To understand just how much ski equipment has changed over the past 100 years I’m heading – terrifyingly out of control – down an Italian glacier on a pair of antique eight-foot wooden planks at 30mph. This is certainly olden days skiing.
“Time for a right-hand turn,” urges that personal inner ski voice, the one that’s been keeping me – almost – upright for much of a lifetime and a career that professionally are still going delightfully downhill.
Normally, and by that I mean on all 21st-century skis, the faintest flick of the ankles instantly sorts the problem and checks your speed. This time, nothing happens.
The brain sends the signal – but there’s zero response. It’s like asking the Flying Scotsman to slalom on the tracks somewhere north of Peterborough. Flick of the ankles? Hell, in flailing desperation you try knees, hips, and even shoulders. However, those exquisite examples of Edwardian carpentry unerringly hold their line. Man, it’s Geronimo time.
The reason for all this falling about in the somewhat wet snow this summer at 3500m above Cervinia in the Italian Aosta Valley is the 80th anniversary of Erna Low, Britain’s oldest ski holiday company.
Erna died in 2002 but the tour operator she founded remains a major force, taking 14,000 people to the Alps each year. This week marks the launch of Aiming High, her biography by fellow ski writer, Mark Frary.
I happened to mention all this over a beer to my friend Graham Bell, former Olympic skier and now the BBC Ski Sunday TV presenter.
“I wonder,” mused Graham, “what it would be like to ski on the kind of wooden planks that Erna would have learned on?”