The sport we know today as skiing was developed in Northern and Central Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Parallel to trench warfare. First the terrible destructive power of massed artillery and later the deadly effect of machine-gun fire meant that the digging of trenches became a standard tactic for infantry soldiers desperately seeking shelter from the storms of steel raging around them by the time of the First World War. At first trenches were dug more or less in a straight line facing the enemy but another technological “advance” soon meant that this was not sufficient to provide protection from enemy fire. In the later years of the 1914-18 war, airplanes began to be used to attack enemy positions and with machine-guns mounted in a front-facing direction they could just line up a straight trench and fill it with lead, leaving the unfortunate infantrymen with no escape. Solution? Dig trenches in a zig-zag pattern so that some cover would always be available just by running round the corner. This lesson was learned anew in the Spanish War, particularly by inexperienced Republican military exposed to air attacks carried out by Italian and German aircraft.
My first visits to the Sierra de Guadarrama were to once front line areas like El Alto del Leon, Valsaín, La Granja and Peñalara, with their various remains of fortifications, bunkers and trenches.
I later became a fanatical ski-mountaineer, skiing practically every imaginable descent route in the Central Guadarrama, from the suave to the steep, from pow ski to ski fou(!)..on any slope offering a minimal snow-cover.
This year so far has been really bad for skiing, even minimal snow-cover is hard to find. Practically the only skiable slope in the whole Sierra is that which lies due west-south-west of the summit of Peñalara. I was headed up there yesterday but round the “back” of Dos Hermanas (looking towards Valsaín) the weather was pretty bad, moderate to strong winds and little visibility. I was contemplating whether to continue when I came upon the remains of one of the Republican trenches which winds its way down the gentle, desolate hillside towards Majada Hambrienta. The trench zigzagged away before me into the mist, full of snow, 15 to 20cm at the most but hard ..and continuous as far as I could see. All around there were patches of snow, but nothing that offered any continuity – except the zig-zag trench. Within minutes I had the skis off my back, strapped to my feet and was ready for some.. trench-slalom! Though it was a short descent and with very little inclination, it was not without excitement. Skis move fast on frozen snow and with a “piste” a metre to a metre and a half wide and zigs and zags every 5-6 metres you need to move sharply! It was so good I even repeated. And I couldn’t resist shouting to the mists for those old Republican ghosts: “¡Viva la República!” (sorry, Kings!) Not every day you do something entirely new!