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Winter Wanders

Written by George Fisher

Image for article Winter Wanders

Des Oliver says he’s still loving it after 60 years on skis

Walking on snow. Sledging on snow. Climbing on snow. And last but not least, skiing on snow. If you live in the Lake District and you’re a mountain enthusiast, sooner or later you’ll find yourself taking part in all these activities. I’ve tried them all and I suppose I should add running on snow, training for fell running. I bought my first fell shoes early in 1960 and tried them out running through snowdrifts on Skiddaw. They proved ideal footwear, and later that year I won the Lake District Mountain Trial in them.

Walking on snow took place all the time, especially en route to winter climbs maybe on Great End or Helvellyn, or more often with Mountain Rescue to carry some injured climber or find a missing fell walker.

Sledging was very much an activity of my younger days. I recall sledging on Latrigg in the 1930s and being amazed to see a man skiing. Little did I know that twenty years later I would be doing the same thing in the same place!

Skiing has been the main winter activity of my entire adult life – that’s over 60 years’ skiing and counting! When did skiing start? Well apparently people were sliding about on bits of wood 2,000 years before Christ, but the early 19th century pleasure skiers began in Norway closely followed by the Alpine countries. The ‘father’ of modern skiing was an Austrian called Mathias Zdarsky who introduced the snowplough turn, allowing skiers to turn in different directions by pushing the ski heels apart. This soon developed into the ‘stem turn’, which brought the heels back together once the turn was completed. Then came the ‘stem Christie’ or ‘Christiana’, which pulled the skis together sooner. This turn was perfected by Hannes Schneider, one of the famous Red Devils from St Anton, Austria (so called from the red sweaters they wore). Schneider emigrated to America in the late 1930s to escape the Nazi regime and pioneered skiing in the States, starting the first ski school. Nowadays there are many ways of controlling skis, including the parallel turn which keeps the skis together at all times.

I have skied on all the mountains around Keswick including countless times on Raise, Helvellyn as a member of the Lake District Ski Club. The Club maintains a piste and lift on Raise, and I was involved in building the club hut.

I recall that my first skis and ski boots cost £15, whereas my latest skis, poles and boots cost well over £300! Ski trips are more expensive than package tours to sunny destinations but it makes no difference; once you’ve been bitten by the ski bug there’s no turning back. I learned to ski ‘properly’ at a ski school in Austria and went on to do a lot of ski touring in Scotland and the Alps. I even became a ski mountaineering instructor at the Glenmore Lodge centre near Aviemore for a while. It may be true to say that I have had a full life on skis – now I get to ski with my grandchildren, which is great fun.