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Pigs might fly down these slopes... but humans beware!

The taxi driver thought it the most natural thing that I'd come to Corsica to ski. "You should have been here last week - we had a metre of fresh snow" he said, with the demeanour of an expert skier. "Our mountains are magnificent." He indicated the landscape through the windscreen with wide-spread arms, not bothered about the hairpin bend we were fast approaching. Nothing seemed to surprise this Corsican. But then, nothing much surprises the average Corsican anyway. Just read the French comic book Asterix in Corsica and you'll see what I mean.

Yet, still in mid-Febraury it was not certain if my skiing expedition to Napoleon's homeland would take place at all. As in the southern Alps, it had not snowed - not even rained - for many months, and all my plans for traversing the island on touring skis along the famous GR20 trail way seemed fanciful. And then it snowed all over the Mediterranean. Even Rome was covered by 20 centimetres of fresh snow. And Corsica was white right down to its aquamarine beaches.

There were surely more expert skiers in Corte, the old town perched on a rock in front of yet more rocks, where I had based myself. Not all were willing to identify themselves as such though, as we were foreigners. When they're not hunting, half of all the young Corsicans in Corte are dressed in black, drive small Peugeots at break-neck speed, smoke one Marlboro after another, outside and inside the cafe, and ignore girls who do the same. The other half dress in black too, but smoke only one pack of Marlboro a day, and go ski touring or snowshoeing as long as the snow lasts. Only when it finally melts do they go hunting. Girls and the English language are known to exist, but that's all.

Both groups do what they do and what they don't do with little regard for the law - but with considerable pride. Bilingual place-names on the road signs are spray-corrected into the Corse language, and traffic signs are shot at with what must be heavy artillery and rocket-launchers, as they are shredded to pieces. 'Corsica libera' is graffiti-painted on bridges and bus stations, but during my entire stay, the National Liberation Front didn't explode a single bomb. I had to assume that the unrepentant troublemakers were all out skiing.

The fathers of these young rebels, with shaved, greying heads, dressed in black too, were more approachable. Having acquired wisdom, humour and a world view which makes Le Pen look like a left-leaning liberal, they were willing to converse in a foreign language with me. "Do you speak Italian?" they would ask, to then swiftly switch into lingua corsa, emphasising their point with the vivid facial expressions and the swift gestures of a seasoned Genovese politician.

The first ski resort my Italian mountain guide from the Abruzzi, Marco Zaffiri, was heading for - Castellu di Vergio - had been taken over by a couple of savage, black pigs. They'd dug a hole in the attendant's hut to take up their duties, letting their pig-buddies roam the pistes for free - a typically Corsican approach, thus effectively preventing all non-pigs from skiing.

So we glued on our touring skins, and climbed in mystic fog through the Valdu Niellu forest to the 'Ciuttulu i Mori' refuge, along the Col des Maures saddle to Paglia Orba (2552m). Only for a split second could we see the Mediterranean - then we had to grope our way back through dense clouds. We almost crashed into a family of majestic moufflons, fleeing from us in wild leaps.

The 'Ancienne Station de Ski du Haut Asco' (1422m), which we tried the next day, was not hijacked by pigs, but by a wildly sprouting pine forest, which had overgrown the pistes and even the lift pylons. To reach it, one had to drive through the Asco Valley, along rocky escarpments, with the road winding over abysmal precipices and thundering torrents, never quite wide enough for two passing cars. Marco, who hails from the village of L'Aquila - destroyed last year by a devastating earthquake - was unfazed. He drove with undiminished speed, operating his mobile phone with one hand and hooting with the other at some emaciated, shaggy cattle, which were quite obviously too malnourished to react. "Last year," he pointed into the ravine a thousand feet or so below, "I saw a car down there, which must have driven over the cliffs. You have to look - maybe it's still here." He had to have a look himself, hanging out of the window, with no regard for the cows, the oncoming traffic or the rocks littering the tarmac. In fact the car was nowhere to be seen, but Marco did his utmost to put ours in its place.

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