Suddenly you can find a parking space in the Royal Borough, the Chelsea Tractors have gone. You can actually see from one side of the Kings Road to the other without meeting your reflection in the tinted glass of a traffic becalmed Range Rover. Is it some new green initiative? Have the Borough’s toff-roaders suddenly woken up to global warming?
Nah, it’s ski season. This is when the faw-by-faws migrate. It’s their annual alpine beano; off to test their under-used differentials on something more taxing than the school run. It’s the time of year Kensington and Chelsea becomes a snow go area.
Honestly, squatters of London, with the well-heeled in their ski boots, now’s the time to find your luxury Chelsea pad; the owners are all off piste on gluhwein and schnapps.
But just what is the allure of the slopes? Why on earth does falling down mountains have such a grip on the Chelscene?
I used to think it was the exclusivity. A ski holiday has a price tag reserved for the moguls; assuring the élite company of others equally well-endowed. Several decades of Ski Sunday, however catchy the theme tune, failed to make skiing any more accessible; Verbier never became the Torremolinos of the Alps.
But it’s kind of a perverse masochistic activity for the rich isn’t it? Who wants to freeze their fingertips off, gripping on to a squeaky button-lift dragging you slowly through cheek-biting blizzards? Why side-scrape down walls of ice, shredding your knee cartilage like an Aintree non-finisher making its way into a bolognaise? What reason is there to dangle from a chair lift in cryogenic temperatures praying for it not to break down as you sway above a precipice? Why, indeed, put yourself through all that when you can plainly afford not to? When you’re in the skiing-twice-a-year tax bracket, you can pay other people to go through your pain and terror for you.
Maybe it’s the thrill of some discomfort for a change or perhaps, numbed to the omnipresence of the poor back home, it provides a chance to reconnect with your senses; see if they’re still functioning. Maybe it’s just the boozy dancey après-ski that really attracts.
But listen to the language of the chalet: it’s the ‘white stuff’, ‘taking a nose dive into the powder’, making ‘tracks’: there’s clearly some element of a legal high (Val d’Isere. Elevation: 2700m).
Isn’t the real pull the same one that underlies drugs? Yes there’s the adventure, the rush, but under that, there’s that glamour of risk; where a false move could kill you. When you live in the borough with the greatest longevity in Britain you’re deprived of opportunities to face death. You’re too well off and educated to be daily looking down the barrel of an artery hardening Big Mac, or experience that vertiginous drop into spiralling debt, or suffer the cuts and all the other little deaths faced by most mortals. And if you never face death, how do you know you’re alive?
Skiing for me was all about running away from death rather than facing it. My father, a child refugee from Nazi Austria, was determined to bring me up as unjewy as possible; an Übermensch capable of escaping a country surrounded by mountains if the situation should ever occur again.
So every year, from the age of five, he would drive me to a snowbound Austrian valley. We’d stick seal skins to the bottom of our skis and start climbing a mountain. It was frostbite, exhaustion and terror clambering up for eight hours and then all of ten minutes skiing down again.
But now I’m prepared. UKIP is on the rise, my skis are waxed, my skins packed. I just wonder why, since he adopted an island to live on, he never taught me to water-ski. I have a suspicion it looked too much like fun.
In the meantime, one thing remains true: there really are parking spots near Peter Jones.