‘I feel invincible after a trip to the mountains’: why the slopes provide the ultimate relaxation

When Zoe Pye says: “I like to have goals that excite me”, she doesn’t just mean resolving to walk an extra stop for the bus or take the stairs rather than the lift. From running ultramarathons through deserts and across the polar ice cap, to learning to snowboard and samba in her 30s, Pye strives to always be in the process of learning at least one new skill.

Impressively, Pye’s appetite for adventure extends to her high-flying financial career in London, yet she’s the antithesis of a high achiever on the hunt for trophies; humbly regarding her extreme physical pursuits as an antidote to the pace and stress of city life.

'A winter holiday offers a physical and mental reboot'

Originally from Port Elliot, Australia, Pye grew up in a family of surfers, swimming virtually before she could walk. Yet it’s the call of the mountains rather than the beach that proves irresistible. “There’s something about the mountains that’s like going back in time,” she says. “The first time I learned to snowboard – in Poland, aged 30 and wearing kit borrowed from friends – the mountains were so far removed from my reality, it was like I was suddenly allowed to step into a snow globe.


Zoe Pye in Chamonix

Looking at the mountains through ski goggles

Zoe Pye in Chamonix


Referencing her vertigo, she confesses: “The fear was intense, omnipresent, even while I was on the chairlifts. Although I showed minimal snowboarding promise and it was essentially a series of moments of pure bliss intertwined with pure terror, I just loved everything about it. The landscape, the snow, warming up with a drink in cosy little cabins …”

Eleven years on and Pye remains equally wary of heights and besotted with snow sports, having recently bought herself an Alpine bolthole. “I’ve found a home in Chamonix, and peace of mind in the mountains. I guess it’s called flow – when your body and mind are aligned. After all, nothing removes you from everyday reality like being on top of a mountain. When your day’s to-do list is ‘Try to leave nicer lines in the snow than yesterday’, life becomes brilliantly simple. Having a point of focus is the ultimate stress relief.”

'The landscape, the snow, warming up with a drink in cosy little cabins ...'

Laughing, Pye goes on to say: “People pay £20 an hour for altitude training in the City – come to the mountains and you get hours of it, and even sleep at altitude! I feel invincible when I return home after a trip to the mountains, safe in the knowledge that I’ve been on a holiday that’s 100% good for me.”


Zoe Pye in Chamonix

A Chamonix cable car

Zoe’s skis


Although she maintains that her snowboarding level is “basic”, particularly in comparison with Chamonix locals, Pye has worked hard to improve her riding over the past decade and is reaping the rewards. “The great thing about skiing and snowboarding is that you’re surrounded by beauty at every level,” she enthuses. “You first glimpse the mountains from the nursery slopes and, as you improve and travel higher up the mountains, the scenery becomes ever more spectacular. I enjoy the progression on so many levels: the better I get, the more beautiful things I see.”

True to form, Pye is currently learning a new skill, tackling skiing in order to achieve her goal of completing the famous ski Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt in the spring. “People in Chamonix often ask me why I’m bothering to learn to ski at my age. I say: ‘I love being 41 and getting better at something every day.’” Besides which, she adds with an ear-to-ear grin: “I might still have 50 years of skiing in me!”

'I've found a home in Chamonix, and peace of mind in the mountains'

Pye describes her “fairly simple” progression from tackling the Paris marathon to developing a passion for ultramarathons with refreshing humility. The past decade has seen her complete some of the world’s toughest foot races, from the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara to an ultramarathon in Oman. “I’ve seen the most spectacular sunrises of my life during my races. I love the adventure of doing these things with nothing but my body and a little backpack. If you’re going to do something extreme and like to be surrounded by beauty, it’s magical.”

Leaping into the world of ultramarathons is not for everybody, but Pye maintains that a winter holiday offers a physical and mental reboot for skiers and riders of every capability. With a nod to sensibility, she acknowledges that “you do have to be gentle learning new things when you’re older”, yet it’s clear she has little intention of slowing down anytime soon. “Sometimes you just have to sink or swim – expose yourself to new challenges that are out of your comfort zone. And actually, pushing yourself to new limits makes your own level feel reassuringly familiar …”

For more information about the positive impact a winter holiday can have on wellness download the Club Med ski report 2019/2020


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