Tuesday, February 24, 2009

White-out at 3,000 Meters

...We had crested the ridge between Val Thorens and a neighboring station, Orelle, and took three glorious mid-day runs just as the other skiers retired for lunch. New snowfall powdered a deep base, making for excellent conditions both on and off piste.

We had the long, wide alpine runs all to ourselves, our very own giant slalom course.

On the third trip up back up to the ridge summit, however, hanging in an open chairlift exposed to the elements, a fierce wind moved against us and the clouds rolled in, literally. It was a white-out. We couldn’t see a thing.

From the summit, we had no choice but to make a short uphill climb on our skis, so as to descend back into Valtho in the Belleville valley. The wind whipped at our faces, making it impossible to move forward against gravity. At one point, it appeared to throw Lily backward into the snow. Our fingertips and toes turned instantly to icicles. The girls could not hear me shouting, even though they were mere feet from me. “Go!” I said, “Ski down as far as you have to until you’re protected from the wind.”

Fortunately it didn’t take long to get out of the wind, but we were enveloped in clouds thick with snow. We continued in tandem, each of us keeping at least one other in view, creating a singular rhythm while trusting the mountain to guide us. It was very Zen. From time to time another skier would appear in the periphery, then just as quickly disappear again. We could've been the only skiers in the whole of the Trois Vallées. We could've been the only people in the world.

When we reached the bottom, we were exhilarated. We’d made it safely down 700 meters through an alpine blizzard. We deserved a warm fire and some sustenance, a fine time to tuck into a hearty Savoyard Tartiflette and a glass of hot-mulled wine!

Trois Vallées chairlift above the clouds
, Courtesy of Sarah B. Towle.
Tartiflette, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment:

  1. Kathy C told me about your skiing in white-out conditions. Wow. Scary. Glad it all turned out OK.