Full moon ski touring in November?? Are we crazy?? Yes a little!!
So as most of the skiing world is aware, we had a nice dump of snow across the alps yesterday and today. Here in La Tzoumaz, the snowline was around the village centre, a little lower than our chalet. It was getting towards the end of the day and we were debating whether to go for a run, or maybe an evening hike. Suddenly we were inspired… let’s get our skis out! Within five minutes, racing to get our kit together in the fading daylight, we were busying ourselves with dusting off our skiing helmets, washing the mud (yes indeed) off our skiboots and looking for ski socks. It’s amazing how all the kit hibernates in different places, in a way that is most inconvenient for a last minute rush up the mountain.
Percy had new boots. And new skis. And new skins. And then he remembered that he had snapped his ski poles at the end of last season, but his hiking poles had no baskets. Surely this was a recipe for disaster…? There’s surely not enough snow. Perhaps when we get to the top there will be more? We can always walk if it’s too rocky. And buy new skins if we ruin them. And get the skis serviced if we wreck the bases. And do 5 weeks of rehab before Christmas if we injure ourselves…
Enough excuses and we were on the piste, fighting to click into our Dynafit bindings. Even after 32 years skiing, I find the first ski of the year is always exciting as it feels so unfamiliar after the long summer. There’s a thrill that rushes through me when I first slide over the snow, hearing it squeak underfoot, trying to remember how to balance. The skis felt heavy as we pushed them uphill, our legs conditioned to the easy life of summer hiking in light trail shoes. The clouds that had swirled around us all day were settling into the valley below, looking like a sea of fluff filling the valley, with a delicate sprinkling of city lights here and there. I chuckled as I thought of all the city people, blanketed below and unaware of the magic above. The sunlight played on the last few mountain peaks, giving us a stunning display of mountain panorama, then it was gone. We had head-torches in the rucksack just in case, but we chose to rely on our night vision as dusk overcame us.
Percy was struggling with his new equipment and grumbling about his bindings so we had just about decided to head back down again, when we noticed our shadows in front of us… Is that the moon? Is it full?? Wow isn’t it beautiful!!! The snowy scene came back into view in an almost unearthly light. The moonlight caught the ice crystals in the snowdrifts, making them sparkle and twinkle in a dizzying manner. The tree branches glowed eerily, laden with the new snowfall, and struggling to deal with the extra task of shedding the snow along with their autumn needles. There were one or two tracks from earlier in the day, where winter walkers had passed by, and these were illuminated like the emergency exit lights on an airplane, guiding us ever upwards.
Before long, we were at the summit of our climb, the Croix-de-Coeur restaurant on the ridge, with its altiport, heli-ski meeting point and its view over both La Tzoumaz and Verbier. The Verbier side also had a blanket of cloud, but here it glowed orange, tinged with the lights from the densely-packed resort. There was an icy cold breeze, but it made no sound and we looked around in wonder, each quietly confirming that our move to the mountains a year ago had been an inspired decision.
We gently peeled off our skins and stowed them in our rucksack, glad to pull out helmets and jackets and gloves, goggles and head-torches from the seemingly tiny daysack we had taken out on our impromptu outing. Clicking our bindings into “ski” mode and snapping our boots shut in the soft fluffy powder seemed a very strange thing to be doing in early November, a world away from the mountain-bike ride we did up here a mere three days ago.
Heading off down the mountain, I made a mental note to wax my skis before my next outing. The snow was grabbing at them, begging me to stay at the top, but I pushed on. My balance was uncertain, my style was not pretty. The 18-month-old reconstruction work in my right knee complained bitterly at every twist and turn. We gathered speed as we wound our way down the mountain, often choosing to stick to the smooth snowy roads rather than the unpredictable rocks and shrubs of the wilder terrain. The moon was still watching over us, and I reflected on how natural the first day back on skis can feel when you are in glorious sunshine on a freshly-groomed resort run. Here I was on a random Thursday night, laying down the first tracks of the season and I was butchering them! When you’re skiing on the first snowfall, there is no base layer and the grass pokes through. We had 6 – 10 inches of fresh powder sprinkled on top of a full autumn regalia of bilberry bushes and azaleas that were red and gold. Autumn was not yet ready to be finished. Luckily for my embarrassingly awkward track marks, the locals round here say that when snow falls before the meleze have shed their leaves, it will not stay for long.