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FOUR SEASONS: GOODBYE, OLD FRIEND

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 17 March 2012

MOST religious leaders agree: attachment to worldly goods is a terrible thing. Rots the soul, apparently. And, of course, it means you have less money to donate to your local church/synagogue/mosque/temple (delete as appropriate). But much as I try to live a pure, simple life, subsisting on Weetabix, water and intravenous caffeine injections, and cluttering up my humble mud-burrow with as few possessions as possible, I can’t help getting attached to the stuff I do own. In fact, I sometimes wonder if people who own less stuff form stronger bonds with it than people who have loads of it. All of which may or may not explain the massive trauma I experienced recently when I was finally forced to retire my favourite snowboard after many years of loyal service.

The board in question is the big red powder blaster I’m clutching in my sweaty paw in the byline picture on this page. And when I say sweaty paw, I really mean sweaty paw: that picture was taken in the photo studio in the basement of The Scotsman building on a scorching hot day in late August 2009, the kind of day you’d ideally want to be lounging beside a swimming pool in a pair of shorts, not wearing full winter battledress including salopettes, bobble hat and goggles. By the time Scotsman snapper Neil Hanna had got me to crack that sickly half-smile I’d lost about two-and-a half-pounds of fluids and started to see strange animal shapes dancing around on the ceiling.

Anyway: the board. The board is an Option 165 Free Plus, designed and built in Canada by free range lumberjacks for the purpose of riding steep, deep powder and not much else; which is fine by me, as that’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. My brother got it for me for Christmas about five years ago, and since then it’s been everywhere with me. It’s done countless laps of my favourite off-piste tree run in Austria, it was there at my side when I did my first heli-drop in Switzerland and it’s sampled the sweet spring snow (and bitter grappa) of Italy’s Julian Alps. I’ve dragged it through train stations all over Europe on a ski-by-rail trip that took me from Edinburgh to Paris to Munich to Venice and back again; I’ve wheeled it into plush hotel lobbies in upmarket American resorts like Heavenly and Steamboat; and I’ve regularly locked it away in the ancient wooden ski locker in the lobby of the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore.

At Whistler, I’ve ridden it down the famous Peak to Creek run – all 11km of it – and I’ve taken it on several tours of the glorious Flute Bowl, the source of some of my most cherished memories. I’ve ridden it down the Spring Run at Glencoe and up and down the walls of Coire na Ciste at Cairngorm and I’ve navigated my way around Glenshee on it in one of the most severe whiteouts I’ve ever seen, or rather, not seen.

Inevitably, the Free Plus has taken quite a battering over the years. In Whistler an exposed rock took a large, ragged gouge out of the base. When I got it back from the repair shop, someone had put a big green sticker on the deck saying “major” with an arrow pointing to the damage. The sticker’s still there – adds character.

This winter, though, the end finally came: the P-tex – the slick plastic layer on the bottom of the board – started to peel away from the rest, revealing the secrets beneath. With a little TLC the board’s life could have been extended by a few months, perhaps even by a year or two, but somehow that wouldn’t have felt right. It had reached the end of its natural life – it was time to say goodbye.

So, before leaving on my last trip I looked the Free Plus straight in the nose, thanked it for all the good times, then slowly, sadly, unscrewed its bindings and attached them to a newer, shinier model – another Option board that had been waiting in the wings for a couple of seasons, completely unridden, simply because I couldn’t bear to put the old board down.

I like to think I’ve given the Free Plus a pretty decent life. It hasn’t had much in the way of variety – no big jumps, no clever tricks – but it’s seen some incredible things and been to some incredible places. And the new board? Goes like a dream.

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