Take the high road (I already took the low road)

The current good conditions in Scotland are rare indeed and I like Winter Highland's advice: 'It's midweek, it's quiet, the snow is good, throw a sickie.....'

Sadly, its not always like that as witnessed by this piece I wrote last year for The Aspect Journal. I now offer it here too for posterity: my account of a typically wet day riding in Scotland.

We wanted to start the next thousand years as we wished them to continue. So when we slipped out of the village at seven in the morning on New Year's Day 2001, we felt rather smug. We envisaged the rest of our friends slumped by the fire at the end of the day, suffering from holiday bloat, when we would return as rugged, mountain-conquering heroes with tales to tell.

Fifteen of us had gathered in the west of Scotland to celebrate the "real" start of the millennium. An hour in, after a lavish Hogmanay dinner and ceilidh, two of the party had discreetly staggered off for an early night. So the fact that we were on the road so early felt like an achievement in itself.

The entire United Kingdom was in the grip of a vicious cold snap with most of the country covered in snow and we were certain that a trip to Scotland would offer some snowboarding opportunities. Unfortunately, Presbyterian Glencoe, the nearest ski area to our holiday village, chose not to open for religious reasons, despite rare good conditions. Further north, Nevis Range was reporting far less snow and had not yet opened for the season. For several days, however, the resort's Web site had promised that it would open on New Year's Day.

After two hours on the road we arrived at an empty car park. We quickly learned that there was too little snow to open properly but that the resort manager would make a decision within the next hour as to whether they could open anything. We settled down in the café with a few other hopefuls to rest our weary heads and wait.

Finally the manager announced that, as promised, Nevis Range would open. The shivering snow addicts cheered. However we would have to be patient, he explained, because to get us to the limited snow his staff would need to reconfigure a drag lift to start higher up the mountain.

By lunch time the lift was ready and twenty or so hardcore skiers and riders jostled enthusiastically to the chair lift that would give us access to the hill. From there it would be a short hike to the tow lift that now served the upper half of a narrow snow gully flanked by brown heather.

We savoured the first few runs as though they were the reward for climbing Everest. We revelled in the camaraderie that had developed between the resort staff and their most committed customers.

Then, perhaps inevitably for Scotland, the rain started. A slight drizzle at first, we barely noticed it. A few timid souls trudged toward the chair lift but we kept going, donning goggles and hoods, relishing the rain as an additional hardship to be overcome.

Water seeped through our clothes, running down our limbs while we cowered on the tow. Soon there were only a handful of people left on the hill and what little snow was left was fast dissolving. We made a final run, dodging the newly exposed patches of heather, and unstrapped our snowboards, smiling.

Two hours later around the fire, still wet, we recounted the day to our mocking and deriding friends. We had no doubt, though, that we had made the right decision to go snowboarding that morning. We only hoped that our perseverance would be rewarded with better conditions for the next thousand years.

Snowboard gift ideas

Here are some online shopping ideas for Christmas gifts for the snowboarder in your life. I have carefully searched the web to find the best products at the best prices and sorted them from bargain basement stocking fillers to top of the range boys' toys.

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Snowboard tuning - an illustrated "how to"

Iron the wax into the baseTo maintain a board in optimum riding condition one should ideally apply hot wax to the base and sharpen the edges after every three days or so of riding with a full base grind maybe every ten to fifteen days.

Although a base grind will necessitate checking the board in to a service centre, waxing and edging can easily be done at home or, preferably, as a therapeutic aprés ski activity in the basement of a cosy holiday chalet. That is just what I did the other day and I took some pictures to serve as an illustrated "how to".

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Movie review: Saturation (***)

What I find a disappointing with Absinthe Films’ Saturation, and all snowboard movies, is the simplistic MTV style formulaic presentation showing off each rider in turn 'performing' to a soundtrack.

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Beginners guide to choosing a snowboard

How does anyone choose a snowboard? The choice is bewildering and, to the uninitiated, the only differentiating features are often the graphics. No surprise then that questions along the lines of "I am 5'11" tall, weigh 170 lbs and have blue eyes. What board should I buy?" are among the most frequently asked on snowboard fora the Web over.

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No Sno mountain board test

No Sno boardThis article was originally published on Snowserve in May 2000.

A friend and I rented a pair of No Sno mountain boards for the bank holiday weekend from Urban Chaos in Earl's Court. The boards retail for £250, but renting was a modest £20 for the weekend.

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Riding the Skwal in Courchevel

skwalingThis article was originally published on Snowserve in February 2000.

Having seen the odd Skwal over the last year or two I had become increasingly keen to try one.

For anyone unfamiliar with a Skwal it could be described as the ultimate evolution of the alpine carving board with stance angles of almost 90/90. Invented in 1992 by Frenchman, Thias Balmain, and manufactured exclusively by his company, Thias, it looks a like a single ski with a radical sidecut and two bindings.

A week in Courchevel seemed the perfect opportunity. So, I persuaded my friend Cass, an expert skier, to try Skwaling with me.

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