Having lived in Summit County for the last 14 years, M and I had become accustomed to the way things work there in all the different seasons. For instance, we knew that within 5 minutes of the first snowflake falling in September, I-70 would be closed due to multiple auto accidents. M and I have also become accustomed to being in the Chamonix area during the summer over the last few years. Summer in Chamonix means lots of tourists from various places becoming lost on the many trails around the valley. Winter however, is a different hairball of wax. (Insert your own mixed up metaphor here.)
The buses are an excellent example of the above mentioned winter hairball. The signs in the buses indicate that the bus can hold around 80 people when full. Typically during the Christmas break, I would estimate that number goes up to at least 90, plus skis, snowboards, backpacks, and poles. Recently I rode the bus from Chamonix to the Le Tour bus stop where at least 150 people were waiting to get on the bus. Oddly, no matter where the tourists are from, none of them have learned that it is better to let people get off the bus before trying to squeeze themselves on to the bus.
Tourist country of origin also seems to be more concentrated in winter, at least during Christmas time. In the 2 weeks surrounding Christmas, it was Brits. They were everywhere, and they wore every single article of warm clothing they owned, even though it is not very cold here. After the new year, the Brits vanished into thin air, only to be replaced by Russians. Our neighbor Janet had warned us that this would happen. One day you are on the bus and can sort of understand that people are speaking some form of English. “Butte-ful daiye innit?” (For our American English speaking readers, that means, “Beautiful day isn’t it?”). The next day the Russians arrive and it sounds like someone put a bunch of consonants in a blender and poured them out, having forgotten to add any vowels to the mix. “Syrtdpwqvbx?” (“Beautiful day isn’t it?” in Russian.) I breathe a sigh of relief when people on the bus are just speaking French.
The winter weather here is also quite different than what M and I were accustomed to in Colorado. In Summit County Colorado, which sits at 9,000 feet in altitude, when the snow falls, it tends to stick around until sometime in July, because it is cold all winter. In Le Tour, which sits at about 5,000 feet in altitude, the snow begins falling around the same time as it does in Summit County, so snow in late August or early September is common. However, here in Le Tour, the first snow tends to melt quickly.
What M and I were not prepared for, was when the real snow started here in Le Tour in December. One day, M and I were running up the Le Tour ski slopes on a dry ski area access road. The next day, people were skinning up and skiing down the same ski slopes because 3 feet of snow had fallen over night. The most surprising thing to us was that so many people were so prepared to go skiing!
For the uninformed out there, here is a quick primer on the sport of ski mountaineering, also known as skimo. You put what is called a skin, generally made of mohair and other synthetic materials on the bottom of your skis. These skins allow a person to travel up the mountain without sliding backwards. Special bindings on the skis allow the boot heels to be disconnected from the ski binding, enabling a walking motion up the mountain. When ready to descend, the skins are taken off and the boot heels are locked into the ski bindings as normal and the person skis back down the mountain. “But why do this when you can take a lift up the mountain much more easily?”, someone asks. Because it is good for you, and it is fun, you lazy slob.
Discouragingly, the initial large dump of snow melted a lot over the next few days, especially on the lower slopes. That did not stop the dedicated skiers though. They simply hiked up the mountain a little further to where the snow hadn’t melted, put their skis and skins on and up the mountain they went.
After a few days of warm temperatures and no new snow, the mountain began to look rather bleak to M and I. We should not have worried. One Saturday evening it began to snow again, and by Monday morning, a fresh 5 feet of snow covered everything.
The issue we had to deal with when the snow came was the fact that, particularly higher on the mountain where there are no trees, visibility was about 3 feet due to the snow clouds being so low. Each day, M and I would set out to skin up to the top lift on the mountain, only to reach the top of the first lift and have to turn around because we couldn’t see anything. Finally, Christmas morning arrived and the sun came out to reveal the scenery we had been missing. It was not disappointing.
We have since had very few snow days but lots of sun and warm temperatures in the 40º Fahrenheit range. The mountain here at Le Tour is beginning to look rather sad again and in need of new snow. However, thanks to all the tourists, the trails around the valley have been really well packed down and are very suitable for running, so M and I have been taking advantage while we can.
Hopefully, the snow will come again soon so we can have some more new adventures in our backyard.
Go out and be consistent.