How prog is skiing?

By ProgBlog, Mar 22 2015 07:20PM

I've just spent a fantastic week on the slopes around Sauze d'Oulx - the annual family skiing trip - with my son Daryl and brother Richard. One slightly irritating feature of a holiday in a ski resort is the music - you get pop hits from decades ago (Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun; The Bangles' Walk Like an Egyptian; Take On Me by A-Ha; Olivia Newton-John singing Take Me Home, Country Roads) or timeless, bland 120bpm Europop that could have been an Ibiza anthem from 1999 or a Val d'Isere hit from 2005. This stream of rubbish is an insult to everyone. Sauze d'Oulx is in Italy, home to some diverse and brilliant prog. My first time skiing was a couple of valleys away from Sauze in Bardonecchia and the live band at the hotel kindly played a PFM song, rather well, when we submitted a request. So how prog is skiing?

The old insult slung at prog is that it's elitist. I don't agree with this sentiment despite the fact that a fair number of both major and minor protagonists have had formal training to a high level; skiing could also be called an elitist sport though this no longer holds true as cheap air fares and package holidays have opened up resorts to all comers. Of course, some resorts are more exclusive than others... Prog and skiing both require technical mastery and rely on equipment that has evolved to enable boundaries to be pushed further and further back, whether that's sonic creativity or shaving fractions of seconds off downhill timings; both disciplines require practice if you wish to advance. An annual skiing holiday of 6 days on-piste is not really sufficient to gain and maintain expertise but when you’re based in Croydon and work full-time in central London it’s the best I can do. It’s taken 16 weeks over 17 years to get me to my level of proficiency, an advanced intermediate. The runs above Sauze were perfect for providing a reasonable challenge, consisting primarily of reds and blacks but long trails, which tend to be the easier blue and green categories, can still provide an enjoyable excursion. I see the thrill of successfully descending a precipitous slope as being comparable to the feeling that’s generated when you’ve mastered a particularly difficult riff or musical phrase, perhaps in an unusual time signature and, in a similar vein, skiing a scenic route through changing scenery is equivalent to an uplifting melody. In truth, I am inspired by mountain landscape and it’s the imagined worlds conjured by symphonic prog music and lyrics that I find so compelling about progressive rock, be it Yes from Fragile, Close to the Edge or Tales from Topographic Oceans or Höstsonaten with Winterthrough; if I can’t be outside in a mountain environment, there’s a suitable substitute indoors listening to prog.

A few years ago Daryl and I were based in Livigno for our week, a resort organised as a series of villages along a high valley, famous for its odd tax free status and home to Birrificio, the highest brewery in Europe where they brew a small rage of excellent beers under the name 1816 Livigno and with the symbol of an Eagle, not unlike the CPFC Eagle. Practically speaking, Livigno has an exceptional snow record with a season that extends beyond almost all other European resorts. Better still, in the lower reaches of the resort we discovered two record stores. There was a smattering of progressivo Italiano on offer but sadly, I already owned this material (Disco Music Livigno, Via Plan, 379, 23030 Livigno).

I’ve managed to get through quite a lot of clothing and equipment in 17 years. We all have our own skis and boots; the potential outlay for ski hire equipment makes it economic sense to buy your own but, more than this, the comfort of fitted boots gives you more confidence and the sport becomes increasingly effortless. There were major technological advances in music that allowed the development of progressive rock and like prog exponents and sonic explorers, ski technology has also progressed and now not only incorporates new materials and, within my time as a participant of the sport, the shape of the skis has also changed, creating the ‘carving turn’.

I used to go to play squash and go to the staff club gym at Guy’s in an attempt to physically prepare for skiing; until last year this had evolved into strictly more frequent games of squash, then they sold off the squash courts for a new development on Borough High Street. I’ve never used a dry ski slope (I remember the matting that would have formed this facility in Crystal Palace Park, which I might have used had it still been there) and getting to a snow dome always seemed too much of an unnecessary trek but, like performing exercises on a musical instrument, getting fit for skiing is important.

There are different varieties of skiing: downhill; slalom; cross country; ski cross; ski touring and then there’s even skiing’s rebellious sibling – snowboarding. If downhill equates to the jazz rock side of prog, a technically proficient, breathtaking sprint to the finishing line and slalom to the intricate twists and turns of Gentle Giant, perhaps cross country skiing is the sweeping panorama of symphonic prog and ski touring the ultimate expression of difficulty and perseverance: Zeuhl. And snowboarding? That’s got to be prog metal!

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I was lucky enough to get to see two gigs in Italy last summer while the UK live music industry was halted and unsupported by the government, and the subsequent year-long gap between going to see bands play live has been frustrating - but necessary.

The first weekend in September marked the return of live prog in England, and ProgBlog was there...

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