On Top Of The World
When I'm shaken awake on Tuesday morning the sun is still sleeping. "Time to go now love, get ready." I fumble around for the light, and finally turning it on I see my bagpack all ready to go in the corner of my bedroom. Even though I'm sleepy I'm out of bed in a flash. Travelling excites me like nothing else in the universe.
I check all my pre-travel "don't forget!" post-its and for the first time in ages I actually have everything with me. Charger, tooth brush, passport. I have a fruit bowl for breakfast as we wait for our flight and we're flying into Geneva as the sun is rising. I'm sleepy but too excited to actually sleep. After getting our bags we meet John the alpibus driver who picks us up and soon we are on the road. He speaks as if the bus is a plane and he is the captain. making random announcements about coming into land and putting up tray tables. He makes me laugh with his silliness. We arrive in Les Gets for lunchtime and I feel peaceful already. We go to the crepe place we once sheltered in during a blizzard and the woman comes over to greet us, telling my brother and I how much we've grown. For ten years this town and these mountains, have been like a second home to me and as we eat everyone is reminiscing about all the things that have happened in those years, although it feels like no time at all. I can almost see ghosts of my younger self run around me, guiding me on.
We dump our stuff in the apartment and go on a food hunt. In the supermarket I'm freaking because I've found the French version of Curiously Cinnamon (my fav cereal). They're called Cini Minis and it's so cute. We get our skis and boots and when I'm trying them on it feels weird because I've not skied in ages and I'd forgotten what they felt like. When we get back I help my aunt make dinner and my brother and I watch French telly and invent what they're saying. There's no wifi in the apartment, and we can't get connected in any of the cafés or in the town, and I've not been so disconnected in a long while. I wonder about home, and those I love, but I get so caught up in skiing and enjoying myself that I hardly notice. The silence is golden and we spend our time exploring and laughing about things that aren't even that funny.
Our first day on the slopes is as exciting and as it is exhausting and I feel like a little girl again. Trying to get my ski legs back, caught in a familiar place that over the years has changed so subtly I hardly noticed, but now everything is different. The last time I skied down our first run I fell spectacularly, and as I approach the spot I feel my apprehension building. I hadn't realised I lost so much confidence. But soon enough everything comes back to me. We go up and over to the other side of the valley and everything is beautiful. We ski right up to the last run before everything closes and I feel myself getting stronger.
The next day, what feels like the worst situation ever happens. We get the chair up and ski to the very top of the mountain. We're almost totally isolated and when we stop for a drink we're so caught up in the views and checking maps that we don't notice someone making off with my aunts skis, mistaking them for her own. We couldn't be in a more cut off place, accessible only on skis, and now she is trapped. Eventually after lots of confusion, muddled French and sympathy from other skiers my brother starts to make his way down to the valley and down to the shop to get spare skis and bring them back. I keep my aunt company for the hour or so it takes him to return from his adventure. We set off skiing again and make our way back to the centre for lunch. We're all mildly stressed and everyone is tired. When we decide to stop for the day I get the bubble down to the bottom, too tired and not feeling confident enough to ski the long way down to the village. I'm not skiing well, and I can feel it.
I worry sometimes that I'm not as good as I know I can be, and I worry that I've forgotten how to ski like I used to. But when Friday comes I find myself going down my favourite run and I'm so caught up in the scenery and how brilliant it feels to be back that I don't realise I'm going instinctively. My brother and I use an app to record our speed and we reach a top of 52mph and it's a crazy feeling. I'm skiing so well. Then, just as I have my confidence back, when we're getting on the chairlift, the waiting area is like a sheet of ice and we all crash into each other and my skis fly out from underneath me and I fall, losing my poles and a ski and whacking my head. My helmet probably saved me from serious concussion. I can see the chair coming towards us fast and I'm so scared it'll hit us even as I see the guy press the button to stop it. I'm shaken and I've ripped a massive hole in my salopettes. My leg is bruised and bloody and there's a scar running the length of my hand that's bleeding, but I have no choice but to keep going.
By lunchtime I'm feeling okay again. Dad and Aunt Mairi cheer for me as I overtake them near the end of the run and when I they meet me they smile proudly. Later on I buy a sewing kit and fix the rip in my salopettes. Good as new.
Saturday morning brings snow with it, and fog settles around the mountain. It's a complete white-out, and even going up in the chairlift we are unable to see the chair in front of us. Everything surrounding us is white. We follow the poles down to the cafe and try to wait it out. When it clears a little we decide to ski down into the lower valley and hope it's clearer down there. It is, but the slope is icy and I am on edge. My dad and my brother both fall at times and every emotion seems heightened. Dad has hurt his shoulder and everyone is worried. We don't want to because my uncle is going home the next day but eventually we realise we have no choice but to stop early. We ski the whole way down. It's clearer at the bottom but the snow is mushy and it's not as nice.
There is a festival on at the weekend and the town is buzzing. There's a massive stage at the bottom of the slope and as we ski down at the end of the day we are greeted by large crowds and music that is blaring. It is crazy busy and the town is packed. Every restaurant is full and we have to wait for a table when we finally get inside. As we walk back to the flat at midnight there's so many people and the music is still blaring. I dance down the street. We've been joking all week that the neighbour down below us is smoking pot, because that's what it smelt like but as we walk home late we see him being arrested in a drugs bust. I feel like my life gets crazier every time I think about it.
Dad is already making plans for next year and for the first I realise I won't be there. I won't be going with them and I won't be coming back to Les Gets for a while. On my last day I try to soak it all in, and do everything so I remember it for as long as possible. I'm going through the photos on the little simple phone my dad has had for years and I'm finding grainy photos from when I was younger, from past moments I've already forgotten. I don't want that to happen again.
We can't ski our last day because mostly everything is closed, and we vote against going up to Avoriaz so we go on an adventure in the sun in Morzine instead. As we wander, passing through old haunts and pausing to recreate old photos, I realise just how much I'm going to miss this place. This feeling. I'll miss the cold wintry nights snuggled by a roaring fire, warming our tummies with hot soup. I’ll miss standing on our balcony looking over the rises and falls of hazy snow covered mountains. We’re so high up sometimes a cloud would wash right through us and chill our bones. I’ll miss the silence, the breathless, absolute silence. Only a rustle of leaves in the wind, or the falling of snow. Nowhere in the world is as peaceful as the Alps. I'll miss the cold air blowing in my face as I curl up and ski straight down with my poles tucked under me, feeling like I'll never be as free. I'll miss reaching the top of the mountain because it feels like we’re watching over the whole world.