The essence of skiing laid bare in 2021

Something’s missing in the Alps and it isn’t snow. The locals are beaming right now, as the lifts are running and despite the fantastic February skiing conditions, the slopes are largely empty during weekdays. But as I discovered recently, something fundamental is missing from the ski experience – it’s silent and dare I say, a bit soulless.

We’ve all done it – tried to recount a situation to someone who wasn’t there to witness it. No matter how enthusiastically the message is delivered, it can never substitute for the real thing. Sure, we can elicit heightened emotions when describing a fabulous lunch or passage of play in the 6 Nations, but when we venture into less familiar territory, the ability to truly convey those emotions becomes more difficult.

Experiences are best shared first-hand and yet mid-Covid, these things we just can't do. There are countless phrases to describe and justify selfishness on a powder day, but the truth is, deep-down, we would all rather share these moments with friends. It may be altruism or more simply the frustration of trying to take somebody somewhere that you were but they weren’t - the spoken word has its limits. Whatever it is, the ravages of Covid have brought this need into sharp focus. A busy slope, a long lift queue, tracked powder – pre-Covid we all wanted a bit more Terra firma to ourselves. The pandemic has wrecked of the systems by which we lived and is making us re-evaluate what really makes us tick.

How much of this insight we are currently gaining will be carried forward is unknown, but right now the deserted slopes are laying bare the real reasons we scale mountains. It is to see the uncommon and experience sensory shocks from the unfamiliar – calculating vertiginous drops, interacting with frigid air and appreciating scales from dots on the horizon that only mountainous landscapes are capable of revealing. The way we validate these moments is by peer-experience, by looking down the same geology as friends and colleagues, and in real-time. Instagram is a useful tool, but it doesn’t come near to the shoulder-to-shoulder experience of the actual. The crux of the issue is an experience that is shared, whether it be witnessing a hero descent, a yard sale of a fall, a sunset behind the peaks or a manager with karaoke mic in-hand.  

There was nothing shared about skiing high above Innsbruck in near-perfect conditions these last couple of weeks. I was utterly privileged to still be healthy and able to ski in open resorts - the local authorities claiming skiing was a birth-right and proving not all politicians are full of hot air it seems! Reasons to complain about skiing vanish it these times but my reflections were meaningful and point to a better future. Alone is better than overrun, but a shared experience is so, so much bigger than the sum of its parts. I yearn for the time when I am joined on the last chair with friends, colleagues, clients – the moment is always so much more meaningful.

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