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FOUR SEASONS: MORGAN FREEMAN AT CAIRNGORM

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 2 January 2010

IN SWEDEN, they have a saying: “Luck never gives, it only lends.” If there’s any truth in that, then I’m in big trouble. A couple of weeks ago I had a day so ludicrously stuffed with good fortune that, in retrospect, I should have bought a lottery ticket, bet my overdraft on the horses, then pawned my watch and hit the nearest casino.

On a dismal Thursday in the office, I was shaken out of a near-terminal caffeine withdrawal coma by the realisation that I’d got the next day off work. I checked the Ski Scotland website: snow at Cairngorm. I checked the Mountain Weather Information Service: no wind, no precipitation and a 90 per cent-plus chance of cloud-free Munros. Snow and sun? In Scotland? In December? The last time that happened flares were in.

So I searched for train fares from Edinburgh to Aviemore. Usually that three-hour, 130-mile journey costs the best part of GBP 50 which, thanks to this government’s hypocritical refusal to tax airlines properly and subsidise public transport intelligently, makes it cheaper to fly to France and go skiing in the Alps. But, like I say, in this particular 24-hour period, my luck was in: a brilliant website called raileasy.co.uk popped up out of the virtual ether offering tickets for sale at GBP 20, as long as I booked them before 6pm. The time: 5:54pm. I whipped out my credit card faster than a gunslinger at High Noon, offered up a quick prayer of thanks to the patron saint of the interweb (Saint Isidore of Seville – I had to Google him before I could thank him), made my excuses to my boss and scampered home to pack.

Unlike most normal, well-adjusted people I know, I love packing bags, and there’s something particularly satisfying about packing for a snowboard trip. Maybe it’s got something to do with the tang of anticipation or perhaps I’m just borderline autistic. Either way, I get a real kick out of making sure I’ve got everything I need stashed away in a logical, ready-to-use order.

Given the freakish perfection of the weather forecast, I’d decided to do some exploring on the Cairngorm plateau – a task that would require a split snowboard, which is by far the most complicated bit of kit in my snow-surfing arsenal. Even more fiddly widgets to pack! For an hour or so I was in anorak heaven.

Most snowboards are only designed to go one way – down – but split boards, as their name suggests, can be divided into two chunky skis, fitted with traction skins and used to climb uphill as well. Pointless if you’re in a ski resort, but handy if you’re planning to go wandering off into the backcountry.

Unfortunately, I got so carried away with the joy of packing that I forgot about the skins and then went to bed. On any other day I wouldn’t have clocked my error until it was too late, but on this occasion I’d only been asleep for half an hour when something woke me up. I realised my mistake, breathed a sigh of relief, and threw the skins into my rucksack.

So at 6:45 the next morning I was on a train sliding out of Waverley Station and all was well with the world. Only then it wasn’t. As is often the way with rail travel, we were delayed for no apparent reason, first by five minutes, then by ten minutes. At this rate I was going to miss my connection in Stirling and spend hours standing on a freezing cold platform wishing I’d stayed in bed. We eventually rolled into Stirling five minutes after my train north was due to depart but – this being my lucky day – that train was delayed too. Not only that, the delayed train dropped me at Aviemore in perfect time to catch the shuttle bus to the ski centre, and the weather forecast turned out to be right on the money: Cairngorm was a rhapsody in brilliant white and cobalt.

By now I was starting to feel invincible.

I had a mosey up to the top of the hill, half-expecting to find Morgan Freeman in a white suit, preparing to impart some nugget of wisdom, but – even better – I ran into an off-duty ski patroller called Simon Steer who decided to take me under his wing and show me around his personal playground. The snow wasn’t in great condition – rutted with sastrugi and frozen solid in places – but he knew of a little gully where we could find some wind-blown powder. Did I want to come and check it out?

So that’s how I spent my Friday afternoon, doing laps of a deserted little bowl under a brilliant blue sky, chuckling at my borrowed good fortune – and wondering if I was going to have to give it all back in one lump sum or if I’d be allowed to pay in instalments.

*To find out how to say safe in the Scottish hills this winter, visit www.glenmorelodge.org.uk

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