A rambling about skiing and ageing

Wednesday 17 January 2024 – Those of you agog for a post about the second day’s skiing will have been disappointed, as there wasn’t one – a post, that is; I did go skiing yesterday. I didn’t write about it principally because skiing holidays are really rather boring except for the person doing the skiing. The activity is routine: breakfast-ski-coffee-ski-lunch-ski-coffee-ski-drinks-dinner-sleep, and repeat. There are variations in the enjoyment of the skiing bit for the skier, but all else is pretty much unvarying and therefore not worth writing home about. Suffice it to say that I had a good second day’s skiing.

For today, however…

The weather conditions changed quite markedly overnight, and the consequences of that are the subject of this admittedly self-indulgent rambling. Of course, the whole thing with writing about one’s own skiing holidays is self-indulgent rambling, isn’t it? Then again, I’m the one paying the rental charge for this website, and there’s nothing that says you have to read what I write*.

This was the scene from my hotel balcony this morning,

compared with that on my arrival day – a stark comparison.

Two things contribute to my enjoyment of skiing – the quality of the snow and the quality of the light. Skiing on firm, deep snow in the sunshine is delightful. Of course, to get the firm, deep snow, in the first place there has to be loose, heavy and soft snow; and while that’s falling there’s no sunshine, and the light makes progress challenging, because it’s flat – it’s difficult to see the small but telling bumps in the terrain lying in wait to trap the unwary. Also, the air is full of bloody snow, which can get up your trouser legs and down your collar in no time at all. And don’t talk to me about getting it on your glasses.

So, frankly, skiing in snowfall can be pretty unrewarding. The good bit actually happens once the snow has stopped falling, the sun has come out and the folk in their piste-grooming sno-cats have obligingly driven around tamping the snow down to make it firm.

Soft snow is challenging. It tests one’s technique and regularly, in my case, finds it wanting. Some people love it and will spend time finding deep and untouched snow to ski in. I am not among their number. As well as making the actual act of skiing more technically difficult, soft snow punishes you for getting it wrong:

  • Having to climb out of the pit you’ve just made with your head as you Got It Wrong is hard work.
  • Scrambling back up the hill to retrieve your skis, which came off some yards away, is hard work.
  • Getting the fuckers attached back on your ski boots can be really hard work.
  • Emptying snow from inside your jacket is depressing.
  • Enduring the faux sympathy of the onlookers is mortifying.

Despite my reservations about skiing in actually falling snow, I did get out, and found the conditions not as daunting as I had expected them to be. There were even a couple of decent views among the mist and snow.

However, the extra challenge posed to my skiing technique by bumping over soft and lumpy snow did make my back twinge uncomfortably, something it had not done in the first two joyous days on the slopes. So, even though a final ski down was actually quite enjoyable, I decided to give my back a rest and take the remainder of the day off.

So I went for a walk. Obviously.

It was nice to take the chance to see parts of the town that I’d never even visited, far less photographed. It’s an attractive place, particularly in the snow, and has a charismatic “centro storico” – old town.

Before this excursion, though, my Garmin Connect account delivered some good news: my Fitness Age is now 59.5 (compared to my actual age of 71); and my VO2 Max is now 42. I know one should take the assessment from wrist-based activity monitors with a large pinch of salt, but it was pleasing to note that the exercise I’d been doing was possibly having some measurable health benefit. (The previous figures from the start of this year were 62 and 41, by the way – not bad, but it was heartening to see an improvement.)

For a geek like me, it has been very interesting to have the data available from the Garmin activity monitor I wear. I can harvest information about the distances I cover, the speeds at which I cover them and the energy I expend whilst doing that.

Heart rate figures, for example, give an elegant demonstration of the impact of getting back to skiing after a long gap, and how quickly the muscle memory came to my assistance.

For example, here’s the heart rate trace from my first day’s skiing.

And here’s that from the second.

Day one was clearly something of a struggle as I got back to grips with skiing (and my body was clearly grateful for the lunch break!). By day two, though, my improved confidence and technique meant that I could cope more easily; in fact I did more skiing on day two – more runs, a greater distance and at a higher average speed – but expended about half the energy (1,000 calories compared to 2,000) because I had become better accustomed to, and less ill-co-ordinated at, the activity.

One of the other songs in the Organ Recital of ageing is “Ooh, me knees!” I had been a little worried that recent knee twinges would in some way affect my skiing, but so far it would appear that the routine exercises I have been doing over the last years – squats and lunges – have meant that I have suffered less discomfort in these joints and related muscles than when I skied as a younger man.

Despite not having done a full day’s skiing today, I’m optimistic (unless the weather completely puts the kybosh on the whole thing) that my ageing frame will be able to undertake another day’s skiing tomorrow with reasonable dignity and minimal injury.

I’ll report back. But now it’s time for tea and cake in the hotel bar.

* Erm, excuse me? – Ed

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