Taki Taki

High Life | 21 March 2009

Alone with the dragons

Gstaad

It’s past midway in March and the slopes still don’t have that used-up look which comes by the end of February. No gritty slush, just beautiful pure powder tracked only by furry things such as foxes and deer. While out cross-country skiing, I feel elated by animal tracks next to my own, a great silence enveloping the bowl where I’m skiing, without a human in sight. It could be Russia, with giant pines lining my path, the river slapping on the ice along the edges. Yet it’s only Lauenen, seven klicks from the glitz of Gstaad. The lake is above me, and it goads me uphill, climbing on my arms, as one’s supposed to do on cross-country skis. Once on top I rejoice and regret. Going up separates the men from the tourists. This is my last week in the mountains, and I’m taking advantage. From the back of my chalet I can see south-facing slopes starting to melt, but in Lauenen the bowl is still pristine and I like skiing it alone, just before sunset.

On alternate days I ski downhill the impeccably groomed slopes of Les Diablerets. They are served by high-speed chairlifts and telecabins, and one’s swooshed upwards to a glorious, seemingly endless descent, a swooping serpentine piste among rocks and gorges set against a vista of endless snow-covered peaks. March is my favourite time of year, especially in the mountains. The rich slobs have left, the crowds have gone back to sea level, and the mountains assume the stillness of the dead. I have started to ski fast again, having lost my bottle for a while. All it takes is confidence, but that’s easier said than done. The trickiest moves when skiing fast on piste or powder are the mental ones, the psychological acrobatics that keep one from leaning back or stiffening up, the natural thing to do where humans are concerned.

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