Movember 8. The day the 2009/10 Chamonix ski season started for some of us and no, I didn’t spell Movember wrong. As you can see in this photo, Frippe’s got a bit of a head start on you but based on his past fur-bearing attempts I reckon that if you start now you should easily be caught up by next weekend. Ahh, but I digress…
We’ve been teased all week with promises of 20cm here, 15 there, but Üllr has been quite the coy snow god as of late, teasing us with low dark clouds and frosty nights but refusing us a glimpse of her lovely white curves, the dreams of which have us leaping out of bed early each morning like kids at Christmas, racing to the window, unreasonably high expectations filling our ever-hopeful, childlike minds.
From the beginning of last week those of us who start our days with steaming cups of chai and a variety of forecasts, weather maps and radar images saw the big low pressure system bearing down on our little corner of the world. The optimists were calling 10cm for Friday night, another 20 Saturday. When Saturday afternoon turned to Saturday evening without as much as a dusting, most everybody began making other plans; another Saturday night sausage party in an empty ski town with nothing to look forward to on a cold, damp Sunday but a hangover and a ski vid or three. Sunday would be one of those brutal, undeserved rest days in the mountains – no wobbly legs, no
windburned skin, no gear drying by the radiator, nothing to look forward to but a bad weather Sunday morning with empty pockets and this ridiculous moustache. “Yo barkeep, une autre pastisse s’il vous plait et une tequila et tonique pour mon ami.” “Dude, you really think Dynafit is the right binder for a one-ski quiver or you reckon I should play it safe and go with the Dukes?”
Sunday morning my cell rings. Ohhh, me head. No way I’m gonna answer it and so I lie there, drowsing in the glory of a soft, warm bed in a cold room on a day off. Open one eye to get my bearings, the phone still ringing somewhere. It’s not early but hmmm it’s not late enough for this much light to be filling the room either. Holy smokes! I hit the floor as if the bed is on fire and race to the window. It snowed. Thank Üllr, it snowed!
A mad, disorganized scramble for gear and an hour later Frippe and I are at the base of LeTour. It’s looking thin and there’s a low thick ceiling about 100 meters above us and we’ve got serious doubts. But there are riders coming down already, doing their worst to rock skis old enough to be in a ski museum. Others are walking, picking their way through the mine field of snow-covered sharks, razor sharp teeth hungry for a mouthful of P-tex. But then a snowboarder glides by with superior flotation, a big smile, double shakas and in an instant the skins are out, and we’re laughing and going through the ritual first-day-of-the-season faff. Frip’s bindings aren’t set to his boots and his slick new multi-tool doesn’t have the right screwdriver to make the adjustment. I somehow stored my boots for the summer with the liners switched and my feet are now punishing me for such a rookie move. But there’s no need to hurry, no crowd-induced stress, and soon enough we’re up and moving and I’m breathing hard, wondering where that rhythm could have gone that a mere five months ago seemed as natural as if it was embedded in my DNA. A cold north wind is bearing down on us and I’m sweating like a … erm … well, like a Muslim army psychiatrist about to stand trial for gunning down 13 of his fellow countrymen.
I can feel the beginning of a blister on my right heel, I can’t catch my breath. How could I have forgotten to bring my thigh muscles? I stop, lungs bursting, and I kick up a ski to scrape the ice from the base of my ski skin. It’s a delicate maneuver and as I balance precariously the boozy chemical imbalance in my system takes its toll. Like a tree in the forest I fall slowly and surely into the cold, wet snow. Frip laughs and I laugh with him and there’s no place in the world I’d rather be than in Chamonix in Movember in the snow.