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FOUR SEASONS: “OUR APOLOGIES FOR GLOBAL WARMING”

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 27 November 2010

ANNA Ewart’s short film 11 Degrees is as beautiful as it is melancholy. And it’s really melancholy.
Screening tonight as part of the Dundee Mountain Film Festival, it was shot in the winter of 2008-9 and gives a subtle, impressionistic account of the challenges facing the Glenshee ski centre at that time: namely a lack of snow and a lack of paying customers.

Against a spare, downbeat soundtrack, Ewart’s camera lingers on empty pistes. Impotent snow cannons whir listlessly. Discarded button tows clatter out sad, random rhythms. Broken shards of fence post flap forlornly in the breeze. In one shot, a few skiers snowplow their way down a narrow band of slush with mud and grass close by on either side.

A handwritten sign next to one of the lifts says: “Due to global warming this run is narrow in places. Our apologies for global warming.”

On the final day Ewart and her team spent on the hill, the temperature was a balmy 11C, hence the film’s title. A veteran Glenshee liftie explains that Scottish skiing reached its peak in the 1980s, but since then the winters have been getting warmer and business has been getting slower.

“In the mid-80s it was at its best,” he says, “it was really good then … plenty of snow, plenty of customers. But then once you get into the 1990s it started to get milder.

“Most people leave these rural areas,” he adds. “Can’t live in them. There’s no work. No housing. Difficult. So the communities kind of die. People who have retired, people that’s got money – they’re the kind of people that end up in the nice places.”

Watching this film even as recently as 12 months ago, it would have seemed like an elegy for a doomed industry – a gentle death knell for a way of life that was about to disappear for good. Now, though, it plays somewhat differently.

This time last year, the consensus was that the Scottish ski industry had pretty much had it. The official graphs for the number of skiable days per year and the number of skier visits per year at the five Scottish resorts both showed precipitous declines since their 1980s peak. But then last winter happened. And as everyone and their (probably housebound for days on end) granny knows, last winter was a monster. Glencoe looked like Greenland, the Cairngorms looked like Canada, The Lecht looked like Lech (OK, maybe not quite). And the ski resorts cleaned up.

A freak year? A one off? A last hurrah for skiing in Scotland before global warming finishes it off for good? Doesn’t look like that from where I’m sitting. As I write this, in mid-November, it’s already been snowing heavily all over Scotland and there’s more snow forecast for the next few days. A picture of the Borders in today’s paper looks like a Christmas card. CairnGorm Mountain has already opened for business.

Indeed, so much snow has fallen so quickly over the last few days that there has been an avalanche on the Coire Cas Headwall – the ski patrol are advising people to stay well clear until the snowpack has had time to stabilise.

Of course, it’s too early to say whether the current cold snap will translate into another epic winter. By the time this magazine hits your breakfast table it could be, well, perhaps as warm as 11 degrees. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

There are plenty of other treats in this year’s DMFF programme. Fans of world-beating Scottish climber Dave MacLeod won’t want to miss the screening of Paul Diffley’s film The Pinnacle tonight, which shows MacLeod and fellow climber Andy Turner attempting to repeat the now legendary first ascents completed on Ben Nevis by Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith in a single week in 1960. That film will be shown as part of the same session as 11 Degrees.

Four Seasons would also recommend attending today’s afternoon session, which promises to be as mad as a bag of cats. Highlights include a documentary about off-road unicycling, a film about speed-flying down Mont Blanc (speed-flying being a combination of paragliding and skiing) and the strange tale of the man who wants to build the world’s tallest waterslide. See www.dundeemountainfilm.org.uk

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