London City Airport. The ski goggles have landed.

I had an email from City Airport this morning, announcing the arrival of some new ski goggles. It seemed an imaginative way to advertise an airport and it worked, because I was so curious, I opened the message. I don’t resent this at all, because I love City Airport and only wish I lived nearer to it. There is something quite wonderful about the world’s greatest concentration of globe-trotting plutocrats having the kind of tiny little airport you find on middling sized Greek islands. A small building, a café, no queue at check-in, finish your drink and stroll out to the kite ten minutes before take-off, and you’re away.  Compare and contrast the Heathrow experience.  Did you know that the German for a nightmare is Alptraum?

The email consisted of links to the airport’s website and instead of reading about the goggles I found myself thrown into a guide to skiing and ski resorts via a link flagged as ‘the best skiing views’ or some such irresistible hook.  This is just one segment of a substantial piece of work with many resorts compared via all sorts of rating grids with statistics such as annual snowfall.

According to the City Airport guide, Zurs’s annual snowfall is 250cm, while lucky old La Thuile gets 550cm of the priceless white and fluffy.  This piece of obvious nonsense should be enough to tell us that the considerable time needed to research and compile annual snowfall numbers for European ski resorts is time wasted.  The number for Zurs is way too low and the Italians sensibly treat requests for these statistics as opportunities for free and unverifiable advertising.

Wisely, the City Airport guide does not give an annual snowfall statistic for Glenshee (‘Scotland’s answer to The Three Valleys’). Snow does not fall at Glenshee, it blows sideways into eyes and hair and foam cups of vile ‘coffee’. It accumulates against walls, fences, parked cars and in other inconvenient places, and fails to settle on the frozen patches of blasted heather where we might like to ski.

Scotland’s answer to The Three Valleys set me thinking. First: Scottish skiers do have a humorous sense of their own absurdity, as is essential.  Second: what would be Scotland’s answer to St Moritz?  Arbroath, perhaps. And to what glorious Alpine beauty spot is The Lecht the Scottish answer?  Answers on a postcard from Aviemore, please. ‘Wish you were here (and I wasn’t).’

On the subject of the best skiing views, City Airport advises us to look at the Alps, ‘a mountain range that tumbles and soars in all four directions at once.’   Trying to grasp this concept made me feel slightly sick, as if watching Top Gun in 3D with the wrong glasses.

On a less turbulent note perhaps we can agree that The Alps is indeed a region of ‘supersized scenic pomp, with colossal peaks towering over endless valleys,’ even if it could be improved by shedding a few adjectives.

In Switzerland ‘a whole cavalry of scenic clichés come marching to mind, all of them backdropped by show-stopping mountain vistas.’ These vistas dominate much of Switzerland which ‘as a nation, is almost laughably attractive.’ Call me humourless, but I fail to see the joke. If anything, that a country so attractive should be so expensive is a crying shame.  What’s to almost laugh about?

Confronted by the onward-marching cavalry of scenic clichés backdropped by show-stopping vistas, how are we to choose? Switzerland presents ‘a throng of ski options’ and from this throng the City Airport ski guide selects ‘the relatively subdued hill resort of Wengen.’ I applaud this choice: Wengen or its opposite number Murren would get my vote over the more obvious Zermatt.  However, if I was the Eiger or the Jungfrau, I’m not sure I would be happy to be referred to as a hill, let alone a relatively subdued one. Rannulph Fiennes might have something fruity to say about this.

On the subject of Alpine panoramas, there is no getting away from Austria, another country with ‘no shortage of astounding outdoor views’.  In fact, its ‘mountains and alpine meadows have enjoyed celebrated status in travel circles since Julie Andrews went for an alfresco twirl in The Sound of Music.’  I fancy travel circles may have been aware of Austria before 1965, but let’s not quibble.

The Tyrolean Alps draw packs of wide-eyed hikers, the Karwendel range is all rugged cliffs and dense forests. (I have no idea where the Karwendel range is, but it sounds rather frightening, the sort of range where one might easily find the cavalry of scenic clichés under attack from bears and baby-snatching eagles).  The Arlberg, by contrast, is characterised by hefty mountain ridges clustering around broad valleys.

If the City Airport guide decided to leave Zermatt out of its ‘best views’ section, that may be to make space for neighbouring Cervinia where ‘the slopes draw particular attention. Not only do they offer gentle pistes providing rich pickings for beginners, they’re also ringed by a host of hulking alpine peaks, not least the Matterhorn … a craggy enormity of a mountain whose emblematic bulk makes it anything but underwhelming.’ (Unlike that relatively subdued hill, the Eiger).

Another well-chosen beauty spot is Crans-Montana, described accurately but not all that helpfully as being ‘further south than Wengen,’ something it shares with Palermo, Cape Town and Hobart.   A further clue to the whereabouts of Crans-Montana is that it ‘occupies a particularly sumptuous setting granting magical widescreen views south across the Rhône Valley towards Italy: you’ll see peaks, peaks and more peaks, often liberally doused in sunshine.’

I like peaks, peaks and more peaks much better than hefty ridges and craggy enormities.  And I agree that they often have the sun on them – if not, they may not be visible.  So I’m sorry that I feel bound to object to dousing, which is something that has to be done with a liquid, such as cold water. 

‘peaks, peaks and more peaks’ seen from Crans-Montana. The peak in the middle, with the cloud on top and in line with the skier, is the Matterhorn  


The sad thing is, someone has obviously put a lot of time and effort into the City Airport ski guide.  Writing as badly as this is not something anyone could achieve easily or quickly.  And the underlying judgements are actually quite sound.  Some hard working skier is in the wrong job, and possibly the wrong language.

After so many adjectives, I feel an alfresco twirl coming on.  And after that, I must go back to City Airport and research those goggles. I am curious to know if they are the same as the goggles I bought on Sunday in a discount sports shop beside the check-in desk at Zurich Airport. What is it with airports and ski goggles?

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