The Angry Corrie 44: Jan-Feb 2000

TAC 44 Index

Reviews 2 - Donald Shiach on Cross-country skiing - a handbook, by Roger Homyer

Many many years ago, in the first flush of nordic enthusiasm, I was given a book called Cross-country Skiing, written by Ned Gillette and John Dostal. It was about the only book on the UK market at the time, as is demonstrated by the fact that I simultaneously bought a copy for my partner. Well, we were keen as mustard, so the book went with us on every outing and we memorised every inch of text, every drawing and photograph. Didn't do us much good though. You can't learn to ski from reading a book.

The best skiing books, such as Paul Parker's Free-Heel Skiing, inspire rather than instruct. Parker can say more in a phrase ("point your headlights", "big toe, little toe") than most writers can say in a whole book, and his selection of backcountry photographs and anecdotes reminds us of the great days we've had and the even better ones that lie ahead. I dip into his book all the time, but although Roger Homyer's new handbook has some good ideas and some sane advice, for a book on skiing, it's a pretty pedestrian effort.

First of all, the title neither explains nor inspires: cross-country skiing for most people means langlauf, either on prepared tracks or through forests, yet this book tries to cover all aspects of nordic skiing including piste tele-marking and mountain touring. The author reckons it's all a continuum: I'm less and less sure of this, as gear gets more and more specialised. Most skiers I know stick to one discipline or the other, and although the book makes it clear that anyone intent on touring needs all the skills of the winter hillwalker and more, the casual reader might feel that the transition from track to Tolmount is only a matter of degree. That's wrong: they're different sports, and the gulf is getting wider.

But my main complaint about the book is the production, layout and appendix. Most of the photographs are too small to be either edifying or aesthetic, the drawings are often crude, and the information in the appendix is quite bizarre. How likely is a tyro skier to want the address of a manufacturer of dry ski slopes? Not very, I'd hazard, yet this is included while most major holiday operators are not. The information on ski instruction is a bit hit-and-miss: several alpine ski instruction outfits are named, but only one nordic specialist (Free Heel at Inverdruie, since swallowed up by the Braemar monster). There's a puzzling series of references to Huntley (sic) nordic ski centre, but no mention of the nordic ski track at Glenmore Lodge. The Glenmore cafe doesn't import TUA skis any more. These may seem like quibbles, but the appendix, which should be a source of good hard information for readers based throughout the country, reads like Roger's address book.

Yet there's good stuff here too. Roger Homyer is either a damn good instructor or he's been very well taught himself (or both, I guess). His progressions are excellent and some of his tips and games are worth trying out. It's just frustrating that the book is so poorly presented that beginners will not be able to use the photos or diagrams for assistance. For example, whose bright idea was it to use an artificial ski slope in Plymouth to demonstrate downhill techniques? The eye is drawn to the honeycomb of the matting rather than to the finer points of technique; compare this with the drawings in Paul Parker's book or the linked photographs in Vic Bein's Mountain Skiing, both of which clearly show the edging and weight transfer that allow the skis to turn. Anyway, nordic skiing on the mat is purgatory.

If you want to learn to ski, get some lessons. If you want to improve, get lots of practice and more lessons. And if you want to be inspired, read Paul Parker's book. Roger Homyer's book, which retails at a mere #5.90 from Corner Stones Publishers, Bothan Airigh, Insh, Kingussie, PH21 1NT, has its uses - but it won't teach you to ski!

TAC 44 Index