Girl power: Squash Falconer tells all
How do you become a female adventurer? British adventurer Squash Falconer talks breaking world-records, achieving the impossible and life in Tignes.
When we catch professional female adventurer and presenter Squash Falconer on the phone at her home in the mountains of Tignes, she is planning 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 motorbike from her home in Derby through the Alps, climb Mont Blanc and then paraglide off. Her path from events organizer to mountaineer, presenter, paraglider and professional daredevil is one of sheer determination and self-belief. She increasingly splits her time between extreme alpine adventuring and motivational talks to blue-chip CEOs and school-children.
I talk to people about how to remove that part of the brain that says, ‘You mustn’t do that, that’s impossible’.
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 times 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 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 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 it sparked the idea to step in front of the camera. Then I came up with a crazy plan, the culmination of three dreams in one: To motorbike through the Alps to Mont Blanc, climb the mountain and then paraglide off. 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, let’s do this 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 I could turn my passions into a career.
On seeing the silver-lining
A teammate on Cho Oyu, an 8000m peak I had climbed, said he thought I was strong enough to climb Everest. After the success of Mont Blanc, 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? To get prepared, 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 fees. 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, 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. Speaking to school kids is a highlight as they are so open to believing they can do anything.
Ski-touring in Tignes
It’s a sport that’s definitely growing, especially if you want to escape the crowds but also get an amazing work-out with no impact. Tignes is fantastic for touring because you have this vast backcountry – you put on your skis and go where there are no lifts and no people and sleep overnight in refuges. This season we launched our first 3 and 5 day trips – teaming up with Snow & Rock and local guide Floss (Jocelyn Cockle) from FreeFlo to run a series of different ski tour packages for beginner and advanced levels.
On insider spots in the Alps
What’s my favourite ski resort? It has 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. And for food, there is nowhere better than L’Armailly, a beautiful French restaurant that’s been going for 15 years and serves delicious home-cooked food.