I need it for my mental health

A ban on skiing in Europe would deprive skiers of the essential medicine only a

A ban on skiing in Europe would deprive skiers of the essential medicine only a trip to the slopes can provide

This time last year I was boarding the trans-Siberian railway at Moscow Kazansky station, having negotiated my way through Heathrow departures with an avalanche bag and the city of Moscow with ski touring kit. 

I was on route to meet my friend Fred Buttard, a IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association) mountain guide, and a group of adventurous skiers he had put together to ski in Siberia’s Mamay Valley.

It had been a tricky year; I suffer from complex PTSD and severe bouts of depression and getting myself to that train was no mean feat. My stress levels had been so off the chart before departure that I arrived at Heathrow without my passport — the first time in more than a decade of frequent travel — requiring a six-hour round trip home to collect it. 

Thankfully British Airways changed my flights and I made the train, by the skin of my teeth.

Four days and nights on that sleeper, watching the wild world outside rumble past slowly, pressed the reset button way before we clipped into our skis and started to explore the most vivid landscapes I will ever see in my entire life. 

What’s the purpose of me sharing this story with you? To highlight the importance of skiing to the nation’s mental health and how devastating it would be if snow sports are forbidden this season in Europe.

Forget medication, it doesn’t work for me. But time away in crystal clear mountain air, sunshine, climbing endless peaks in search of that holy grail: a perfect line to ski in waist-deep powder? That’s the best self-care I can ever administer. 

Fast forward to present day and the past week has been a rollercoaster for British skiers. Not only are we moving from one lockdown to another but we were briefly offered a glimmer of hope with shortened travel quarantine, swiftly followed by the news that ski resorts will stay shut until at least January. 

I understand that we need to curtail our behaviour in order to crack this thing; I don’t like lockdown, but I get it. I’ve lost enough people close to me to know Covid-19 isn’t a joke. But I refuse to give up on the idea of skiing this season — I need it for my mental health.

Nothing beats crystal clear mountain air to relax the mind

The days when ski trips revolved around drinking, partying and late nights are well behind me. Skiing is now a far purer experience. 

It’s about boosting vitamin D levels naturally in Alpine sunshine, getting fitter climbing mountains, feeling the stress literally drain away as I look out at the mountains. They make me feel insignificant; they’ve been here for so long that I understand I am a mere shrug in time. 

I long for the familiar feeling of using physical and mental strength needed to safely navigate my way around the mountains, something to focus my attention away from myself and my worries. The joy of spending time with like-minded souls.

I’m not alone in my thesis. There are numerous studies to back up my own observations of how skiing benefits my mental health. Researchers of a study published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience in July 2018 concluded there is a positive effect of being in an alpine environment on mental health “beyond that of physical activity itself.”

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation found skiing had a “significant effect” on reducing stress levels on students. It not only affected heart rate and levels of “apprehension” but also boosted feelings of enjoyment through physical activity. 

Where is the enjoyment in rain, grey skies and the damp cold of UK December? Don’t shoot me down for wanting to get back out to the mountains, they’re more than a holiday. They are a medication and way of life; not least for an industry perilously close to collapse.

In Switzerland, ski resorts are presently open and operating. Across the rest of Europe, the situation is more complex with the Italian government branding ski resorts “Covid nests” and cajoling its neighbours to join forces and keep ski areas closed until the situation is more stable and safe — perhaps when vaccination programmes are well underway. 

In France, ski resorts are open but the lifts are not turning.  From his home in the Haute Maurienne, IFMGA Fred Buttard tells me that ski touring, cross-country skiing and walking is still allowed in the region — and for that reason I’m still planning to get to the mountains with my skins and touring kit as soon as I can.

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we must take pleasure in small things. Right now, just having lunch in the Alpine sunshine would do me, even if I have to jump through hoops to get it.

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