We’ve all got dreams, but sometimes our dreams butt up against the hard edge of reality. Shaped by tragedy early in his life Charlie English dreamt of conquering the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute-Route. Of joining the ranks of grizzled mountain men.
“You fear death Mr Journalist, if you make a mistake you fall, you die but didn’t you come here to challenge yourself?… I think you are dead while you are alive”, snarled the unsympathic French guide. Charlie had come as far as he could, either side of the narrow shale ridge was a shear drop. His hands and legs shook, he was scared. As he says “Everyone must draw their own line which they will not cross. I had drawn mine, and it lay far short of where I expected it to be.”
Maybe it was having a young family that had made him re-evaluate his priorities. Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to be an alpinist, leaving the comfort zone of suburban London. Certainly the challenge of the Haute-Route is amplified by attempting it on a snowboard but perhaps he could have made it with a more nurturing guide.
The Snow Tourist isn’t just about Charlie’s attempt to traverse the Alps on a snowboard. It covers the whole diaspora of snow related topics and is crammed with interesting facts for anyone who loves the winter and all things white. It is written in the common journalistic style of a series of essays but each is well crafted and easy to read.
Charlie’s visit to the Inuit Eskimos plunges the reader into a fascinating culture that has only just started to come to terms with the 20th century. He covers Britain’s deadliest known avalanche, at Lewes and goes in search of the snowiest place in the world, explores how artists have interpreted winter landscapes and looks at how modern society copes with extreme snow. Each essay is really just a framework onto which Charlie hangs many subplots. It is nice to have a computer to hand to explore some of the topics he raises in further detail.
So even if Charlie didn’t make it to the fancy chalets of Zermatt one feels that the journey, not the ultimate destination, is its own reward.