A Blessing of Snow
13 hours of holiday playlists, gas station lunches, roadside naps, and toll station traffic jams. It had been a long journey from Groningen, through Belgium, and finally France. It was well past midnight when our car started its final ascent up the mountain towards Valloire, a small town tucked away in the French alps, against the Italian border...
As our headlights and the nearly-full moon guided the way through the pinewood trees, we were excited to see the first snow. But none came. As our fully packed trunk lunged over the summit and looked down upon the darkened alpine valley, we expected to see snow. But none came. Even when we swerved through all the Valloire streets towards our hillside chalet, we thought “any moment now, the snow will come”. But none came.
It was as the forecasts had predicted. Most of the alps had witnessed scantly any snowfall in December and January. Friends and family returning from their trips told us they had spent the week playing cards, taking walks, and strolling around souvenir-infested ski villages. We had hoped that our ski trip would be different. Tired and dismayed, we piled our bags in the living room and threw our exhausted bodies into the nearest beds.
Come morning, both the chit-chatter of birds and the pale sun snuck into my room through the open window. It felt like waking up to a fresh spring day. Terrible! I softly tipped down the stairs and took in the chalet for the first time. Despite the lack of snow, it was actually quite a quaint, wintery abode. A large, comfy couch sat in the living room, with soft blankets, plush pillows, and warm furs, smothering every surface. The kitchen was well equipped by, what I assumed, was a typical elderly French food-loving homeowner. Amongst others, cast iron pans, two different coffee machines, a classic enamel bread bin, a large gas stove, rough-hewn wooden planks, and bucket-sized teacups filled the scene. Upon closer inspection, the house was also clearly designed to serve any ski-enthusiast, with a ski-gear heating room, a laundry room, and a hammam-style sauna on the souterrain.
After having chosen which coffee machine would deliver my morning kick, I crept out of the door onto the large balcony and looked across to the mountain on the other side. Although I could see slushy-snowy slopes, my heart sank. The mountains were murky brown, a mix of mud, dark snow, and dry leaves. Apparently, the stories were true. I even saw some early birds hiking toward a mountainside abbey. Defeated, I sat outside in my comfy onesie and sipped away at my brew, trying to figure out what the heck we were going to do the entire week.
Then, I felt a small, icy tingle on my forehead. Then on my left palm. Then on my ears. Then on my cheeks. The sensation spread towards every uncovered part of my body. Something glistened on my eyelashes. Could it be? I looked up, and to the grey sky above and saw hundreds of tiny shiny flakes dancing in the morning breeze. It was snowing!
30 centimeters of snow fell that day. Another 30 centimeters fell the day after.
Valloire had transformed completely and we had an absolute blast. Every morning we would quickly slap some Gruyere and dry French sausage on a baguette, draw up a plan as our tea buckets cooled, and head towards the nearest lift in the free shuttle bus. The skiing area was much larger than we had anticipated. On the first day, we barely explored the mountain nearest to us. In single file we followed each other down the slopes, testing our wobbly, unaccustomed legs in the fresh powder. Not before long, however, we were dashing through the snow, exploring the off-slope tracks, and looking for jump parks.
We had dreaded a holiday filled with board games and long walks. Instead, we found ourselves enjoying large beers, cheap Bolognese, and unrecognizable accordion music in a rickety wooden restaurant somewhere halfway down the slope.
By the third day, the grey curtain of snow pulled aside to reveal the stunning, pristine beauty of the French alps. We had finally reached the third and farthest mountain. Subsequently, it was also the tallest mountain. A chairlift brought us up to 2750 meters, and as we reached the top, a breath-taking view greeted us. A panorama of icy peaks, snow-capped outcroppings, and rocky summits lay before us. The majestic crests of the Mont Thabor, the Grand Galabier, La Meije, and the Barre des Écrins formed a jagged row of imposing rock, like the teeth of some ancient, mythical creature. The dazzling sun reflected off of every snowy surface, making it hard to look around without our goggles on.
The chalet itself also fully embraced the winter glory. We drank hot chocolate on the terrace, relaxed our sore ankles in the Hamman, and watched hilarious B-rated movies on the large TV screen. The silent, snow-packed roads and forests around us only amplified the warm, convivial atmosphere we had created in that home. We spent long evenings drinking homemade mulled wine, reminiscing, sharing stories, and singing along to sad, incomprehensible French music. We wanted the holiday to last forever…
…but forever only exists in fairy tales. On Saturday, we woke early, ate our last baguette with cheese, drank our last bucket of tea, dug out our cars, and started on the long trek back. As we swiveled down the snaking roads, the snow slowly receded, giving way to mud and dead leaves. It was as if we stepped out of a magical wardrobe, back into the real world.
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