THE FRENCH ALPS How I Live: Alpine Adventurer Squash Falconer.

Extreme Adventurer Squash Falconer talks moving to the Alps, conquering Mont Blanc and achieving the impossible.

THE FRENCH ALPS

How I Live: Alpine Adventurer Squash Falconer.

Extreme Adventurer Squash Falconer talks moving to the Alps, conquering Mont Blanc and achieving the impossible.

Squash Falconer - Athena Journal

When we catch professional female adventurer and presenter Squash Falconer on the phone at her home in the mountains of Tignes, she’s about to embark on a ski-touring trip to Svalbard.  A Norwegian archipelago that skirts the north fringe of Russia, Svalbard is one of the world’s last great wildernesses. Summertime here means 24 hours of non-stop sunlight and optimum conditions for skinning up slopes and skiing down, while sleeping on a trawler ship that traverses the coast.  One of the highlights, alongside exploring such remote, untouched beauty, is the chance to ski past polar bears.  ‘It’s a bit of a special trip for me’ laughs Squash.  

A ski-tour ambassador for Salomon, Squash cemented her position as one of the world’s leading female adventurers in 2009, when she embarked on an adventure that saw her motor-bike from her home in Derby through the Alps, climb Mont Blanc and then paraglide off.  Her path from events organizer to mountaineer, presenter, para-glider and professional daredevil is one of sheer determination and self-belief. She increasingly splits her time between extreme alpine adventures with motivational talks to blue-chip CEOs and school-children about how to remove that part of the brain that says, ‘You mustn’t do that, that’s impossible’. Next season sees her launch a series of specialist ski-touring experiences across the Alps with Freeflo.

ON SKIPPING UNIVERSITY: I was going to go to university, but I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to do a ski season instead in Les Alps.  I had skied a few time growing up, but never the French Alps and I loved them immediately.  I used to look up at Mont Blanc, and find it mesmerizing - there was a constant pull to it, although I never imagined that it would play such an important role in my life.

ON PUSHING THROUGH YOUR WALL: I first got into adventure events when i worked on the Navy ski & snowboard championships, I then went on to do do Salomon’s 36-hour Endurance Race, where you are part of a team of 4 and 1 person has to be racing at all times.  You run, cycle, kayak and climb for 36 hours straight. I fell in love with it. It’s an amazing feeling when you hit that wall and then realize you can push through.

ON LISTENING TO YOUR LIMIT: I got into mountaineering through friends i had worked with in the Alps and I started to climb mountains with them. My first mountain was Argentina’s Aconcagua, which at 7,000 metres, was a big one to begin with. I then went on to climb Muztagh Ata in China, which is 7,500 metres.  We were the first British women to go on the mountain with our skis and snowboards. Sadly, just a few hundered meters from the top, the conditions deteriorated and even though we were so close to the summit, it was dangerous to continue so we turned back.  It was a valuable lesson, I learned that I had it in me to listen to my limit, to ignore my ego and to turn back rather than push on. 

ON BELIEVING  IN YOUR DREAMS:  While mountaineering and adventure sports were my passion, I was still running events and I didn’t know how to turn my passion into my job. We had started filming our trips, and had won an award for a film we had made and people in the industry suggested I could work in front of and behind the camera.  Then I came up with this idea, a culmination of three dreams, to motor-bike through the Alps to climb and paraglide off Mont-Blanc and capture it all. A friend who had taught me to paraglide agreed to come with me – he’s going to be 70 this year and had climbed Mont Blanc in his 20’s! He said ‘Right, lets do it in September’. I wanted to make a film about it, so I approached the BBC and BMW, and with 4 days to go, BMW loaned me a bike and the BBC loaned me a camera. Although they couldn’t commission a story due to health and safety, they said they would consider buying the footage – which in the end, they did.  Due to the weather, it took us 3 attempts to climb the mountain, 2 days up and 22 minutes down.  Against all the odds, I was the first British woman to fly off Mont-Blanc.  It was a real turning point for me – that was when I realised maybe I could turn my passions into a career.

ON SEEING THE SILVER-LINING: A team mate on Cho Oyu, an 8000m peak I had climbed, said he thought I was strong enough to climb Everest and after the success of the Mont Blanc trip I felt like anything was possible, or certainly trying anything was possible.  I was turning 30, I was single and I thought, if not now, then when?  For my training I spent hours hiking up the mountains in Tignes with a 20-kilo pack on my back and skiing back down.  I worked with Salomon, Rab and Go Pro for kit support and sponsorship, and then I took a loan to cover the outstanding Everest fee.  While we did summit Everest, the weather was too poor to paraglide back down, which was a real pity.  Although it took four years to pay back the loan, Everest opened the door to after-dinner speaking, and then motivational speaking.  There’s nothing more rewarding than connecting with an audience, working in front of a camera is good too but with little interaction it’s not quite the same.  Even if just one person says, ‘wow, you’ve made me think differently’. It’s not really about me, but about how to get others to think and dream – school kids are wonderful as they are so open.  

ON MOVING TO THE MOUNTAINS:   In between adventures and doing events around the world, I have always felt a real pull back to the mountains, to their beauty and the sense of well being you get at altitude - its great for intense training.  We decided to move out here permanently from the UK last year.  As an ambassador for adventure and ski lifestyle brands it makes sense to be living that reality. At the moment, we rent a chalet in Tignes, but the dream is to buy land in the mountains and build our own place. 

ON SKI-TOURING:  It’s a sport that’s definitely growing, great if you want to escape the crowds but also get an amazing work-out with no impact.  Tignes is fantastic for it because you have this vast back-country – you put on your skis and go where there are no lifts, no people, and then ski up one way and ski-down, sleeping overnight in refuges.  Next season we are launching our first 3 and 5 day trips – teaming up with Snow & Rock and local expert guide and instructor Floss from FreeFlo, to run a series of different ski tour packages from introductions to ski touring for beginners to advanced tours. Find out more about the experience or contact Squash to enquire.

ON INSIDER SPOTS IN THE ALPS:  For a ski-resort, its got to be Tignes Les Brévières, a beautiful village with fab access to the Espace Killy, one of the largest ski areas in France.  My favourite refuge is called Palet, off Col du Palet.  It’s close to the lifts and open in summer and winter, so you can go for lunch or sleep overnight in cozy dorm rooms while ski-touring. My favourite bar is in le Lac, called The Underground Bar – my sister just bought it!  And for food, there is nowhere better than L’Armailly, a beautiful French restaurant that’s been going for 15 years and serves amazing meat, fondue and fish – its traditional food is always delicious. 

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