I woke up at 5:15am on Christmas Eve softly kissed my other half goodbye and snuck out the house as quietly as I could….all systems go…..the mission was on. I blasted up the M90 from Edinburgh and then hit the A9 heading northbound. The radio hissed and crackled in between assaulting my ears with horrendous renditions of yester years Christmas songs. Two and a bit hours later and full of Christmas cheer I found myself on the edge of the sprawling metropolis of Aviemore (Population: 2,397). I then located the target – Neil MacDonald (pictured below soaking up the early morning rays).
My mission was simple….
Pick up target. Ski tour to Cairngorm Summit to test out new Saami Kemi ski jacket, ski some runs with target and his lovely wife (after she had walked the crazy pooch), then return to Edinburgh, pick up Christmas presents and drive a further hour SW to parents house for Christmas Eve get together. Final destination arrival time no later than 1800 hours…on pain of death….or even worse…a cold dinner.
This was going to be tight. Especially with my propensity to faff. There could be no hold ups or deviations from the plan. Luckily target was ready for pick up as scheduled. All gear was hastily loaded into my chariot and we departed on the final leg of our mechanised ascent. Despite the early hour the carpark next to the Cairngorm base station was surprisingly busy. Some hardy folks, or crazy fools depending on how you view these type of things, had beaten us. No worries though. To our surprise everyone else was waiting for opening time. Their early start was probably fuelled by fear not adventure. They were scared of not being able to get parked or get a lift ticket. It was expected to be a busy day on the mountain.
We had bigger plans. We were going to earn our turns. No need to wait for the lifts to start running when you can stick a set of skins on your ski’s and ascend the mountain under your own steam. There is a huge element of truth in the saying “free your heel..free your mind”. It is amazing being able to make your own way up a mountain. Suddenly more of the mountain range comes within your grasp. The accessible terrain multiplies exponentially. You feel like an adventurer. An arctic explorer. A number of evolutionary steps removed from the mere mortal piste lover. However, with this increased freedom so comes increased responsibility, for both your own and your parties safety. The sale of ski touring equipment has taken off in recent years. The improvements in boot and binding technology combined with the beautiful images portrayed on the silver screen and the increasing need to get away from it all have meant boom time for ski touring. It almost feels like the twin tip revolution all over again. I love it!! The fact that skiing continually strives to push the boundaries and reinvent itself means it never becomes stale. Just be careful out there. Stay safe. Don’t take on more than you can chew. Keep up to date with the weather conditions and learn about snow pack composition. Never go it alone. Always tell others where you are going and when you expect to be back. Carry safety equipment. Take your mobile phone…but don’t rely on it!!
Okay, sermon over.
It was a great morning on planks. The snow conditions were however far from ideal early on….ice ice baby! Traction was difficult during certain phases of the ascent and the noise of our ski’s on the frozen wind blown hardpack during the descent was deafening. I don’t complain too much when the snow conditions are a bit ropey (ahem..well okay..not for long anyway!). I always try to put a positive slant on it…the trickier the conditions the more you will learn as a skier and the better you will become. Any on snow time is of benefit.
After a few climbs and fun descents it was time to head south. A quick bowl of carrot and courgette(?) soup at the base station then I was offski. Determined not to be late.
Mission was accomplished. Arrival time bang on 1800 hours ready to feast. Only to be told dinner was at 1900 hours. I had been told a little white lie…sneaky. Oh and in case you hadn’t guessed it..I was given some 007 aftershave at Christmas…I think this somehow affected my writing style. Apologies.
.NB: I will publish a full review of the Saami Kemi Jacket after I have played with it for a bit longer. I am so far thoroughly impressed. It has managed to keep me warm and dry under some of the most extreme conditions Scotland has thrown at me – including 80mph winds with torrential rain. It also surprised me how good it was when ski touring. I didn’t overheat and it seemed to be exceptionally breathable..