I have never felt more out of my depth, and full of self-loathing than back in 2004, on the pristine slopes of an Italian ski resort that shall remain nameless. All you need to know is that it was a posh one.
This was my first foray back into skiing since my last attempt when I must have been around 10 or 11, which roughly calculates as a 15 year hiatus. I was wearing a vintage ensemble belonging to a friend of a friends younger brother, for he apparently was the only one who matched me in height, or lack thereof. As I am someone who is capable of changing outfits at least 5 times a day before feeling comfortable, that already felt bad. But what felt worse were the skis, for these too were someone else’s, and not even my size. Already the odds were stacked against me, and when you throw total inexperience into the mix, I think you’ll agree this was a recipe for a steaming fondue of alpine merda.
I turned puce, blood vessels popped left, right and centre, and sweated my body weight as I tried to move across flat terrain, whilst very small children–I would classify some as babies–slid past me effortlessly. Being somewhat of a control freak I was mortified to have have precisely zero control over both outfit and mobility. It didn’t help that all the Italian girls in their jazzy, mink ski suits, swooshed by showering me with snow spray, and looking at me like I really was something the arctic fox had dragged in.
Which leads me to the fact that people who can ski often display a most unsympathetic attitude towards those that can’t. They are sadists. I know because now – nearly a decade on – I can just about ski, and I don’t mind admitting that I feel high as a kite on schadenfreude when there’s someone worse than me. It’s a fantastic feeling! It’s taken me 10 years, averaging probably a trip once every 2 years (and many hunky instructors), to reach a level I would charitably label: not totally shit.
I still look like I’ve got two left skis on, and instead of turning I sort of swerve back up the mountain to control my speed (an exhausting way to go about your business), but I have now reached a stage where I actually enjoy the holiday and am able if not to keep up with the rest of the gang, then at least to feel that should/when I lose sight of them I can probably carry on by myself without too much fretting.
The thing that I haven’t mastered (is skiing) is dressing the part. There are two fundamental problems: firstly, I am an awkward size. No womens’ outfits fit me so I usually have to go for 13-16 year olds, but therein lies another botheration: toe of camel. In an ideal world, I would wear those fitted pants that flare out over the boots, but I am yet to find a pair that don’t stretch the length and breadth of me two times over. To be fair jackets aren’t such a problem, though I think I would benefit from a nice cropped little number with a fur hood, but from experience those puppies don’t come cheap. Below is a selection of items which – budget not being a factor – I would happily snap up for my next trip.
The second problem is how to manage my skin. Most high factor sun tan lotions, which are a necessity as the sun is unbelievably strong in the mountains – one of my poor sisters endured 3rd degree burns on one trip and now never wears anything less than factor 50 – have the consistency of tar and leave you with thick white track marks, no matter how much you rub it in. One way to counter this would be to wear a tinted moisturiser with a high SPF but I find they don’t really offer the protection required for the strange places that get burnt, e.g. ears, or the scalp once you’re helmet’s off at lunchtime. I’ve realised that the best tactic is stealth: deal with looking very ugly for the first few days (put fake tan on instead of make up), diligently apply sun cream daily and your lack of vanity will reward you at the end of the week when you should have a nice little authentic tan. I now ski with a little rucksack in which I pack some make up for afters (you don’t want to look too vile amongst all the other après revellers), some wet wipes to take off the incredibly sticky sun cream and a little comb to revive flat, lank helmet-hair.
The reason I say all of this is that last weekend, on my way back from a long day demonstrating inexhaustible reserves of bravery on the slopes, I caught sight of someone in the window of an expensive boutique in Kitzbühel, Austria, and wandered who the unfortunate pinhead was staring back at me, ‘Poor little guy… must be bored shopping with his Mother… Oh my Christ! That’s what I look when I ski??’
If you’re struggling to understand what sort of a reflection could incite such a reaction, imagine this: a seamstresses needle with a wig and sunglasses on, sticking out of the top of a large sack of potatoes with two straggly wisps of hair stuck flat to its needley, red face. Or the strange, small-headed creature in Death’s Waiting Room at the end of Beetlejuice.
It shouldn’t have come as that much of a shock because that’s what I’ve always looked like when I ski: Rumpled. Overloaded. Mottled. Which was bad enough when you didn’t have to wear helmets but with my hard hat on I look hauntingly like a younger version of Godfrey from Dad’s Army. Though clearly, the importunity to wear this life-saving apparatus, can only be a very, very good thing. From now on, my mantra is: Fitted. Fitted. Fitted.
