After a long period of inactivity, winter calls me to do more outdoor pursuits. There is something about being able to hike the whole day in the sun and yet not get overly hot that appeals to me. Unlike most people, who after a period of inactivity, go gently into building up their fitness, I decide to get hold of a friend of mine who at one point wanted to be a mountain guide and ask her to join me on a day out. Her choice for our day out: Dent du Valerette in Valais, Switzerland.
This is a lovely peak that is usually done by locals on touring skis because the ride down looks epic. It is a mountain that is only open once a week and therefore only groomed once a week. If you are a powder seeker, this is an ideal place to work for your run. Its a couple of hours skinning to get you up to 2000m and then a mixture of big open powder fields and serendipitously placed trees that make for a lovely ski down.
We, however, were not going to be skinning up this mountain, we were going to be snow shoeing. My friend had torn her ACL (which skier hasn’t…) and was not confident enough to ski down yet. So we donned our snow shoes and headed up the ungroomed piste. So far so good. Snow shoeing is fun. Then the ski tourers started passing us, after all, it is easier to glide up a mountain than walk it. No worries though, it was a beautiful sunny day and we were having a splendid time chatting and walking (straight up the piste I might add).
After about an hour (of walking straight up the piste) we arrived at a chalet/restaurant that is only open in the summer. Looks like a fantastic place to come to in the summer, where I bet you switch back over the hill, instead of going straight up the piste.
We stopped here for a little break and some water whereupon I was informed we’re half way there. Half way which in actual fact means a quarter of the way there because we still have to walk back down! Onward we trudge and I begin to begrudge the ski tourers making it look so easy to climb a mountain.
Eventually I see the peak. Its steep, but its not far. I can manage this. 50 steps at a time. break. 50 steps. break. I’m getting there. My friend is at the top already (yes, torn ACL and all) and she’s looking at me encouragingly. At last, the top. Wow, the top! Being in the Alps means that when you reach the top you are rewarded with the most incredible views in every direction. All the pain is forgotten. All the effort is worth it to be up there, surrounded by others who feel exactly the same elation you feel.
After catching our breath we look around at all the skiers pulling off their skins and getting ready to ski down. Oh to be one of them. Instead, we put our snow shoes back on and begin the descent.
I can now unequivocally confirm that snow shoes are not made for steep powder descents. My friend tore the strap off her one of her snow shoes and about 5 minutes later I lost my balance and putting too much weight on my pole, snapped it. We looked at each other and we looked at the mountain… we had to go on, so on we went stumbling and silently cursing through all the snow.
Eventually my friend came up with the best possible solution: lets just sit on our bums and slide down the mountain. What an idea! I got my snow shovel out and using it like a bum board went careening down the mountain side. We hit a few divots and bumps but hell did we go faster! Naturally we got a few odd looks for the more dedicated of the Swiss mountaineers but those were easily ignored as we raced on passed them.
After what seemed like ages we finally reached the bottom and as we went into the little restaurant to have a gluwein there was a silent agreement between us that we would be hanging up our snow shoes. What we wanted to do, just wasn’t doable in snow shoes.