Jeremy Clarkson: For your next holiday, why don’t you take all your money and put it on the fire? Then stand in a fridge for a week, beating your children with a baseball bat until their arms and legs break. And then, after you’ve eaten some melted cheese, dislocate your shoulder. If all of this appeals then you are probably one of the 1.3m British people who go on a skiing holiday at this time of year. Skiing, for those of you who’ve never tried it, is an extremely expensive way of combining acute discomfort, butt-clenching embarrassment, mind-numbing fear and a light dusting of hypothermia. Plus there’s a better than evens chance that at least one member of your family will come home in a wheelchair.
The first thing you must understand is the ski boot. It is specifically designed to be as heavy as possible and to ensure that if you fall over - and you will, all the time - your leg will break at its most painful point: just above the ankle. The only way to prevent this happening is to cushion the fall with your face.
These holidays are called winter “breaks” because at some point you will end up in a doctor’s surgery that looks like a Baghdad market after a nail-bomb attack. Once, after I’d broken my thumb for the second year in succession, I sat in the waiting room with a chap who had a ski pole sticking out of his eye. And opposite was a pretty young girl whose left foot was on back to front.
Of course you might think it is possible to avoid such injuries by going very slowly. Unfortunately this is not possible because to counter the surprisingly powerful effects of gravity you need to dig the edges of your skis into the slope with such force that after a very short time your thigh muscles actually catch fire.
When the smell of burning flesh becomes too overpowering you let go, and suddenly you are travelling at 700mph. Then, equally suddenly, you will be breathing gas and air while the doctor sharpens his hacksaw.
This year, on my skiing holiday, the air ambulance was lifting five newly formed paraplegics off the mountain every day.
Falling over, however, is not the greatest danger. Far worse is being hit by a teenager with baggy trousers on a snowboard. Snowboarding is like skiing, except you have absolutely no control over your direction of travel, mostly because you will have had a lot of marijuana at lunch time.
It’s certainly better than eating the food. The food at ski resorts is cooked by people whose only qualification for the job is that they are called Arabella. Once, I was served salt soup. Mostly, though, it’s bread, which you dip in melted cheese.
And because you are expected to melt the cheese yourself, the Arabella has more time to have sexual intercourse with her surly French ski-instructor boyfriend.
I am a very good skier . . . in my mind. However, video evidence suggests that I’m rubbish. I look like a bus driver in a primary-coloured anorak, sitting on an imaginary lavatory. Also I can only turn right. So to mask my embarrassment, and the pain in my thighs, I ski only when very drunk. I can recommend this wholeheartedly.
However, what you must never do is ski while under the influence of Billy Idol. No, really. I can absolutely guarantee that within five seconds of putting an iPod in your ears one of your bones will shoot out of your skin.
Of course you might imagine that there are other things to do on a winter holiday apart from skiing. ‘Fraid not. On a normal summer break you can sunbathe, swim, snorkel, jet ski and, if you like The Guardian, go to look at museums.
But on a skiing holiday what you do is get up at dawn, eat some salt soup and queue for hours to get on something that makes a Tube train look deserted. Then queue for some more hours because your place keeps being taken by burly Russians who have daggers tattooed on their foreheads. Then you ski until it goes dark.
You have probably heard about après-ski activities. In your mind, you see nightclubs and pretty girls and drinking fiery cocktails till dawn. Well, I’m sorry, but what actually happens is that you get back to your hotel or chalet, climb into a relaxing bath to try to jump-start your burnt-out muscles and fall fast asleep.
This is a good thing because in addition to the cost of the holiday and the flights and the ski rental and the lessons and the ski pass that lets you use the mountain, you will have been utterly bankrupted by your wardrobe. This year the cheapest pair of padded trousers we could find for my 13-year-old daughter were £250. And it’s not as if she can wear them anywhere else.
Finally there’s the weather. If it’s poor you will freeze and crash into things because you can’t see where you’re going. If it’s good - and over half-term it was very, very good - you will need sunglasses. And that means you will come home after a week with a face like a barn owl.
The thing is, though, that when the sun shines and you are whizzing along, drunk out of your mind, under a perfect blue dome with your happy, giggling children on a deserted, freshly pisted slope, and you’re about to have lunch in a restaurant with a view that is unparalleled anywhere on earth, none of the misery matters. Because there is no feeling quite like it. It’s called perfect happiness.