Tag Archives: Italy

Skiing in the ’80s and 70s

Wednesday 24 January 2024 – Some Guy has challenged me to show myself in my skiing gear, 20th vs 21st century.

So I will.  But you’ll have to read through some  more of my ramblings first.  For every prize, there’s a price!

I started skiing in 1980, 44 years ago, when I was 27, on a visit to Sauze D’Oulx.  The fact that I’ve now visited a further eight times since then shows that I like the place.  Is it perfect? No, not for several reasons. But its character is clearly something that resonates with me.

The place has changed somewhat since that first visit.

  • The best bar in town, Andy Capp’s Pub, closed down sometime before 2003; its eponymous ski race, that I always used to look forward to participating in, therefore is no longer run. When I mentioned this race to a group of Scottish people also staying in my hotel, there was a somewhat shocked reaction as they tried to absorb the implications of running a ski race on a public piste.  But the race course was set up every week and used for racing by  punters recruited from Andy’s and also by the ski school for people who had been taking lessons. More on this later.
  • The lift system has got better – a bit. The lift near the town now carries four people at a time rather than two, but is still slow; the large number of drag lifts have been replaced by a smaller number of (better located) chair lifts; the most important chair lifts have been upgraded to high-speed operation; and a few new lifts have been installed, and these now link Sauze to neighbouring resorts in a big area called the Via Lattea – the Milky Way.  It’s great to have the possibilities of skiing further afield, but I read somewhere a telling comment that the lift operator’s business model is cost minimisation rather than market share expansion.

Some things haven’t changed much.

  • The Sportinia plateau that I mentioned earlier, is still a lively hub, with several restaurants and cafés, most of which are pretty much exactly as they were back then, and all of which provide great rest stops and a contribution to the charm of the place which (you’ll have noticed from my previous post) is important to me.

  • The best place on the mountain is still the best place – a hotel/restaurant called Ciao Pais.

  • The town is a lively place in the evenings.  There are some great bars, some dating back to 1980, like the Scotch Bar and Il Lampione, and some new ones, like the Ghost Bar. That said, I didn’t spend a lot of time in them, but that’s down to me; as a younger man, I was ever in favour of bar crawls, but I’ve grown out of that desire. Or maybe, as Robert Heinlein so memorably put it “It’s amazing how much ‘mature wisdom’ resembles being too tired”. OK, I’ll come clean; I was too tired even for a post-prandial drink in the hotel bar, far less an evening going out drinking. But I did take an after-dinner walk a couple of times around the town and it was clear that it’s still a lively place, if not quite as hooligan as I remember it.

And, finally, I’ve changed, in more than just my attitude to drinking.  I used to choose skiing resorts to visit on the basis of the extent of the ski area, as I used simply to want to cover as much of the lift system and as many of the pistes as I could.  On this holiday, I relished the exercise component of skiing; I’m now probably much fitter than I ever used to be, and my main objective this week was to ski from the start of a run to the end, without stopping (or crashing into something, of course).  This is something that I rarely, if ever, used to do, simply because I often needed to stop and rest on the way down. This week (after a slow start, admittedly), I could do a 4.5km run from top to bottom of the hill at an average 25kph with energy to spare, which I found rather gratifying at my age.

On my first day in Sauze this year, I covered 17km at an average of 18kph, and expended 747 calories doing so. On my last, I skied 18km at 25kph, expending just 395 calories, which is an elegant demonstration of how my confidence and ability increased over the course of the week. I even felt, at the end, that I was near regaining whatever used to pass for style when I was a regular skier:

A gentle potter down the piste in 1987 or thereabouts

And so to my friend Guy’s challenge – to display my skiing gear between the centuries.

Here is a selection of my various outfits between then and now.

And these days?  Well, the jacket and trousers haven’t changed since 2001 (just not quite so tight, these days), with one exception….


I used to hate wearing a hat or goggles. I only tolerated a woolly hat when my increasing baldness meant that I otherwise got a sunburnt scalp.  This year, as a precaution in case the 18-year lacuna led to a crash, I rented a helmet but was sure I wouldn’t use it after day 1.  Wrongly, as it turned out; should I ever go skiing again, I will be sure to be sporting one and using goggles as well.

And for a final laugh, here is my first ever lift pass

Will I ever buy another lift pass?  Who knows?  I certainly enjoyed myself enough to entertain the idea of skiing well into my 70s.

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