Letter from Austria
What a comedy of humanness a ski slope is! That to enjoy the beautiful snow-clad Alps we have to cover them with giant people-hauling machines, signposts pointing left and right, Tyrolean theme park huts blaring out Oktoberfest music and serving heaps of käsespätzle, and cover ourselves in ludicrous matryoshkas of neon coloured gear. Snow silhouetted skiers trail down the slopes like ants... tree felled, tractor groomed swathes of white attracting human leisure as if laced with pheromonal powder... and all around, every time you glance up from your dedicated schussing or gaze out from the swaying ski lift, you see mountain after frozen mountain, forested, unpopulated, free. So characteristic of commercialised fun that a day on the slopes is 90% wrapping — tear off all the queuing for tickets, waiting for lifts, hiring stuff, squinting at piste maps, then leave the paper on the floor as you enjoy the kernel of highly processed pleasure inside. The downhill rush, the bite of curved ski edges into snow, dragging you forwards and sinusoidally down — oh give me words of ski swishing, ice scraping, wind and snowspray whipped in coldburn face, gut lurching with pure intravenous crystal meth speed... zipping down serpentine forest paths, skeletal pines to either side burdened with fat skirts of snow, body veering left and right with the slightest tilt of toes, drunk on circumscribed empowerment of motion, computer racing game come to cold bright life, reality re-rendered in unimpeachable 3d, other characters with utterly plausible AI to be swerved around or allowed to pass with that euphoric inevitability of things happening, happening in the orbit of your own wired, causative, barely conscious agency.
And the solemn gravity of the alpine locals as they ride the fairground-in-the-snow lifts, don ridiculous iridescent visors and pink bobble hats... as though enacting some ancient mountain ritual instead of paying to play in the schnee. Growing up in Scotland's permanent November, European ski resorts held a kind of kitschy James bond glamour. Hot German blondes with white sunblock on their lips and uniformly caramel skin. Chiselled, dark-haired men whose athletic deltoids show through day-glo snowsuits worn with no irony whatsoever. Only the kitsch remains.