I recently returned from an enjoyable skiing trip to the Three Valleys (Les Trois Vallées) in France – the world’s largest ski area.
And the one thing that struck me about this vast mountain fairground (apart from the plethora of the pistes and the pissed) is how international it is.
As an arrogant Brit, one turns up in the French alps expecting the ‘same old, same old’, i.e., your thick base of quiet, old French couples and families
And, of course, the inevitable swirl of the cowering and exhausted British middle-class and middle-aged – and the wild, boisterous, costumed twenty-somethings from Chelsea, Manchester and everywhere in between.
Although these groups were healthily represented, they were joined by a more surprising cocktail of Romanians, Brazilians, Spanish, Chinese, Australian, Moroccans, Emiratis and Americans.
It is a true pilgrimage of international skiers. A kaleidoscope of different abilities, ages, cultures and approaches to après.
Whilst this annual mass-migration of tourists is certainly a boon for the French, it is probably more irksome to deal with, particularly given that apart from their native tongues, most of these different cultures chose to communicate in English and not French.
What this cultural rainbow also produces are some of the most bizarre approaches to ski chic I have ever seen.
When I was a lad, ski clothing was just about the most colourful thing this side of Lego. Jackets were panelled with about six different colours from dusty pinks and emeralds to neon orange and acid yellow.
There were bright red ski suits, jazzy bobble hats, turquoise ski boots and mirrored glasses. Miami Vice on snow.
In recent years, I had believed that this insane appetite to wear Jelly Belly tones on the ski slope had abated — that perhaps the revival of Moncler and Bogner alongside the availability of inexpensive-yet-elegant outerwear from the likes of Uniqlo and the upward trajectory of simple-is-classic brands like Canada Goose had seen it off.
How wrong I was.
Here is a catalogue of the most popular looks I spotted on the slopes, covering everyone from gurning twenty-two year olds to wizened, seasoned skiers.
SKI STYLE – THE ALL BLACK LOOK
The All-Black look is a rejection of the skiwear rainbow. This is the look I go for. It’s no-nonsense, relatively elegant and allows you to play with texture rather than colour, which is altogether more subtle.
Some keep it monochrome, and add some greys and whites into the mix. I prefer to have everything black – from the gloves, skis, poles and boots to the salopettes, jacket, helmet, goggles and snood.
Often, the jacket will be a Moncler-style short padded coat. The salopettes are always slim fit.
Who are they?
The All Blacks don’t really say much, they just tend to whoosh down the pistes giving incredulous sideways glances at the more exotically coloured and less able skiers.
Main characteristic: worn by men who think they’re James Bond.
SKI STYLE – THE GARISH SALOPETTE
It seems there is a strange psychology shared amongst some skiers that you must wear the most alarming, high-vis nonsense going – you know, just in case black isn’t enough of a contrast to white.
As a result, people often wear salopettes the colour of GM tangerines “you know, because it’s fun! And – I want to be safe too!”
These tend to be partnered with slightly more sober jackets (slightly) in blues, greens or reds, and there is often a whacky yellow pair of poles or berry-red pair of gloves and a pair of psychedelic mirrored goggles to keep the look of clownish merriment consistent.
Who are they?
The Garish Salopette crowd are often part of irritatingly large groups. They seem to fiddle about with piste maps and make loud, schoolmasterly arrangements to meet for lunch and mulled wine.
Main characteristic: Tends to be worn by: men who wear GoPros and carry walkie talkies.
SKI STYLE – THE SKI SUIT
Ski suits are a rare sight on the slopes and for good reason; they’re pretty ugly. Not even Prince Charles, a devotee of the all-in-one, can make a ski suit look elegant. It has an unattractive utility – like a gas engineer’s uniform or a WW2 bomber suit.
They tend to be bright red or blue, with the texture of 1980s shell suits. Having long fallen out of favour, the suits you tend to see are unflatteringly cut, with an airliner-style belt around the waist.
Wearers of the ski suit are also more laissez-faire when it comes to the ubiquitous ski helmet; most seem perfectly happy with a beanie or, more commonly, a headband, from which their greying hair is able to flow as they speed down.
Who are they?
Elderly veterans of the slope, they are often skiing alone – their wives are either entirely absent or several peaks away. Their quiet observation of the ski lift queue or the mass of people around the après ski bar is one of disapprobation; wouldn’t have happened in their day, they whisper to themselves.
Main characteristics: Tends to be worn by men with grown-up children and a faded sense of vanity.