Although my friend Elaine is skiing in Park City, Utah, alone, she's making friends right and left. Okay, they're friends for five minutes, but what's the difference? She's being entertained, being social and not feeling lonely.
"I have five-minute relationships with people on the chair lift," she says. "Then it's, 'Have a nice life.' " And off she goes, carving her way down the snowy mountainside.
I worried that Elaine, who has gone solo on plenty of biking, skiing and other group adventure tours, would not have a good time going skiing for a week in Park City, Utah. All by herself. In a condo without her pals.
Instead, I'm envious of her vacation. No, it isn't perfect. Nothing's ever perfect. She misses the camaradie from the time a couple of years ago when she, our friend Andrea, and I traipsed out West together, eating out, waiting for each other on the slopes and laughing. A lot.
On the other hand, she doesn't have to prod us to get moving in the morning and stress about not being on the slopes at the opening bell, as she prefers. "I can go at 8:30 and stop when I want to stop. It's a definite plus. I'm on my own time."
She also doesn't have to get dragged to the cowboy pick-up bar Andrea liked so much but Elaine wasn't crazy about. And she doesn't have to dine solo. Because when you rent a condo, it's like a home away from home. She packed the fridge with food and when the skiing day is done, she gets into comfy clothes, makes herself dinner like she does at home and starts back in on a jigsaw puzzle she brought. With the TV on in the background.
She sounds quite content. It's like being at home only without the chores. So it's total relaxation.
The thing is, Elaine is a ski fanatic and would feel a lot worse if she passed up a winter of skiing because she couldn't find friends to go with her. "Would I prefer to be with you and Andrea? Definitely. But it's turning out better than I thought."
We talked by phone. That's another thing. It's not as if you can't connect to people by phone and the Internet when you travel. So you're not isolated. It's the same thing you'd do at home if you felt like talking to someone. You don't run out and knock on their door usually. You pick up the phone.
All in all, Elaine is glad she took the solo ski plunge. "I'm a free agent. There's no drama. There's no stress whatsoever." And, she doesn't have to compromise on anything.
Some tips for skiing alone:
Take a mountain tour
Many resorts offer this as a free service. You show up at a certain spot at a certain hour and join a group of people who want to learn what the mountain's various runs are like and how to get from one set of chairlifts to another. If you're very lucky, you meet other skiers to hang with. If not, you still have company for several hours with at least one other person, the guide, who is an expert skier.
Take group lessons
Same theory. You never know who might meet to ski with. And the person will be close to your ski level, since you're taking the same level of lessons. If you don't meet anyone, you've still had a social morning or afternoon.
Strike up a conversation on the chairlifts.
I didn't used to do this. Then I skied with Elaine who's great at it. The opening gambit is simple. "Where are you from?" Then you proceed to ask how has the skiing been, how many days do they have for their vacation and various other questions that pop into your head. Such as, what are your favorite runs, where else have you skied, what's your sign and what are you doing for dinner. Okay, save those last two for the apres ski scene.
If you're really lucky, you'll end up talking with a ski instructor who will give you your very own private mountain tour, as I got a few years ago.
Rent a condo, rather than a hotel room
If you've got your own kitchen and a nice living space for stretching out, you can feel as relaxed as you do at home, as I've learned from Elaine. And you save time and money by not having to go to restaurants and coffee shops all the time.
Don't ski off into the woods
If anything happens to you, heaven forbid, you want ski patrol to be able to find you. So ski where others are sure to ski past you at some point. On that same day, that is.
Find a group ski tour
If you want to make things really easy and be guaranteed company, look up ski clubs in your area and let them do all the arranging of hotel and transportation and the like. Then you just have to sign up and pay for the trip and the rest is taken care of. Plus you're much more likely to find others to ski with. And you'll most certainly have people to dine with at night.
Photo: Ellen Perlman. Chairlift, Park City, Utah.