Flying Grannies

Klosters, Switzerland, natural habitat of the Flying Grannies

Anyone who has been in Klosters in January in the past nine years or so will have probably seen the Flying Grannies (the FG’s). They are a group of Ladies who leave the Wynegg at around 8.30am and do not return until dusk or later.

To the people who have seen them scuttling along to the lift station, it is a mystery to know what they actually do because they are rarely seen on the pistes. “Pistes?”, they say, “Oh, we don’t do pistes. There are too many people zooming around and we get awfully scared that they might run into us.”

The youngest member of the team is in her mid-sixties. Like most myths it is not entirely true that they are all Grannies. They came by their collective name when they decided they wanted a new challenge and hired themselves a plane to drop them on the top of various mountains dotted around Switzerland.

The group is coordinated by Sue.

She loves Klosters so much that it is her wish to have her ashes scattered in the Chalbersass woods. She has a special style of skiing, having perfected the “Bacon Turn”* to such a level that she rarely falls. But if she does you can hear the terrible utterance “Oh, blast.”

For Judy the word “keen” does not adequately describe her love of skiing. Her over-riding philosophy is that there is no such thing as bad snow [?]. Judy is also arguably the world’s greatest exponent of the controlled stem-turn, which she can execute in snow akin to broken paving stones.

Joanna has been coming to Klosters very slightly longer than the rest of the group: just over 50 years. She seems to view her skis as if they were a horse out hunting. She “rides” her skis over fences through ditches and impenetrable woodland with uncanny ease.

Diana likes planning. She starts planning her next trip to Klosters even before the train arrives at Klosters Dorf. She is rarely seen without a bus or train timetable, constantly worried that their Guide will end up in some back-of-beyond valley waiting for a bus that isn’t due until the summer. Diana is a wonderful skier. Magnificent in fact. Until she falls…Oh, getting up can be such a struggle.

Carol is an athlete whose skiing gets better and better. This seems to be achieved by applying a form of Zen. “All you’ve got to do is smile”, she believes. When this doesn’t work she starts shouting at herself [it is hoped]. Often the silence is broken by the screams of, “Get on with it you stupid old bag!” or “You Mad Cow, you need putting down!” This apparently is encouragement.

On a couple of occasions, the Ladies have been seen with what was described as a “chap”‘ but he fell by the wayside because he couldn’t keep up.

Collectively, they have mixed views about ski equipment.

Especially clothing. The less said the better. Nevertheless, there is nothing Luddite about their equipment surrounding and below the ankle. The FG’s have been ground-breaking in their use of new technology. They were on “Fat Boys” when most people thought a Fat Boy was someone who spent too much time in McDonald’s. When the skis slimmed down they started skiing on Volkl “Snow Rangers.” At the time most people thought a Snow Ranger was someone who bought their ski clothes at Peter Jones.

More recently they have moved to ski-touring boots with climbing boot soles. One of the many advantages of this is that they can negotiate the treacherously icy footpaths of Klosters without taking a flyer and breaking those not so young bones.

Klosters is many things to many people.

To the FG’s, the Madrisa is not Klosters. Too new and besides, too many drag-lifts, and facing south it doesn’t hold its powder. Nevertheless, they have allowed themselves to explore a bit in the last few years and have had some stunning descents down the couloirs to Schlappin where they have been known to stop at Erika’s for “A Hot Widow” [a coffee based drink, but possibly a FG too].

But for the FG’s, Klosters IS the north facing slope which traverses west from the Gotschna. A FG’s good day might start with a meandering off-piste run from the top of the Gotchna down to Schwendi. Cable-car to the top of the Weissfluhgipel, then straight on to the Diretissima and down this, trending left into the big bowl at the bottom. There is no need to walk out because they all have ski-touring bindings, which also allows them to scoot across the flattish ground before hitting the amazing powder slopes above the summer village. From there, off-piste through the woods to Schwendi and then more devious meanderings down to Serneus for lunch.

Now, lunch–this has to be seen to be believed.

Despite well over two hundred years in Klosters between them, the grasp of the local language is limited. One of two things always happens: Ordering is done through Carol [group linguist] or it is established that the waitress can speak fluent English. But a common language will still not stop one of the FG’s from giving her order in an incomprehensible mixture of English and German. For example:

“Can we have a rosti mit spiegeleier and a flasche of tap wasser water and zwei plates bitte?” [i.e. one rosti between two and a jug of water please?]

Just to add effect there will be a quick game of charades demonstrating a tap, water and a jug. Then another one of them will chip in with their order for a kase sandwich and finally a bowl of Gertstensuppe. This never changes. Never.

Anyway, after lunch it might be back up the Gotschna.

Good snow can sometimes be found directly under the cable car and so the FG’s will often put tracks in down here before cutting back left across the Drostobel and down one of the gullies to its left before picking up the Klosters path to do it all again.

But perhaps the area they love the best of all is the Chalbersass woods. Wide open-spaced trees, chilled powder and rolling slopes produce skiing that just does not get better. Mind you, once their Guide got seduced into a pitch of powder that took them slightly the wrong way and they all arrived at the top of a couloir. At its entrance, nailed to a tree, was a lavatory roll holder complete with a new roll. This seemed to be some sort of coded message which said: “If you go down this couloir then you might be so tense you might need the loo paper.” The sort of joke you might get in Chamonix but hardly Klosters.

Anyway it was decided it would be better to not commit to the couloir.

And therefore started a testing, bush-whacking traverse. By now it was four o’clock and deep inside the woods it was quite dark. Navigation was testing, but luckily the “après ski” euro-pop was just getting into full swing at Schwendi. Although not the FG’s favourite beat, it did act like a foghorn. A very useful navigational aid.

Picture the scene: it was now dark, the lights were on at Schwendi. Outside, people were standing around drinking beers from tankards that looked big enough to bath a small child in. Out of the woods emerged the FG’s, skiing serenely down, stopping every now and again to pick branches out of their hair. They were watched, mouths agog, by the Schwendi drinkers who started to question the strength of their beer.

This is what the FG’s would describe as a day where they didn’t feel “under-skied.”

It was on one such day that Ruth Guler collared Judy on her return to the Wynegg and said, “You need to go easy on That Boy. He’s only meant to work an eight hour day.”

“That Boy” was me–Mountain Guide to the FG’s–who was once stopped in the street by someone he knew and asked, “Hello, Mark are you on holiday?” To which, without due consideration to the question, he apparently replied, “No. I’m skiing with the mother-in law.”

*Bacon-Turn: lean back.

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