So there I was, gazing out of the window on the 7.30am easyJet flight from Stansted to Ljubljana, en route to the Austrian Alps, along with all the other smug moon-booted middle-class families wearing their anoraks on board so everyone knows they’re going skiing, yah.
I am not a particularly observant person and was drowsy after the regulation 4.20am start, but even I noticed something had gone badly wrong with the arrangements.
I prodded my son awake. We were over the Alps. It was one of the last days of the year. We were also going skiing, in theory, for a day or two.
No snow! Rachel Johnson laments over the lack of snow this year while reminiscing about previous ski trips
But the peaks as far as the eye could see, from Germany into Austria and Italy, were not whitely rumpling beneath us and glinting in the sunshine. They were brown, as if spread with silage.
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‘No snow,’ I said, wondering how the other families in their North Face gear would get through the week without doing the one thing they’d come for: just think of all those long hours they have to spend playing Perudo in overheated apartments, or trudging through the sludge to supermarkets, and all after forking out the price of a small car…
As I write, snow is forecast but there’s been barely a flake since the spring across the Alps, and this is a first, this is unprecedented, and this could be le fin for the future of skiing as a mass-market winter sport in Europe.
The only place open and within range was the high resort of Turracherhöhe in Austria.
It was picturesque if you didn’t look at the sad, bare hillsides, but the only strips of snow were on the groomed pistes, down all 13 of which stood whirring cannons, belching out clouds of powdery ice to form artificial snow that stung your face and then dripped down the back of your neck.
In order for me to whizz down the mountain and come back up in a six-seater heated chairlift, the ski region had had to siphon 88 million gallons of water from a nearby lake.
It had to pipe it to a complex network of 330 cannon, and the big problem with this is, it’s no longer a case of there’s no business like snow business.
The ski season in Europe is at most five months long, and this is the second year running there’s been a disastrous December in the Alps, so activity is already down by at least a fifth.
Large resorts such as Meribel, a favourite of the British, can’t possibly rely on artificial snow.
Making it, even in a small resort like Turracherhöhe, is so energy-intensive that it drags on the national grid.
It is so water-intensive that the lake at the bottom of the valley is now dangerously low.
And it’s so expensive that the ski area has to spend up to 60 per cent of its income on making sure there’s enough of the white stuff for us all to slide down.
Of course, it was a great treat and so bracing to be able to ski and then sit down to a greedy, fat lunch in the warm fug of a mountain hostelry, but it did make me feel guilty, as if I had participated in some unnatural act of middle-class, environmental terrorism.
And sad. It’s the first season anyone can remember when there’s been no snow by Silvester (the German name for New Year’s Eve), and what are the Alps without snow in winter? I can’t help feeling the writing is on the wall.
My parents took me skiing. I have taken my children skiing, grumbling about the expense, the gloves lost on the chairlifts, the queues, the wallet-busting lunches, the spilt hot chocolates, and the poor ratio of time spent on the top of mountains, lost and cold, relative to the time sublimely schussing down an empty slope in sunshine.
My prediction for 2016? My children won’t be taking theirs skiing. Not in Europe in December, anyway. And I can’t say I feel that sorry for them.
In the Caribbean: April Love Geary at the Nikki Beach in St Barts
Fantastic bod, but surely April has forgotten something…
‘Tis the season for celebrities to be spotted romping in the Caribbean or ‘hitting the sand’ with his ‘n’ hers beach bods.
I have to admit that my gaze did snag on April Love Geary – the new squeeze of sleazy Blurred Lines singer Robin Thicke – in St Barts, for the stringy model was starkers.
It was only after a careful, Where’s Wally-type search, and a close reading of the picture captions, that all was revealed.
Geary, who is all of 20, was in fact wearing a ‘barely-there, crocheted, nude bikini’ for her thorough papping in the surf, left.
A new low – or high – for slebs ‘flaunting their curves’ or ‘displaying their taut bods’ on the beach, and so early in the year!
Tears, joy and compassion for dear Coco
Thank you so much for your consoling messages, tweets and emails about our late dog Coco. They were beautiful and moving.
My nephew William reminded me that Coco died on the same day as his hamster Jerry.
My friend Camilla told me about her grief over her late goldfish Findus.
And my aunt Sarah sent me poems by Kipling which confirmed her belief that ‘our dogs have souls and will be with us in whatever we call heaven or the hereafter turns out to be’.
Mourning: Rachel Johnson recently lost her beloved pooch, Coco, but is grateful for the consoling messages
Animals generate so much love and tenderness.
One long letter – explaining that ‘the best place to bury a dog is in the heart of her owners’ – made me cry, thinking about Coco lying on her own in the wet earth under the apple tree.
But then I was reminded that my own grandmother never feared death.
Like Kipling, Granny Butter knew that in death she would be reunited with all her dear dogs (mainly terriers that ran on three legs but also some noble and unforgettable sheepdogs) that lay dotted around the farm on Exmoor.
Our relationships with all creatures great and small is uniquely intense. As one correspondent pointed out: for the English, ‘human friends live far too long, animal friends not long enough’.
Choices: Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, wife of the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, guest-edited Today for the BBC
We all make poor life choices. One of mine last week was to play ice hockey, and I now ache all over.
One of the BBC’s was to ask Miriam Gonzalez Durantez to guest-edit Today.
This backfired even before her ’embarrassing’ (copyright Anna Soubry MP) interview with Theresa May was aired.
Miriam is magnificent, as I’ve said before. But she was NOT invited to whisper into the nation’s ear in her own right.
It was because she is married to a former leader of a former party. Mrs Clegg has been clever in accepting the light duty, heavy accolade and loud publicity that goes with guest-editing the show.
The BBC has not been clever in inviting her to do so.
Help! I found a slim package addressed to me – it turned out to be one of those hipster Ladybird books that everyone gave everyone else this year.
I couldn’t decipher the gift tag. Whoever gave me Mindfulness (ha very ha), could you make yourself known so that I can thank you?
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