My tickets have arrived. After months of planning I’ll be flying to the foothills of the Himalayas next week, to go snowboarding in Kashmir – where they’ve just installed the highest lift in the world. I must admit I’m a little nervous, what with the ongoing skirmishes in the area and the fact I’ll be going from a six month stint eating biscuits in the office to hiking at high altitude, but if all goes to plan you’ll be reading about my journey in next winter’s magazine. We had to use a specialist travel agent to organize everything, and when they finally dispatched the tickets they slipped them into a brown suede travel wallet amongst retro luggage tags and headed note paper with flowery lettering. I feel like Phileas Fogg, about to circumnavigate the globe by hot air balloon.
Who knows what the accommodation will be like when I get there? I’ve heard rumours that the electricity supply is a little unreliable, and that plugging western appliances in involves wrapping the prongs of a European adaptor in aluminium foil, then giving it a good-old waggle (apparently no better device exists on the market). I’ve heard too, that the rooms contain traditional bakari (pot-bellied stoves) which are lit by the hotel staff each morning and evening. It’s certainly going to be an adventure, and a far cry from my first package holiday in the mountains, when a coach ferried me from the airport to resort and I stayed in a Crystal chalet, to be fed on beef bourgignon and cheap boxes of wine.
Over the years my love of snowboarding has seen me bunk down in all sorts of digs. My first season was spent in the basement of a hotel, surrounded by tins of tomatoes and orange juice machines. The night porter I shared the room with would creep in late at night and switch on the TV so he could record French porn to VHS. Through some quirk of French electrics the thing had to be switched on the whole time, so he’d drape a tea towel over the screen and leave it flickering in the background while he slunk back upstairs to man the reception. My second season wasn’t much classier, squeezed into a smoke-filled apartment at the back of a garage with two Australian ski bums. But you know what? I loved it.
Time off the hill is all part of the fun of snowboarding; you get to explore some of the most beautiful parts of the world, meet an endless stream of interesting characters and (with the likely exception of Kashmir) party hard down the bar. It doesn’t really matter what your room is like. Last April for instance, I found myself kicking back in luxury at Marc Frank Montoya’s rider hotel in Big Bear, complete with down pillows and a king size bed (you can see the pictures for yourself in our article on California). It was definitely cool, but not the thing that made the trip. That was down to the company I was with, the random locals I met and of course the buzz of just being in the mountains. Val d’Isère legend ‘Gumby’, interviewed for this month’s Roots, knows this fact better than anyone. Why else would he turn up for his first winter in the Alps and, for want of better lodging, curl up in a dustbin shed?!
The simple truth is, as long as the view outside is snowcapped, tomorrow’s looking bright.