Twenty-three years ago, when masks, social distancing and lockdowns were not part of our daily vocabulary, I suggested to my then seven-year-old daughter Vicki to go skiing the following week. because it was mid-term.
She literally jumped for joy. “Wow! Yes daddy! Incredible!”
It was a relief, as I had already booked the apartment, paid for the ferry tickets, and raided the ATM – details she would not be interested in at all, and why would she? Fun was what she had in mind and we were going to have fun.
And so began an annual pilgrimage to the snow-capped slopes of Europe. We have been there every year since; they have become like home. It’s our time, father and daughter: just the snow, the mountains and us. It is special.
Almost every year, the same question arises: should you buy a seat? No matter which resort we stay in, I linger in front of realtor windows to think about it. The only problem is that each time the properties get more expensive.
But if we were to buy, where would we choose? My choice would be Les Arcs and La Plagne in France, about a two and a half hour drive from Geneva airport. You only have to look at the extent of the piste map there. In 2003, the Vanoise Express cable car opened, which linked Les Arcs and La Plagne and created the Paradiski ski area, with around 425 km of slopes served by 160 ski lifts. The variety of trails, from beginner to expert, is perhaps unmatched.
Of course, the advantage of not buying is that we can go to a different resort or region on each trip. But lately we’ve been back to places we first visited many years ago that have undergone a transformation, mainly because they try to appeal to winter and summer visitors.
There are more and faster ski lifts, better maintained slopes and, as a last necessity, snow machines. But what Vicki and I are looking for are spaces reserved for freeride skiing, a kind of off-piste in deep powder.
The feeling of anticipation when withdrawing the ski lift pass and the piste map never weakens. How many black runs are there? Where are the off-piste areas located? And where are the snowparks? These are the areas created by resorts with ramps and halfpipes, where you can take off and get airtime, even if it can be counted in milliseconds.
Every year we start talking about the next trip before we end the one we’re on. Getting up on the first day is always emotional. We have done it again.
Our travels took Vicki away from the children’s slopes of Nendaz, on the edge of the Verbier ski area in Switzerland, this first year. Now we’re negotiating the off-piste and deep powder canyons of Engelberg, Chamonix and Les Gets – accessorized with GoPro action cameras and comedy hats, Vicki is a bunny face, mine a rooster.
The simple, heartwarming pleasure and pride of skiing with your child is irreplaceable. The thrill of skiing side by side simultaneously, howling with laughter as we play ‘catch me if you can’ in and out of trees, ravines and toss whatever seems even at a distance that might give us time to go. antenna is a feeling that cannot be reproduced.
It’s also a good time to catch up. To talk about family and friends, and to make plans and set our goals for the year. To reflect on our good fortune – that we could sit on top of a mountain and gaze at a spotless snowy scene without the stress so many people endure.
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This year the question is more important than whether we should buy a seat. We are in November and the first snow has already fallen. But due to the pandemic, flight and travel restrictions, we won’t be able to travel far until December, possibly later.
So will 2021 be the year that ends our 24-season series?
No chance. Even if that means we have to take our trusty skis to Old Winchester Hill in the South Downs, Southern England on a cold winter morning, we will go skiing together again.
Joe Russ is the production editor of the FT
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