I tried skiing in a south-east London park – here’s how it went


Colin Nicholson - skiing in Crystal Palace Park
When snow fell on south-east London last February, Colin decided to get his skis on (Picture: Colin Nicholson)

It wasn’t how I imagined my 2020/21 ski season – five days in my local park.

But it did make me briefly wonder, do I really need to go to the Alps to ski every winter?

For skiers and snowboarders, this is heresy. Even before Covid, this meant all the stress of juggling work, budgets and friends’ schedules to achieve that blissful week of gliding down Alpine slopes.

In 2020, however, the chances of that grew agonisingly more distant until they disappeared in a puff of smoke around Christmas with the winter lockdown.

A form of salvation arrived in the second week of February, when
I woke to find much of the country – even my corner of south-east London – under several inches of snow. So, admittedly feeling rather self-conscious, I put on my boots, shouldered my skis and walked up to Crystal Palace Park.

Colin Nicholson - skiing in Crystal Palace Park
South-east London looks surprisingly like the Alps when it snows (Picture: Colin Nicholson)
Colin Nicholson - skiing in Crystal Palace Park
Colin was determined to not let Covid keep him off the slopes (Picture: Colin Nicholson)

There were no planes or accommodation to book and pay for, and no Covid certificates. As for ski passes, my plan was to ski to the bottom of the park and take the bus back up. At £1.55 a ride it compared well with the £40-plus you pay per day in the Alps.

Briefly I was in ski heaven, if by ski heaven you mean a few hundred yards down a gentle hill with very little in the way of moguls and even less in the way of mountains. Or pistes. But you take what you can get, I suppose…

What my limitless enthusiasm (or desperation) had also prevented me from seeing was just how much we rely on resorts to create those speedy runs. In practice, I could only get enough speed on the paths in the centre of the park.

The second day I realised what else I was missing. Where was the après-ski? Or at least the comfort of the fully catered holiday? Back at my ‘chalet’, the staff were a tad surly.

Colin Nicholson - skiing in Crystal Palace Park
(Picture: Colin Nicholson)
Colin Nicholson - skiing in Crystal Palace Park
One of the runs in Crystal Palace Park (Picture: Colin Nicholson)
Metro writer Colin Nicholson skis through Crystal Palace Park in February 2021
He had to avoid dogs and children on sleds (Picture: Colin Nicholson)

‘I’ve been working all day and you want me to prepare canapés?’ complained my husband.

I did eventually get a bottle of prosecco and dinner out of him.

On the whole, the locals were friendly, with some asking to take my photo. But there were no other skiers, just a few children tobogganing, and I had to dodge dog walkers, with one excitable mutt chasing me downhill.

Escape

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All that hiking back up was taking it out of my legs and by the end of days three and four I was pining for the spa. Oh, for the joy of an alpine sauna or a menthol-infused steam room!

Then on day five – disaster. By now the thaw had reduced the ‘pistes’ to just one, past the lake and concert bowl. But then a council lorry arrived and a worker threw grit all over my run. With that, my winter melted away as the sun set over the south London hills.

So would I give up the chance of a week in the Alps to ski at home, even if we were guaranteed another snowfall? No way. Not in a million years.

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