as humans have been adventuring, it seems, we have had an innate desire to communicate our experiences to others when we return home. “We would not take a sea voyage in order never to talk of it,” wrote the French mathematician and scientist Blaise Pascal in 1669, “and for the sole pleasure of seeing without hope of ever communicating.” These days, of course, there’s a whole chunk of the tech industry which caters to modern-day adventures wishing to share their exploits with the world: from gadgets like GoPro cameras and selfie sticks right through to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the denizens of Silicon Valley are labouring night and day to ensure that no heroic gap year bungee jump need ever go unrecorded again. In the past, however, men and women journeying to far-off lands had to resort to simpler means to record the things they saw, thought and felt, and in many cases the medium they chose was the humble notebook or sketchbook: portable, more-or-less indestructible (as long as you’re able to keep it dry) and infinitely adaptable. And as demonstrated by The Sea Journal: Seafarers’ Sketchbooks, a new book by Huw Lewis-Jones, paper and ink has another significant advantage over the tech toys of today: it encourages the user to concentrate on the things they see around them, rather than constantly putting themselves at the centre of the story.

Dunbar Surf Life Saving Club - just one of the organisations which will benefit from the new centre at Belhaven

Scottish surfing makes its mark with state-of-the-art ‘huts’ near its finest waves

Surfing, famously, is a sport that leaves no trace. In 10,000 years’ time, when archaeologists from another galaxy land on our planet and start looking for signs of what went wrong with human civilisation, it’s entirely possible that they will discover the crumbling remains of mighty football stadiums in cities all over the world, but they’d be doing well to find much physical evidence of surfing.

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