March 19, 2016

Source: Bigstock

Gstaad—Going up on a chairlift with the town’s doctor, I asked him, “How’s business, doc?” “Never better,” said the kind medical man. It seems the richer we get the more medical help is needed. “I get calls 24/7 for all sorts of ailment relief, especially coughs and colds,” said Dr. Mueller. “Rosey students, as opposed to local kids, are the most demanding.” I’m not surprised. The Rosey school has the highest tuition of any place of learning—anywhere—so it’s hardly surprising that some of the little monsters think a cold or a cough is something money can buy and do away with in a jiffy. When my boy was there he suffered from a sleeping disease. He would feign sleep as soon as classes began. The kindest of teachers, Mr. B, would coax, beg, implore him to wake up, but JT knew how to play him like a banjo. Not much has changed since. Except the ski team is not as good as when my son and heir was on it.

Otherwise, this has been one of the most brilliant weeks of skiing and fun that I can remember. It began with the arrival of the great Barry Humphries and his Lizzie, and a dinner chez les Corcorans, who are old friends. Barry, one of the best-read men I’ve come across, was in rare form, praising an Austrian spa where he had just spent a week in order to lose weight. He had put on two kilos. His tales about Aussie billionaires and their wives—especially one from Perth—are worth a one-man show by themselves. I particularly liked the one who got divorced, went to London, noticed a Sheila in a bar, asked Mark Birley if she was available, and got a yes, but also a warning that she might be a bit of a gold digger. “That’s alright, I’m a bit of a goldmine myself.”

“I now only enjoy skiing on empty slopes, and Gstaad’s mountains are like Bikini Atoll back in 1946.”

The food and wine at my host’s were so good, when I got back home I grabbed my cook and hung her out the window holding her from her ankles until she swore she would try harder. Mind you, the snow is piled up so high it would have been a drop of inches. Snow conditions, needless to say, have never been better. I’ve been out skiing every day with Geoffrey Moore, son of Sir Roger, who has a terrible habit of pretending to go fast while moving like a glacier in order for me not to feel old and left behind. Last week he got his comeuppance. We started early under a cloudless sky and perfect snow conditions. I kept up with him up until the steep part, where under normal circumstances he would disappear. But what he did was turn and turn and turn for a demonic five minutes, having changed direction 253 times but having lost only about twenty yards in elevation. He then got hit with cramps on both thighs that were so bad they stuck out like vanilla cones. Having collapsed in shrieks of agony, he watched in disbelief as I skied by and left him behind. I think I heard the word “Brutus” from the quivering mass, but I’m not sure.

The next evening we were both up the same mountain for a birthday celebration of a man who conquered Everest ten years ago, aged 51 at the time. Marcel Bach is the richest and most successful local, a fearless mountaineer who summited on his second try, after having a lung collapse on him during the first. His guests included Monaco’s ruling family and Mike Horn, the greatest living explorer and a proud South African. Mike has conquered three 8,000-meter mountains without oxygen, and is sailing and walking from pole to pole this summer. Sponsored by my friend Johann Rupert, another South African, he makes, in my not-so-humble opinion, some of these TV explorers look like sissies, but then who am I to judge such brave men when I left my buddy writhing in the snow in order to beat him to the bottom? (I didn’t, the bugger caught up with me and did the same dance in front and made me fall.)

I now only enjoy skiing on empty slopes, and Gstaad’s mountains are like Bikini Atoll back in 1946. That’s what’s good about the place. Last time I was in St. Moritz I had to avoid a team of Chinese descending at high speed as if on an assembly line by throwing myself in a ditch, cutting my nose and landing on my head. (X-rays showed nothing.) I do not wear a helmet, which are now compulsory during Eagle Club races, which incidentally has a new president, Loula Chandris, my oldest friend’s daughter. In order to celebrate the event, I declared the lower terrace of the club to be open to upper-class members, and the upper terraces for the lower orders. The waiters all laughed, but many members groaned. I am not the most popular life member, but I am the oldest as far as membership is concerned. I joined in 1959. Back then we were only 120 or so. Now we are over 600,000, or so it seems on busy weekends. But not in March, my favorite month. See you on the slopes. I’m the one who has a man in front of him who turns nonstop but doesn’t lose any elevation.


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