It’s that time of year again. Your social media feed is filling up with posts from friends having these seemingly idyllic winter holidays. You see fluffy snow, people rugged up in front of crisp mountain backdrops, open fireplaces and mugs of Gluhwein. It all looks fantastic… and you’re not even really sure what Gluhwein is.
If you’ve been eyeing off the mountains for years, but unsure whether your family or group will take to the snow, you’re not alone. There’s a huge trend of people from snow-less countries who’ve discovered that a yearly retreat to the mountains contains the perfect combination of adventure and pampering.
Some people wait a lifetime for moments like these. Some don’t.
It’s time to learn what all the fuss is about. Especially for those who live in a year-round tropical paradise (read; stifling hot every day), a winter holiday could be exactly the sanctuary you need. But snowsports holidays can be a lot to comprehend for first-timers. There are hundreds of questions to ask - most of which will make you look like a newbie - but that’s okay too. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re booking your first (of many) winter holidays.
It’s about the mountains, not just skiing.
Rest assured there is always one or two in the group… and sometimes it’s the whole group. Whether they’ve been injured or are a little risk-averse, the ‘’non-skier’’ is a common occurrence in the mountains. But here’s the thing; focus on what the non-skier can do. Skiing and snowboarding are just one tiny slice of the pie, so when you zoom back from them, you’ll see there is a whole lot more to mountains than sliding around on snow.
Japan is a cultural hotbed. Need we say more? You can bathe in a natural onsen after long hard ski, take a day off the slopes to visit Buddhist temples and learn how to roll sushi or head to a quirky little ‘izakaya’ for an authentic dining experience. You can attend cultural events, drumming ceremonies, fire festivals or take a day to explore nearby towns or cities. Most resorts have certain lifts you can board as a non-skier, which take you to on-mountain restaurants so you can meet up with your group for lunch and après-ski. There’s nothing like a few drinks on the mountain top ‘after skiing’ with your group. But honestly, for those who have not spent a day with a good book in front of an open crackling fireplace with an alpine view… you haven’t lived yet.
Local knowledge is essential.
It would be unfair to play down the importance of this, especially in a tourism landscape where we tend to be corralled into the most popular or newly discovered destination. Don’t be that group. Make sure you have a trusted local on the ground who knows how to ‘zig’ when everyone else is ‘zagging’.
Change your mind and need to switch a booking? Done. Want to add a heli trip to a sunny day? Too easy. Want to go on a temple tour? Your local contact will drive you. Holidays can be a lot of hard work when you try to arrange everything yourself - give yourself a break. Especially if you are new to the mountains, a friendly local will make you feel like a seasoned regular, rather than the new kid on the block heckling to get to the front of the line.
Time spent in the mountains with your people, is time well spent.
Pristine alpine destinations are the perfect environment to push your own boundaries and cultivate lifelong experiences. Some non-skiers feel obliged or pressured to take part in specific snowsports, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. People who ski every day on their winter holiday often return to their daily grind completely exhausted, barely able to move and with a wicked goggle tan. You don’t have to be that person. The mountains are a haven from the rat race.
It doesn’t matter how you roll on your winter holiday, just be sure to get out amongst it and enjoy it with your people. There are hundreds of ways to make memories that will last a lifetime. From whatever your perspective, soak up the majesty of the mountain tops and listen to the silence. Your soul will thank you for it.
If you decide to try snowsports, let a professional make it fun for you.
Most of the time, snowsports are within everyone’s reach. It’s an exhilarating feeling of freedom and adventure. You could be that person gliding gracefully down the slope too. In fact, snowsports are actually relatively simple, they don’t involve a massive amount of robust athleticism, just a little bit of gravity and some specific skills. But don’t be fooled by outward appearances, you still need to learn from a pro.
Under no circumstance should you allow the non-skier in your group to accept lessons from family or friends! This will likely ruin their whole experience, plus they could even get injured. Snowsports are somewhat counter-intuitive, so it is imperative that you take lessons, preferably privates, from a professional instructor who will get you up to speed in no time. You can either have an amazing time with an expert who is fun loving (and super cute) … or, you can spend a few hours with a friend getting frustrated on the wrong terrain and then quit. The choice is yours.
Talk to people in the mountains. Create yourself a village.
Ski resorts are bustling places, alive with the energy of adventurous people on that mountain high. Everyone is there to enjoy themselves, so do a little friending on your holiday. Chat to people in restaurants. Strike up a conversation on ski lifts. Meet up with other groups for a drink at après-ski. Most people in resorts are visitors just like you so it’s easy to meet like-minded people. Many lifelong friendships began in the mountains. In fact, Nickie Mabey’s grandparents met in the French ski resort Meribel back in 1947.
The possibilities are endless. Expand your boundaries and create some memorable experiences. As John Muir famously said;
“The mountains are calling and I must go”
It’s time. Experience something new. Hopefully something unexpected! After all, is this not why we embark on travel in the first place?