I may not do it well myself but I’m not alone in having floundered in the difficult task of looking good on the slopes. Take Victoria Beckham in the Hells-Angels-on-Ice image below: the hair, the leather outfit, the visor/sunglasses! It must be bloody boiling under all that… my cheeks are burning just imagining the perspiration situation. Perhaps the photo in red was taken immediately after, it would certainly explain the extraordinary claret-toned hue of her skin. My theory for the photos being taken in sequence gains traction as VB sheds more and more layers and exposes more and more of her body as she first gets out the abs, and then goes full throttle, dispensing with the jacket and thermals to enjoy a swig of red wine in the sun. The lesson? Ski in air-breathing fabrics, high fashion is not your friend on the slopes.
I never thought I would say this, but Kate Moss – although she looks as beautiful as always – comes across as a the living embodiment of ‘all the gear, no idea’ in this sequence of images. It starts well: I love the Mulberry belt bag, and the fur hat, but I can’t imagine she enjoyed falling over and having to be helped up by the thankfully present ESF instructor. Kate should always look like she’s good at everything, so it’s terribly upsetting to see her looking uncool. She looks back to her stunning best in her natural environment at the Après ski bar, having a drink and a fag with the best ski hair I’ve ever seen.
Lastly, we have The Wests wearing the most inordinate amount of clothing at one time, ever. At first I thought they might be trying to go elaborately incognito after some his n’ hers facial surgery – though no one can ever hope to top Gisele Bundchen for ‘most mind bogglingly silly attempt to pretend I’m not having plastic surgery‘ – but the presence of skis and snow would suggest it is in fact, just a regular alpine vacay. Kim looks like she’s got North strapped in under her gilet, with that amount of bulk I’m surprised she’s capable of any sort of movement. Like Victoria, she too must be dangerously close to combustion, skiing is hard going and it doesn’t take long before ones body heat rockets off the scale. And as for Kanye (if it is actually Kanye): much too much dear boy.
To start us off on those who do ski-chic well, I’ve surprised myself by choosing the Duchess of Cambridge as someone who manages to look stylish and understated on the slopes. There’s nothing fancy in her outfit, it’s very simple but it really works for her. The fitted jacket flatters her teeny waist, as does the white against her luscious brunette locks. The black trousers make for a classic monochrome outfit that gives her get up a timeless appeal.
Next on my list is Rosie Huntington Whiteley, because she just looks lovely and doesn’t try too hard. Easy when you’re a beautiful supermodel but the same rules apply to us: keep it simple, and if you wear a onesie, wear a dark coloured one to hide potential wedgies. Next we have Olivia Palermo coming out tops. She looks great: the fur hat, the glossy locks, the leather trousers and Mukluk boots. Textbook. Though I’d be surprised if she did actually ski. Finally, Elle Macpherson manages to stand out from the snow, surprisingly in white, looking angelic in her cream Afghan coat and fur hat.
I take much inspiration in looking to the past, specifically the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Things were obviously kept very casual in the Forties, Gary Cooper’s in a Norwegian Marius jumper, and Clark Gable sports what appears to be a leather jacket. Later on, fur was clearly the thing: as demonstrated by the stunningly beautiful Swedish actress Camilla Sparv in the movie Downhill Racer. Julie Christie and Geraldine Chaplin swaddled in their furs in Doctor Zhivago left an indelible mark upon my memory. Nothing keeps you as warm, or gives you that soft focus halo quite like it.
If you are considering where to book your next ski trip, we enjoyed the loveliest few days in Kitzbühel, one of the prettiest Austrian resorts I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. There are many lovely boutiques in the centre of town, a favourite of mine was Helmut Eder (Sterzinger Platz, 3) which has a fantastic selection of designers from Alexander Wang to Isabel Marant and where I made a new brand discovery: Bazar Deluxe (see jacket below). There are plenty of things to be entertained by when you’ve finished skiing, namely a wide selection of traditional restaurants serving schnitzels the size of a yeti’s foot print, and fantastic Après ski bars: Pavilion (Hahnenkammstraße) will take some beating for sheer intensity, every single patron was conga-ing around the bar at 4.30pm, and throwing themselves into Hammerschlagen with gusto. Kitzbühel had just about everything I would require from a resort. Our experience was enhanced further by the lovely staff at the Q! Resort where we parked ourselves for the duration. With a brilliantly equipped spa and gym, and one of the best breakfast selections (including vitamins and just about the largest variety of seeds and milk I’ve ever seen) of any hotel, ever, I couldn’t recommend it more highly.