As far as the 20/21 winter season is concerned, it’s going to hang up there as one of the most bizarre and confusing times for anyone attempting to pursue snow sports.
Navigating the ever-changing landscape of this “new terrain” during the handling of pandemic, the squeeze of its challenges, and harrowing restrictions in regards to gaining exposure to the outdoors. Shredding optimism and hope into 2021 was our only clasp of control
Ready for the Fall
For the majority of the UK and expats in Europe, dropping into winter 2021 didn’t come without its hesitations but Europe showed positive signs in early autumn.
A softened transition with resorts opening their gondolas and chairs again to the public looked promising as glacier camps opened and race programs were allocated training space.
For the British instructor scene going through the BASI (British Association of Snowsports Instructors) system, training or teaching brought with it a plethora of unknowns as the complexities of Brexit and the outcomes of a pandemic towered over its progressive future.
As the announcements struck like jabs to the rib, France, Italy, and Austria looked to reassess their position on opening lifts after the New Year. Strict lockdowns were imposed countrywide and for many, including the UK population, the embers of which that were already burning low, were now on their way out.
Prospering from its neutral stance and with its radical “ski lifts falling under public transport” law, Switzerland gave space for winter’s continuation. It allowed anyone in a position to navigate the border restrictions an opportunity to ride. All be it restricted, it shows the value of their “Swiss cheese model” when it comes to the necessities needed to access mountain terrain.
However, the Swiss cantons battled the pressure of their healthcare stresses along with the rest of Europe as travel and its restrictions clouded its progress.
Year of the bitter sweet
A first for many, as the UK spent Christmas and New Years in bubbles designs of their own, unrestricted from a traditional ski holiday. That being parallel for the majority of European alpine destinations, instructors, business owners, staff, and resort residents lying stagnant as a cause.
Signs of co-operation into the New Year were welcomed, as tourist offices & resorts eased social pressures. Organisations were given limited access to lifts for training again, and ski touring and split boarding terrain opened up to the public.
Strengthening a relatively new evolution of enthusiasts and professionals unchained from the dependency of lift systems. With touring equipment and snowshoes having seen their most valuable year by way of flirting with those parameters, as the French and its neighboring countries (Switwerland still holding strong) settled into its only path through the buzz of carbon-neutral ascents. The industries push towards a more sustainable future, slowly making their way to the summit.
The weather systems moved in shortly after, Storms unleashed a seemingly bittersweet dose of cold snow over the UK and deep into the Alps throughout January, filling in the voids of a long strenuous summer and opening the skin tracks of winter once again.
The rawness exposed when a once patrolled mountain resort allows its remaining inhabitants a window of time before human interruption. No longer resorts to the masses, the mountain terrain returning to homeostasis, sitting as free ride pockets to the few.
After exposing itself so justly, the environment for February had us feverish. As discussions for opening became closed for the season and the high temperatures, reducing the avalanche danger and further quenching the thirst for an industry’s desire to keep cool.
Baking in the echoes of a former bustling Half Term Holiday sat amongst the heavy accumulation of snow, February’s vitamin D levels peaked, slowly reducing the surroundings to fondue until early March.
With communities and resort shapers pulling together enjoying yet another extension of skiing and snowboarding’s attributes with “pop up” terrain parks, giving further adaptations of the necessity to feel flow given the circumstances.
A year on from the mass exodus, the resorts and its culture sit idling, waiting for its vibrant lifeline to return. Making the best of a season that never was for the majority of the UK.
After socially one of the loneliest high-pressure years a connected snow sports community has ever gone through.
We have to acknowledge the resilience in the people in their attempts to release built-up pressures leaving a hand to drag on the parameters of what’s socially acceptable.
A line we continue to shred on and off the mountain, through the conversations we have, services we deliver, and information we share when allowing anybody the opportunity to gain exposure to the outdoors. `
If you need a reason to immerse yourself in a community, notes from a Mountain Safety course lead by BASI in January 21, at the time when Europe and the UK were at the peak of division after recently becoming seperated. The characteristics based around snow formation and its relationship were explained by our mountain guide, retiring after 40 years spent in the mountains and the privilege that as humans, allows us to experience.
Cold fresh snow, customized and symmetrical by nature affected by wind, becomes hardened, its arms that stretch out to connect with others and create strength become rounded, it causes weakness to its surrounding parts and invariably becomes a danger. When loaded with pressure or stressed by the elements it tends to slide or even give way, causing a cascade of devastation to anything in its path. The outcome being measured by the severity of pressure it was under, upon being triggered. Most of the risks lay disguised, remaining unknown, but time spent developing an understanding, gathering information and experience allows us to best make judgment decisions for a safe journey through.
With the pressures accumulated off the mountain over the years, it no wonder so much of the UK population continues to implement skiing or snowboarding as a part of their lifestyle. With an event like The National Snow Show on the horizon in October 2021, it will bring together the industry leaders, contributors and act as a bridge to the public to become more involved in the celebration of the never-ending exploration for freedom.
The view from the skin track, looking across from France to the Birmingham NEC for now, runs deep and silent. I hope from an ambassadors perspective that stepping into that arena in October 2021 may be the first step for many enthusiastic, stoked individuals towards getting out of confinement and into the industry, only for one day to look back out from atop a mountain summit, realising how far we’ve come, baring less weight, with more room to breath.