Gabriella Le Breton’s magnificent tome is one that you can dip into any time, with a wonderful and lavishly illustrated mix of ski history, legends, resorts, and lifestyle.
As the great Franz Klammer says in the foreword: “Skiing…has meant triumph, tragedy, love and laughter. Through skiing I have made friends for life…have memories that will never fade…I’ve skied with Gabriella and I know how much she loves the mountains and making great turns in the snow…and her enthusiasm shines through the pages.”
In her ‘Skiing The World’ introduction, Le Breton writes: “Modern travel has made the entire world our ski oyster: we can ski on all seven continents, in over 6,000 resorts in 75 countries.” She adds: “Just as each snowflake is unique, so is each ski run. There is no recipe for the perfect ski day; we simply stumble upon one when all the ingredients are blended to our individual satisfaction, which could happen on the local ski hill, in a flashy new resort or on a remote peak.”
In the ‘Ski Nostalgia’ chapter, we learn that “the roots of skiing go back some 10,000 years – to mythical Norse gods and ancient Chinese hunters” (not much après-ski or fancy ski lifts around then!). It seems the word ‘skiing’ is derived from the old Norse word ‘skíò’ meaning ‘split pieces of wood.’
The ‘Founding Fathers’ section includes (naturally) the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, Britain’s own Sir Arnold Lunn, and of course Johann ‘Hannes’ Schneider, who famously developed the Arlberg technique of Alpine skiing in 1910, “determining our skiing technique for the next 80 years” (until the advent of parabolic skis).
When Lunn and Schneider launched the inaugural Arlberg-Kandahar race in 1925, there were 25 racers. “Four years later, the second race attracted 175 participants.”
Le Breton includes this hilarious post-war quote from Major Gustav Pönish, chairman of the tourism committee of the Austrian Ski Federation: “The ski lift is the death of ski tourism! Through ski lift operations, that ethical moment of natural experience will be stolen from skiing and degraded to monotonous piste-based aerobatics!” Cue the ‘Golden Age’ of skiing!
“There is no recipe for the perfect ski day; we simply stumble upon one when all the ingredients are blended to our individual satisfaction”
Although WW2 “stalled the growth of the budding ski industry” it also fuelled the next stage, as “thousands of men across Europe and North America were trained in ski combat, and subsequently settled in ski towns… founding ski schools, shops and hotels. Veterans of Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division, for example, were instrumental in the establishment of Aspen, and Steamboat.
Moving on to the ‘Skiing Today’ section, Le Breton writes: “With our technical kit, apps and beacons, we’re better equipped than those early explorers, yet still share their enthusiasm, and passion, and take the same delight in our magical winter playground.”
Latter-day legends (too numerous to mention here) include Ingemar Stenmark, Stein Eriksen, Jean-Claude Killy, Pirmin Zurbriggen, Alberto Tomba, Lindsey Vonn, and Hermann Maier. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the amazing Franz Klammer. Skiing celebs appearing in the book include Robert Redford, Roger Moore and Princess Grace of Monaco – but where is Clint Eastwood? Have I missed something? Or turned over two pages?
I’m so pleased that Le Breton includes Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in her ‘World’s Best Ski Resorts,’ which also includes Park City (Utah), Revelstoke and Whistler Blackcomb (BC), and Aspen Snowmass (CO), as well as an array of European resorts from Chamonix and Cortina d’Ampezzo to St Moritz and Megève to Zürs and Zermatt.
For those with deep pockets in search of deep snow, there’s a ‘Bucket List’, which includes sacred forests and onsen in Japan, heliskiing in British Columbia, midnight sun skiing in the Arctic Circle, ‘Dolomighty beauty’ and Alaskan adventures, where Gabriella recommends “make the quirky, historic town of Haines your base as you tackle big mountain lines, sheer cliffs and razor-sharp spines beneath skies dotted with eagles.” Also included: the incredible Vallée Blanche in Chamonix, and my own favourite ski continent, South America, where opportunities include heliskiing from Puma Lodge in Chile, close to the Argentinian border.
There are also chapters dealing with ‘The Best Pistes’, the ‘Best Off-Piste Runs’, ‘Ski Extreme’, the ‘World’s Steepest Runs’ – and (relaxing for a moment or two) – the ‘Best Views’, ‘Fashion’ and ‘Equipment’.
It’s a great book. After reading it – and looking at the wonderful illustrations – I almost feel like I’ve just been skiing. And I promise not to tell Clint Eastwood (who I once had lunch with on the slopes in Sun Valley, Idaho) that he’s not in it!
Currently available on Amazon at £33.75