Caution: contains offensive language.
Winter 2005. We’re about to embark on our first ski trip in charge of Spice Thames Valley. I had skied only twice before, on both occasions borrowing an all-in-one ski suit from the 1980’s, the decade that style forgot. Dom learned to ski as a child and was looking forward to his first ski trip in 20 years. This was cruelly abandoned when he broke his arm playing 5-aside-football two weeks prior to departure, but that’s another story.
Back to 2005. We head off to Snow and Rock in Camberley to buy our gear. I pick up a rather fetching apple green Degre 7 jacket with grey and white contrasting panels and a pair of grey salopettes. This is the most money I’ve spent on an outfit in my entire life and I look more like an Oompa Loompa than Cindy Crawford. I meet up with Dom in Menswear.
“Any luck?” I enquire.
“Yes” he replies, holding up a yellow Degre 7 snowboarder’s jacket.
You could have knocked me down with a silk glove liner. Dom is extremely conservative. When I first met him he wore double-breasted pin-striped suits and Church’s shoes. He even climbed a high ropes course in his suit trousers, but that’s another story for yet another day. Yellow has never entered into the equation. On taking over Spice, his business suits were retired to the back of the wardrobe and replaced by red polo shirts, but a yellow jacket? That was a step too far. I tried to talk him out of it, “Look, they do it in red!” He wasn’t budging. “Why do you want a boarder’s jacket?” Stubbornly, he stood his ground; he was adamant he needed to be seen. I couldn’t deny him that fact, but I wasn’t convinced it would be for the right reasons.
And so the offending article was purchased. By the end of that first season, he’d well and truly caught the skiing bug. From then on in he hosted as many ski trips as he could get away with and quickly became a very good skier, and as with all good skiers, he makes it look effortless. Some of his misadventures have entered into Spice folklore, so let me share with you some pointers to help you survive a day on the slopes.
The warning signs:
- When stopping at the top of a piste and looking down, if you ever hear him utter the immortal words “That looks interesting,” move away, head off to another slope or take the next gondola back down. If you follow him, you will be the entertainment as he waits patiently at the bottom, looking up to enjoy the unfolding carnage that ensues.
- The words “Follow me” should more often than not be preceded by the word ‘don’t,’ as in the mantra “Don’t follow Dom.”
- The same rule applies for “You’ll be fine.” By it’s very essence, you know that you will not be fine until you’ve reached the bottom safely and in one piece.
- “It’s only steep at the top.” Yep, that’s another one that’s caught out many an unsuspecting skier.
- The ‘top level’ skiers who’ll only ski with the fast group. He loves taking these groups out. They’ll do their damnedest to keep up with him, but he’ll remain tantalisingly out of reach. He’s playing his favourite game of cat and mouse; just when you think you’ve caught up he’ll speed up ever so slightly, making you work that little bit harder, and he might also take you onto some more challenging terrain, just to see what you’re made of.
- The beginners. To my knowledge, Dom has only done this once, but I’m willing to be proven wrong. He was guiding a group of beginners after their lesson and they were all dutifully following him down the slope. Trouble is, Dom has a habit of not remaining on the piste as it loops around the corner. Instead he’ll stop before the bend and take the un-pisted slope of the mountain side straight down, re-joining the piste a little further on. You guessed it, the beginners started following him down. He was unaware of this until he heard his name being called out. He looked, but couldn’t see them on the piste, and then he realised what had happened. Looking up, he saw them scattered around in the deep powder, with skis and poles akimbo.
All of the above has culminated in him acquiring his ski name ‘The Yellow Peril’.
Fast forward to Christmas 2008. Dom was hosting the Spice UK ski trip to Reberty and we had the twin chalets of Annabelle and Brigitte booked for our sole use for the entire week. I’d found myself a nice little group to ski with whilst Dom was off tormenting some poor unsuspecting souls in a far corner of the resort. These were the days when France permitted ski hosting and you could follow your Ski Olympic guide blindly around the mountains, not knowing where on earth you were, or how to get back home. The chalet staff had one day off a week and rather than leave us to our own devices, Dom offered to take our group out.
“All sorted,” he said, “I’ve found a perfect run that’s tucked out of the way. It’s always quiet and no one knows it’s there.”
Well, this sounded far too good to be true and word soon spread about this lovely little slope that we could play on to our heart’s content.
I should point out that Dom has a near photographic memory when it comes to maps of any kind, but especially piste maps. One look and it is consigned to memory whilst I just think it’s a bunch of squiggly lines jumping around trying to confuse and deceive me. On every chair lift or gondola he’ll be looking at the terrain, figuring out which run goes where. I’d say he’s accurate 99% of the time, but when he gets it wrong, it’s usually with quite spectacular results. This time, however, he hadn’t got it wrong. We’d taken the chair lift up together, and he was busily looking at the surrounding slopes when we passed over our undiscovered slope.
“Oh bugger!” he said to himself.
In Europe, most ski slopes are bashed or ‘groomed’ to the nth degree. Some of the more challenging runs (red or black) might be left ‘au-naturale’ but the easier slopes (green and blue) will usually be bashed. But not this one. Dom wracked his brains. When that failed he got out his piste map. There was no other way down. We were committed. He had no other choice, he had to brazen it out.
Well, the rest of us were delighted with this brand new slope to play on. What a find! One by one we set off. The first person hit a drift of snow and fell over. The second and third person followed suit. Pretty soon, everyone was falling over like nine pins. Realisation dawned that the whole slope was like this! Most of the rookie skiers had never encountered these conditions before. What do they do?
“Lean back!” someone shouted. “I’ve heard you should lean back in deep powder!”
People started to lean back, promptly losing their balance and falling over yet again.
“No!” Shouted Dom. “ski as normal.” This was probably followed with “You’ll be fine.”
It was chaos! Who would think that a few moguls could cause so much mayhem? We had people trying to go over them. Fail. We had people trying to go around them. Another fail. Others were too afraid to even contemplate turning and carried on skiing across the slope, past the piste markers, with Dom frantically shouting out “Turn! Turn! TURN! NOW!” Too late to stop, they plunged into deep snow, flailing around to gather up lost skis and poles until anyone could rescue them.
Whilst this carnage is going on, let me tell you about my friend Sue. We’d met on a previous ski trip and got on like a house on fire. She’s one of the sweetest, kindest people you’ll ever meet with a gentle, quiet nature (apart from when she plays Uno, then she turns into a demon). I’ve never heard her speak ill of anyone, and we’d met some pretty peculiar characters on the Christmas trips over the years, but the worst thing I’d heard her say about anyone in all the years I’ve known her is “They’re a bit strange.”
It must have taken us hours to get to the bottom of that slope. The whoops of joy that usually accompany the successful completion of a challenging run were replaced with exhausted sighs of relief. The last person limped down; hot and bedraggled. I can only think that the emotion was too much for poor Sue, who came marching over to Dom and in front of everyone yelled:
“DOMINIC RENSHAW! YOU’RE A FUCKING EVIL BASTATRD!”
And do you know what? No one could argue with her.
That yellow snowboarder jacket has long since seen the light of day and has been replaced with a natty blue and red ensemble, but like all heroes and villains, the Yellow Peril lives on to this very day.