Skiing shops are rarely unfriendly places per se, but they rarely welcome you with open arms. One either seeks to buy apparel in the summer months, when no one’s around to help, or late autumn through early spring, when prices skyrocket and staff are rushed off their feet.
At that point in time you become, when you enter a specialist or general skiing outlet, merely another pair of feet to clad in hardened plastic, another body to swathe in salopettes and jackets. The same is true when you hire equipment at the slopes, when you’re literally thrown into solid-but-cheap gear and bundled out onto the slopes.
So it’s a great and wonderful thing indeed to turn up at a store to be embraced with open arms by the staff, then served à la Eddie Murphy in the opening scene of Coming to America – minus, of course, the nubile bathers.
Such was my experience at the Snow+Rock store on Mercer Street in London’s Covent Garden. Clearly unable to read a simple list of numbers, I turned up way too early on a Sunday morning. “We open at 11.30am,” said the Canadian voice behind the glass door. “Come back then.” I begged and I pleaded my case, pointing out that my flight to Geneva departed at 3pm, and that I needed enough quality clobber to help mask my total and utter lack of competence on the piste.
Eventually, the nice Canadian – Canucks are always nice – relented and let me in. Thus for a full 90 minutes I had the entire three-floor store to myself along with a few staffers running helter-skelter around the store (“It’s gonna busy today” was virtually all they (correctly) said to one another), seeking to put as many things on as many shelves before the madding crowds descended.
Now, there’s something exhilarating about buying something that will enable you to do something exhilarating. Whether you’re on the market for hiking boots, or a new road bike, or in this case ski equipment, the mere act of trying on clobber then swiping your credit card becomes a rush of adrenalin in itself. You almost leave the store feeling fitter then when you came in.
But there are also butterflies, particularly if you are a novice at your chosen pursuit (as I am at anything involved the cold white stuff – I once spent a week sprawled on my rear during a bruising snowboarding holiday). I entered Snow + Rock that Sunday in unchartered territory. A control freak of sorts, I like to know what I’m buying and why: here, I had to settle for being led around by kind people who know their Blizzard Bonafides from their Völkl Mantras (which are skis, I later discovered).
My guides through the cool quiet of a pre-opened store were Conrad and Julien. Conrad, from Poland, was my ski specialist for the next 90 minutes. I secured a great price on Rossignol equipment – skis, boots and poles, all in for £320, a deal my beady eye had clocked the day before. Conrad measured my feet for special fitted insoles (granting you more purchase and leverage on the slopes), and I picked out some Pflexx knee supports, which cost a pretty penny (£155) but which I cannot rate highly enough. They have proven worth every penny.
While Conrad busied himself with my bindings, Julien helped me pick out some clothing. I needed a jacket, ultimately opting for a black one in the sale from Salomon for £200, and a pair of excellent and light-but-warm salopettes from Schöffel for £300. I already had goggles and gloves (Christmas presents from, respectively, my wife and my sister) so I was good to go.
And so my brief sojurn in Neverland came to an end. I paid up – under a grand for virtually an entire ski wardrobe, not bad at all – and scarpered. The crowds were already at the gates, flooding through the doors as I entered with a smile on my face. Thank you, Snow + Rock, and particularly to the Canadian (I never got his name) and to Conrad, who could not have been more knowledgeable, or more helpful. I think I’ll enjoy skiing this year.
For store locations visit Snow+Rock