Our Thursday walking friends opted for a day with raquettes today: snowshoes. Earlier this year, I’d vowed never to indulge in this particular form of masochism again. So we didn’t.
But the idea of walking near crisp white snow, with views from the clear air of a mountain top across to wooded slopes cloaked in snow, and as-yet uncloaked valley bottoms, appealed. We’d pop up to Mont d’Olmes. That would do the trick. It’s the nearest place round here for winter sports, so maybe we could watch some of the action, and sit down for a bit clutching a strong shot of coffee or a mug of hot chocolate.
That was the theory. We always forget how far away our friendly neighbourhood mountain really is. Once you turn off the main drag to follow the road that goes only to Mont d’Olmes, you still have 8 miles of climbing to do. Soon the sides of the road were boundaried by walls of snow, while the rocky mountain sides to which the road clings were home to packs of giant icicles and glassy pillars of ice, and still we drove on upwards.
And then we dumped the car. As discussed, we weren’t equipped with snow shoes, so we chose to finish our climb using the road. We passed the chalets hired out to holiday-makers, all clearly shut up, the stairways to their doors still buried deep in the snow. The only people we saw were tradesman in the area to do running repairs or make improvements for the hardly-started season.
And then there we were. Mont d’Olmes The Resort. Like most ski stations that aren’t really up and running, it was just a bit depressing. It’s focussed on a few shops and a hotel that look exactly like a suburban ’60’s shopping centre. And nothing was open: not even a single bar. A few snow buggies were zipping around, their drivers busy with routine cleaning and maintenance. The slopes themselves were scoured with the tracks left by weekend skiers. There even were a couple of skiers. But they had to manage without benefit of ski-lifts or any of the other infrastructure that would have made their day out less labour intensive.
Great views though. White sparkling mountain sides above, more sparsely covered rocky crags below, and a shockingly blue sky. And we had the place almost to ourselves. It’ll be a different story at the weekend. The car parks will be full, the bars, shops and restaurants busy, and above all the slopes will be crowded with hundreds of locals enjoying their very own neighbourhood winter playground. Unlike us, they’ll be joining traffic jams on the way both up and down the mountains. We got what we needed. A decent walk in the sharp cold air, some deep-and-crisp-and-uneven snow, snowy peaks outlined against a clear sky, and a bit of peace.