TAC 45 Index
This is seriously good fun. Bill Wilson's idiosyncratic little volume just bursts with enthusiasm and actually manages to convince the reader that free-heeling might be a laugh. Of course I'm biased: although I've never exchanged more than a dozen words with Bill, I am a committed fan of the apple strudel at his Glenmore cafe and I now find he shares my antipathy to snowboarders, even though he's younger than me. Great to know there's a new generation of intolerant old sods coming through.
As the title suggests, this book is about acquiring the gear and the skills for touring and telemarking, although there are additional chapters on mountain weather, avalanches and good skiing areas. This last chapter is the most disappointing by far; after a detailed description of recommended spots in the Lakes and Pennines, the Scottish section is a Cook's Tour of the five downhill ski areas with a few vague off-piste suggestions. The title's implicit trip across the Irish Sea never materialises (probably just as well) nor does Wales rate a mention, so in reality this is a book about skiing in Scotland and the north of England. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but if you're looking for skiing spots in the Reeks, look elsewhere.
Most of the book, though, is taken up with explaining the basics to aspirant skiers, and I reckon Bill does this exceptionally well. It's the only book I know of that explains clearly the different kinds of skis, bindings and boots currently available in the UK, including the mysteries of camber and sidecut. I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions Bill reaches (I think release plates are a waste of time unless you use alpine cambered skis and plastic boots, for example), but he sets down the options so you can make up your own mind. He also makes the point that the gear you use is almost certainly going to be a compromise, and tries to tease out the kind of skiing you're going to focus on (piste bunny? gentle tours? steep and deep?) so the reader can make an informed decision. This is fine so far as it goes, but Bill tries to summarise it in a one-page chart which is a shame because it reads less clearly than the text and of course misses a lot of the pertinent points already made.
He's particularly good on buying skis for Scottish snow. My current skis must be about the fifth pair I've owned, but the first which are torsionally stiff; this allows me to ski on ice and hardpack with confidence. The difference is amazing, and Bill is right to flag this up as a major consideration when buying skis for our essentially maritime climate. One slight quibble: he has highlighted individual models of ski, boot and binding when illustrating a point. Given the pace of evolution in nordic gear, this will render the book out of date in a couple of years. Pity.
The other chapter I like is the one on instruction. There are lots of books covering this ground, including Roger Homyer's which I reviewed in TAC44, but Bill's book has a particular contribution to make because it bubbles with his enthusiasm to share little wrinkles he's found out for himself. His credo is: try this, and if it doesn't work, try this instead and see how you get on. The progressions are probably not as good as those in Roger's book, but there are some good tips and some very clear illus-trations. As someone who came to skiing from winter walking, I find Bill Wilson's approach simpatico and suspect that most TAC readers will too.
Ed. - TAC44 omitted the ISBN for Homyer's Cross-country skiing - a handbook. It's 0 9535592 0 3.
TAC 45 Index