Ever take a ski trip alone? I don’t mean just for the day; I mean traveling to a remote destination, staying alone in a condo or motel, skiing solo, dining without partners — you get the picture.
It may surprise you that it’s not particularly uncommon for women to travel by themselves. I did some research, and while statistics are limited, the Travel Industry Association says an estimated 32 million single American women traveled at least once in 2014, with about 3 in 10 making tracks five times or more. Travel agents also report that it’s much more common for woman to travel solo than men, with 73% of agents polled noting that more female travelers go on trips alone than their male counterparts. In fact, according to market researcher Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, the average adventure traveler is not a 28-year old male, but a 47-year-old female.
And here’s some more interesting stats: In an article in Conde-Nast Traveler, Cynthia Dunbar, general manager of REI Adventures, reported that “since 2010, women traveling with us has grown by 60 percent, and we continue to see this figure grow steadily each year. Last year alone, 58 percent of all our guests were women.” In the same piece, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, known for its six-hour-long bike rides through the French countryside, said that 60 percent of its customers are women.
Women on TheSkiDiva certainly fall into the adventurous group, and many have no problem taking solo ski trips. A thread on the forum backs this up. I asked the woman who started the discussion, Christina Dolan, to write about her experiences during a recent trip to Mammoth:
My Solo Adventure: Mammoth Mountain
by Christina Dolan
“You came all the way out here by yourself!?” exclaimed the young boy as his friends looked at me with eyes as wide as pie plates. They were a group of four boys, aged about eleven to thirteen, and I’d stopped beside the trail to lend them my multi-tool as they struggled with a loose bike seat. They were lively, friendly kids who were a genuine pleasure to talk with, and in the course of discussing the merits of different types of mountain bikes, I mentioned that where I live, Pennsylvania, we have tons of rocks so I liked my light, nimble bike. That’s what prompted the astonishment that I would travel 3,000 miles alone to ski and ride bikes. The boys’ incredulity caused me to reflect on the more subtle reactions I’ve noticed when people find out that I’m travelling alone.
Is solo adventure travel, particularly for women, still surprising? I wondered if people would be as taken aback to find a man traveling alone, or whether it was my age (late forties) more than my gender that prompted the raised eyebrows.
When I heard that Mammoth Mountain would be open for skiing until at least July 4th this year [ed. note: the new closing date is August 6], I immediately began scheming to get out to California. I’d returned to skiing last year after a thirty-year hiatus and was eager to extend my season. It’s always difficult to steal time from work obligations in the winter, but a three-week swathe of June in the Sierras with no other responsibilities was too good to resist. Happily, the warm weather allowed for camping, which made the trip relatively affordable, and my teacher’s vacation schedule provided the time. I don’t know any other skiers who had the time for such a trip, so I booked and planned it solo without a second thought.
Throughout my trip, I met countless wonderful, friendly people. The parking lot adjacent to the Stump Alley chairlift turned out to be a vibrant social community of die-hard skiers, mostly local. The day I wore my Suicide Six t-shirt, I must have met every New Englander on the mountain, and I now have faces to put to the handles of people on two different ski forums. At some point in every conversation, nearly everyone asked if I were travelling alone, but the raised eyebrows seemed to me to express pleasant surprise rather than concern or disapproval. Everyone I met at Mammoth seemed absolutely delighted by what one man called my “awesome, epic adventure.”
The boys on the bike trail were the only ones dramatically surprised to find a woman traveling so far alone, and to be fair I don’t imagine most middle-schoolers do much traveling on their own, so I’m sure I was a novelty to them.
The Benefits of Traveling Alone
There are many real benefits to solo travel, which is an especially great format for introverts. Going solo allows you to socialize exactly as much as you care to and also have plenty of time to enjoy solitude. I’m not an extrovert by nature, but when skiing and doing other outdoor activities, I find it easy to talk with people who share a common interest. I’ll listen to music or podcasts on the lift if I have a chair to myself, but I always prefer to have someone to chat with. Something about a chairlift seems conducive to pleasant conversation; the introvert in me suspects it’s the finite nature of the ride. There’s no need for awkward extrication from a conversation when the off-ramp approaches; all that’s required is a cheery “Have a good one!”
Because I was alone in Mammoth, I met people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have. Having travelled from the northeast, particularly solo, for such an extended trip made for an easy conversation starter. I think that when you’re clearly by yourself, people see you as perhaps more open to conversation than as part of a couple or a group, and a friendly “good morning” can turn into a substantive and interesting conversation.
Travelling alone also allows you complete flexibility to do what you want, when you want. Of course I enjoy skiing with friends, but it was fun to have the freedom to zip around from trail to trail without stopping to discuss options with a group. I rested and ate when I felt like it, and then happily hopped on a barstool at the end of the day for a post-ski beer and friendly banter with other skiers. If there was nobody to talk with, I busied myself on my phone, updating my social media site with pictures or texting with friends and family. In general, though, I tried to be open to conversation by keeping the phone tucked away and my ears free of headphones.
With solo adventure, the experience is heightened in many ways because all of the decisions are yours, as are all of the risks. I’m still learning and don’t yet ski off-piste or in situations where it would be imprudent for anyone to ski alone; I’m certainly not advocating careless risk-taking. But if you decide to challenge yourself on a steep inbounds trail that approaches the limits of your ability, you have to dig deep and find the mental confidence to do it without support or encouragement. It’s easy at those times to think: “I shouldn’t be here” or “this is too much for me.” But overcoming that fear and uncertainty on your own can have immeasurable rewards.
The low points during any sort of travel can fall hard when you’re alone, of course. Those difficult days when nothing seems to be going right, it’s easy to let the dark cloud of pessimism settle in, but I also think that presents an opportunity to emerge mentally stronger as a result.
I had an amazing time in Mammoth Lakes. The skiing was great, the views in every direction were spectacular, and I have nothing but fond memories of my interactions with the people I met. It wasn’t easy to board that flight bound for Newark, but I did so knowing that I’d almost certainly visit Mammoth again, most likely solo, and that was fine by me.