frozen light in a snow weekend
by Paulo Brandão
And it was in that spirit last week that I boldly attempted all the jumps in the snow park (I stacked), and it was in that spirit that I raced with middle-child madly, recklessly down the mountain (it was an epic tie) and it was in that spirit that I persuaded Mrs Botogol, a determined but improving skier to attempt the blue run down to St Martin, to return over the mountain via the gondola.
The previous few days, careering round the well-groomed pistes of the Three Valleys in bright sunshine, pausing only at high altitude bars to enjoy a €6 glass of vin chaud and free wi-fi, it was possible to imagine that the Alps have been tamed.
For when Mrs Botogol and our party found ourselves an hour behind schedule and 2600m above sea level, the sunshine long gone and a light snow falling, sliding and stumbling as fast as we could for the very-soon-to-close gondola which was Mrs Botogol's only hope of making her way safely down the mountain that evening short of an emergency helicopter, well the thin-aired, steep and freezing mountains were suddenly about as tame as a polar bear.
It wasn't as if the decision point that afternoon had gone unnoticed either: the metaphorical and literal fork in our road had been 45 minutes earlier and 800m lower when, behind time on a run that had proved too demanding by far, we had found ourselves at the top of Biolley piste and the bottom of the St Martin 2 chairlift. The safe option was obvious: the five us should continue down the mountain to safety: an easy blue run, no more than 5 mins on a good day 25 minutes at current pace but to the wrong side of the mountain, and a good 30km taxi ride back to Meribel.
The other option, the silly option you could call it, was to head up the mountain the waiting gondola, 1000m above us and two chair lifts away.
I thought about it... and we blundered on.
It was when Mrs Botogol fell over getting off the first chair-lift that I knew for certain I had made the wrong decision, but by then there was no way to turn back and on we pressed, higher and colder, the pistes beside us all redder and steeper.
So, how close did we come to catastrophe?
Well, if I tell you that Mrs Botogol and her friend made it into the gondola but by the time the two boys – just a chair behind us on the way up - had taken off their skis and scrambled over to me the Retourner a Meribel door was shut and firmly padlocked.... well then you will realise that we had the nearest of near misses.
The ski down was fun though, and the boys and I easily overtook the mums in the bubble, who waved cheerily as we raced past.
“You skied down!”, they said when they eventually rejoined us at the bottom of the mountain, “but why didn't you take the gondola like we did”
“Well, you know, the boys fancied a run, so..."