Reading this book is like venturing onto the ski slopes on a freezing, wet day. At first light you look out of the window and decide it is not worth the effort. The weather is vile and you are likely to get bogged down in heavy snow. You persevere out of a sense of duty; the early runs are tough. But after a while you get the measure of the conditions. Then the sun breaks through and you begin to enjoy yourself.
So with Roland Huntford’s book: I initially balked at the detail about the prehistoric origins of skiing and the technical aspects of bindings. I was wary that most of the first half focused on Norway, which, for all its virtues, is not a country to set the pulse racing. I suspected that Huntford’s title was hyperbole: the words ‘passion’ and ‘dramatic’ serving to hide a marked lack of excitement.
But then I began to relax and appreciate the positive sides of Huntford’s achievement. The breadth of his scholarship, which includes an easy familiarity with Scandinavian texts, is extraordinary. After a while his unreconstructed love of all things Norwegian becomes almost infectious. His 1979 study of the polar explorers Robert