I’m sitting in the sunshine on a picnic bench, on the slopes above Courchevel 1650 in France, eating a ham and cheese sandwich I made at the morning breakfast buffet. It’s a simple pleasure – a peaceful, quiet and unrushed lunch – with a stunning backdrop. After a swig of water, I get out my piste map and work out where next to explore – I don’t feel like anything too strenuous after a busy morning covering a lot of ground around Les 3 Vallées. Such is the joy of skiing alone; you can please yourself entirely.
I first started going skiing on my own about 20 years ago when I joined a learn-to-snowboard week run by Crystal in Söll, Austria. I made full use of the social activities organised by the tour operator and returned with many new friends. I’d chosen to take the leap as none of my skiing buddies wanted to spend a week learning to snowboard, and I didn’t want to go on a ski holiday with the usual gang and miss out on any on-slope fun while I was off mastering a new skill.
As it turns out, I stuck firmly with my skis, but going to the mountains on my own became a habit from there on. Last winter, I took this to extremes by joining a ski touring trip that took me beyond my wildest dreams. We skied long distances off the beaten track in pristine conditions, far from any lifts. When we needed to travel uphill we attached “climbing skins” to our skis to stop us slipping backwards. Our reward for all that effort? The sheer exhilaration of sweeping downhill with the wind in our hair.
Over the years, I’ve found that my thirst for adventure and learning new skills is best explored alone – or at least with a group I don’t know. That way, it’s easier to align yourself with people of a similar ability – when you ski, you like to be pushed a bit, but not too much. Holidaying with a mixed-ability group of friends can be either frustrating or daunting.
But it’s not just the prospect of being well matched on the slopes that prompts me to go solo. The mountains hold an almost religious allure; they make me feel calm and help put my worries in proportion, and skiing alone offers a simple slice of me-time that I crave in my busy life. I find I can concentrate more on what I’m doing and connect with new people and surroundings in a way that I don’t when distracted by skiing with friends – as nice as that sometimes is.
Thinking about that trip in Söll, walking alone into a busy bar was quite daunting, but it was good to push out of my comfort zone and make friends that I might not have done had I been with pals. A few years later though, I spent a weekend in Zermatt, Switzerland, wondering whether my love affair with solo skiing was over as I sat each night eating on my own at my brilliant-value family-run hotel. Looking back, that awkwardness and loneliness was probably down to the fact that I’d just broken up with a boyfriend, and would have felt “alone” eating supper in my own home.
Undeterred, I went on to do a skills-improver course in Switzerland, and on this trip I made a friend for life. She’s a florist in Kent, and we still visit each other annually.
As time has passed, I’ve discovered a love of ski touring that is shared by only a couple friends, both of whom have busy family lives. So to indulge that passion, I’ve taken solo trips both for group day tours and for treks that involve staying overnight in mountain huts.
Planning my trips is easy – there are no “reply-all” emails or the endless pinging of WhatsApp group messages and the divvying of costs. You can book flights to suit you, rather than an entire group. There are no split restaurant bills when one person has drunk an entire bottle of wine while you’ve sipped water (or vice versa) and, of course, you can take that packed lunch up the mountain and eat it in the great outdoors.
So back to last winter’s ski touring, I knew only the ski guide out of our group of seven, but sharing the adventure of a lifetime with like-minded souls has enriched my life in ways I would never have imagined. As we parted company at the airport on the way home, I felt as if I was saying goodbye to family. That’s the only downside; if you go on holiday with friends you know you’ll be meeting up to reminisce before long, but if you’re scattered farther apart it’s much harder.
Courchevel 1650 was my last foray on skis, just a week before lockdown, and I’m so pleased I made the most of that opportunity to take in the mountain air – little did I know what was to come. I can’t wait to book my next trip; hopefully a weekend in Italy before Christmas. I’ve never skied in the Dolomites and that’s top of my hit list for winter 2020/21.
Hit the slopes
Book your space on the slopes at crystalski.co.uk