Fancy finally booking that trip to Kashmir/Japan/Alaska but got no one to shred with? Fear not, here’s Matt Clark’s guide to going solo
Ski and snowboard travel has never been easier, with pesky magazines like this one constantly bombarding us with exciting new destinations and adventures all over the world. We all have ever-growing bucket lists of places we’d like to visit, couloirs we want to shred, powder we want to ride, and peaks we want to climb.
The problem with such variety is deciding where to go each season becomes increasingly harder. We all have our own aspirations and goals, which often don’t match up with our friends, family and usual ski/board partners.
Perhaps you want to go heliskiing in the Himalayas, while your friends just want to go back to France. Maybe you want to ski Japan’s legendary powder, but your family want to stick with sunny piste skiing. Or maybe you want to climb and ski couloirs to the sea in Norway’s Lofoten, but your mates flatly refuse to walk uphill when there are perfectly good chairlifts in the Alps. What if you’ve been planning and saving for that dream Alaska heliski trip, but you don’t know anyone with the ability or bank balance to join you? Contemplating a South America trip, but everyone you know thinks summer is for beach holidays?
Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and accept that if you really REALLY want to go somewhere, you might have to do it alone. I’ve been there too: after years of watching dreamy Japan videos, in 2014 I finally decided that I’d waited long enough and HAD to go there ASAP. I’d been saving some money for a big trip, but none of my friends had, so in January I jetted off to Hokkaido for a month by myself. It’s still one of the best trips I’ve ever done, particularly as with only myself to please, I could do it just the way I wanted to. I wouldn’t change a single thing about that trip.
Solo skiing is a controversial topic. Some love it; some hate it. Being alone in the mountains and relying on no one but yourself to stay safe is an incredible experience – the solitude, and the humbling experience of being a very small thing amongst such huge chunks of rock and ice can really deeply affect how you think and act. However it’s one thing going out alone in your familiar home mountains, where you intimately know the terrain, snowpack, and emergency rescue procedures, and quite another to throw yourself in at the deep somewhere halfway around the world.
Aside from the safety concerns, sometimes things are just more fun with friends! Friendly banter helps deal with any nerves before dropping in, and a powder day is infinitely better if you can celebrate it with a few gloating beers in the bar with your buddies after! Plus, if you’re alone, who’s going to take that rad powder photo of you for your new Facebook profile pic?
Luckily you’re not the only one in the same predicament. Solo trips are becoming more and more popular, better catered for, and easier to plan. If there’s somewhere you really want to ski or board but you can’t convince anyone to join you, now’s the time to think about going it alone. The experts at LUEX Snow Travel have the following advice to help you plan a solo freeride ski or snowboard trip.
Accommodation is one of the harder aspects of solo trips: many establishments charge extra supplements for single room occupancy. However, where you stay is your single biggest opportunity to meet new people to ride with, so it’s more important to find the right place than try to save money and end up isolated in the middle of nowhere.
Lodges like Black Diamond Lodge in Japan are the ideal set up. It’s well known and popular within the more dedicated freeride ski and snowboard circles, so the vast majority of people who stay there are there to ride powder above all else, usually to a high standard; everyone there has a diehard love of snow in common, and it’s easy to find solid partners to ski with each day.
The mix of private rooms and dormitory-style bunk rooms mean you can choose between the extra privacy, or avoid the single supplements and make the most of the social side in the dorms. The onsite bar and big group breakfast provide further opportunities to socialise and meet new people to ride with.
On the ground travel is the next big problem for the solo skier or boarder. On international flights it doesn’t make much difference whether you’re on your own or in a group, but transfers can get a lot more expensive once you’ve touched down! In a group you can keep taxi costs down by splitting the price between you, but you when you’re alone you’ll have to pay full whack. In some of the more exotic and far flung destinations like Kashmir this isn’t too much of an issue, as prices are generally so far below Western levels that a taxi or private transfer is still very affordable.
The issue is compounded if you want to travel around a lot while on your trip, for example between different resorts or ski areas. In places like Hokkaido, which is relatively compact and has an excellent and reliable rail network, it’s easy and affordable to get around on public transport as long as you plan ahead a bit and leave some wiggle room in your itinerary (signs aren’t always in English, so you want to double check that you’re getting on the right train!). In bigger or more remote areas like Norway and Canada, the challenge is more substantial.
A great way around this is to join an organised tour or road trip. As well as having a ready made bunch of friends and ski buddies, these tours often begin (or can collect you from) international airports or transport hubs, so you can avoid expensive transfers and confusing/impractical public transport while still travelling around your chosen destination to see more sights and get a much deeper feel for it than you would by staying in one place.
For the utmost adventure at the ends of the world these group tours are really the only affordable way to go. At the most extreme end, you can even use a ship as a base to go ski touring in Antarctica!
Instruction and Guiding
Whether you want to improve your skills or just to ride the best secret lines in the given avalanche and snow conditions, by far the best option is to hire a qualified local guide or instructor. Unfortunately this can get very expensive, with guides fees often topping €400 per day. With no one to split the costs with as a solo traveller, this can make a HUGE difference to the total cost of your trip.
One of the best ways around these costs is to join a dedicated freeride camp. There are many camps all around the world, for all ability levels from beginner to genuinely expert, almost athlete-level shredders. Camps often tie in guiding/instruction, accommodation and airport transfers, which keeps costs down, and are a great way to meet new, adventurous ski buddies (who may well be interested in joining your big trip next year)!
Other than coaching camps, most heliski and cat ski operators are excellent at matching small groups, couples and singles into homogenous groups – keeping everyone happy and moving at the same speed and rhythm is essential to making the most of each day. You need to choose the operator carefully to match your ideal type of terrain, ski level, budget and preferred group size (larger helicopters normally work out cheaper, but can mean you cover less ground and ski less fresh snow), but they are normally able to coordinate transfers to manage costs, and the remote but sociable lodges are a perfect place to relax and meet new like-minded friends.
Check out LUEX Travel’s article for more specific trip ideas for solo ski and snowboard travellers.