When Kristina comes up with a plan, you always know you’re going to be in for an epic. So when the phone rang at quarter past seven in the morning, I just knew it was going to be one of those days.
Apparently I didn’t want to go out on the mountain bike, as I had planned, because there was lots of snow down in Aviemore – and we were going skiing. With five children aged under six.
No matter that it had been more than 20 years since I’d clipped into a set of skis, Kristina would keep me right and be my guide, while simultaneously looking after her two kids, teaching me and Clara (who had never been skiing) and towing Jennifer in her ski trailer.
My wife, Meg, was a bit more sensible and decided to walk the route with our new baby Matthew keeping warm in the sling.
Things started fine, until we arrived at the friendly ski hire shop at Glenmore to discover all the cross-country equipment was already out on the trails. It looked like it might be a sledging day only but it’s amazing how much time passes feeding a baby and gearing everybody up for the cold.
I popped back into the shop before we headed off and, thankfully, somebody had returned with gear suitable for us. Clara and I got kitted out with boots, skis and poles then we headed over to the Hayfield for some practice.
The field was mobbed on this glorious winter’s day, with people sledging and skiing. Once I’d finally got the frozen muck out of the bindings I got clipped in and made my way tentatively into the field, barely getting out of the car park before my first fall of the day!
Our plan was to tackle a cross-country skiing route, and the trails around Glenmore were perfectly suited to it, with a generous covering of snow and that picture-perfect look. Loch Morlich was frozen over and topped with a dusting of the white stuff, while the trees and mountains added a beautiful backdrop.
But the kids were enjoying the sledging and I was still falling over, so we had lunch and delayed our trip until mid-afternooon, eventually getting going towards the Allt Mor car park. From there we tackled a route over the burn and through the woods heading towards the path to Ryvoan before returning to Glenmore Lodge.
Kristina’s children, Olly and Freya, have been skiing since they were two, so they became my instructors for the day. “Bend your knees,” they would shout, as I landed with a bump onto the hard trail again.
Eventually I got the hang of the basics, i.e. standing up and even coping with very gentle gradients, but anything you might describe as an incline became a serious challenge to me. The old snowplough technique I’d learned in outdoor education back in the day – on a dry ski slope in north-west England – seemed impossible to achieve; perhaps I’d not used those particular muscles in all that time!
Clara was determined but getting tired of falling over, though she seemed to be on her feet much more than I was.
Olly and Freya found time to show me the kick turn – a neat way of doing a 180-degree turn on the spot while wearing skis – as well as stopping at plenty of low-hanging trees to shake the snow onto me while I battled to stay upright.
To top it all, dusk was definitely arriving apace, so we did our best to make progress, and it was a relief to reach the path down to the lodge, where we’d already decided Meg would wait with the children and get a warm drink while Kristina and I continued to the cars.
Following the Old Logging Way in the fast-diminishing light was a new test for my burgeoning cross-country skiing skills, and one that I failed miserably! A few falls later I decided to parallel step down the steeper bits and save my body from any further bumps and bruises.
With the Winter Olympics due to start in PyeongChang next week, I will definitely have a newfound respect for those taking part in all the events, but especially in the cross-country skiing – the oldest form of skiing and one that offers a wonderful way of getting around in these magical conditions.
It’s also one that gives you a serious workout, and I was glad to get the boots off and get back to Glenmore Lodge to meet up with Meg and the kids.
We’d seen the trails go from glorious sunshine through the half-light of dusk and into the pure darkness, with the clear night sky offering a new perspective as the temperature dipped well below freezing.
The experience was fantastic, I just could do with the ability to match so that I can appreciate it all the more!
Allt Mor and Ryvoan path
Distance 3 miles / 5km
Terrain Good tracks in perfect condition
Start/finish Hayfield/Allt Mor car parks, Glenmore
Map OS Explorer OL57
With the Winter Olympics a week away from beginning, John tries out the oldest form of skiing