By Jules Older, published in sfgate.com on November 14, 2016
LAST WEEK, SLOPE DOPE LOOKED at exotic (read: strange, eccentric, weird, quirky, crazy, ultimate bragging rights) skiing in North America. We found places where you can ski over a working mine, across two time zones, in Guns ‘n God country, accompanied by mooseburger and seal flipper, and for dessert, in what was the whorehouse capital of the Northwest.
Is this a great continent, or what?
But what lies overseas?
I’m happy to report that overseas provides an abundance of exotica and quirk. Let us begin our skiing safari in a suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the grand adventure of
Skiing the Toothbrush — thumbs up.
It must be said that all Scottish skiing borders on the bizarre. There’s often no snow. Winds sometimes blow in excess of 90 miles an hour. And when conditions get really bad, Scots engage in what they call “heather hopping.” Meaning, yes, they’re skiing the heather because there ain’t no snow.
But all this pales beside the Midlothian Snowsports Centre, née Hillend Ski Centre, a.k.a. the Toothbrush.
Hillend (I can’t get myself to say “Midlothian Snowsports Centre”) serves more than 200,000 skiers a year. It does so without benefit of snowmaking … or even snow. At Hillend, you ski on plastic. Plastic bristles. Thus, the Toothbrush.
It’s fun for a day, but before you jump on the #4 bus from downtown Edinburgh to Hillend, you should be aware of this: So many falling skiers have caught their thumbs in those unforgiving bristles that they’ve spawned a local medical condition — Hillend Thumb. You have been warned.
From Scotland, let us journey north to Scandinavia, specifically to northernmost Sweden and Norway. Sweden has the world’s oddest night skiing. Norway has wolves.
There’s night skiing and Swedish night skiing. Entirely different beasts. In the rest of the white world, night skiing means bright lights glaring over cold, dark slopes. At Riksgränsen, in Swedish Lapland, it means no lights other than the never-setting sun. Oh, and you’re skiing at midnight. In May. This lil’ video shows what it’s like and gives you a chance to brush up your Swedish.
While we’re speaking of beasts, let’s head to Norway. The country has no shortage of bragging rights. You can ski Spitsbergen Island, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. You can ski the arctic from a sailboat.
But for real exotica, combine skiing and wolfing. Start at Narvik, where you ski between the fjord and the Northern Lights. Nice. But wait, there’s more.
Ninety minutes from Narvik is the world’s northernmost wildlife park, Polar Park. This is gonna be hard to believe, but it’s oh-so true. If you’re 18 or older, you can hang out with wolves. Not through a glass bravely — in petting and licking proximity. And yes, these are wild Norwegian wolves, socialized not to be afraid of, uh, you.
From the frozen north, let us end our weirdness safari in the south. The deep south. No, deeper. We’re talkin’ New Zealand.
Annnnd, we’re talkin’ skiing an active volcano. Snow sliders, meet Mount Ruhapehu. How active is it? Erupted in 1945. Erupted in 1995. And 1996. Again in 2006. And 2007. Warnings are up in 2016.
So, if you’re skiing one of Ruhapehu’s two ski fields, Whakapapa and Turoa, and the volcano blows again, how long do you have to ski to safety before you’re encased in lava and/or boiling water?
I haven’t found a definitive answer, but my guess is 30 seconds. After that, you can kiss your boots goodbye.
Ah, but think of the (posthumous) bragging rights.
Those are my picks for international quirk. Love to hear yours.