Val d’Isère, Oct. 2015 — We’ve been walking up the trail above the L piste towards the Ouillette lake, just up from the Laisinant, for nearly two hours. On a summer’s day, this takes no longer than an hour. But the snow that fell for nearly 24 hours yesterday is making our progress much slower on this Autumn afternoon.
It’s mid-October in Val d’Isère and the mountain above resort is covered with a white blanket of snow. It’s only about an inch deep but that’s enough to conceal rocks and small obstacles, and to unsettle our footing in places.
In the past few weeks the larch forest has turned from dark green to gold and rust. Today, after a few days of low clouds and wet skies, the weather has cleared up and the sun has been out all morning.
The thin layer of freshly fallen snow creates an early winter atmosphere without the winter crowds. And it’s cold enough for the snow to hold, sitting on branches like thick icing.
On the ground, tall grasses are still poking out as we cut through the Mattis piste. Here and there crows and foxes have crossed the path, leaving their prints on the snow.
As we come out of the forest and within sight of the top of the run below the Datcha chairlift the path becomes steeper and more treacherous. My sister suggests we veer left towards the Iseran road. It would take us hours to get back that way.
Eventually she’s happy that we take the path over the top of the L to the Danaides area in Solaise. This side of the hill is steep and avalanche prone in the winter. The path itself has a soft incline and quickly takes us back just above the Laisinant cliffs to the beginning of the Rhone-Alpes run.
By now the clouds that have been creeping in from the West are closing in again but it’s just a short 45-minute trek down Solaise back to Val d’Isere. Closer to resort the ground is getting muddy. The last stretch down the Combe Martin – such a sweet, short and steep run in the winter – is almost unpleasant.
As we reach the beginners’ slopes our toes are hurting and our limbs slightly dangled. In five minutes we’ll be sitting down with a nice brew, freshly prepared by Dr K, who has been bettering himself by reading up on Savoyard Baroque architecture all afternoon.