adventures in Italy and cheese

The first morning of Ed and Anna’s visit was spent watching the Ski World Cup: lycra-clad athletes flying down the famous Kandahar piste in Les Houches while the crowds lining the slopes shook cowbells and cheered the French contestants with cries of “pas mal!”

Crowds line the piste at the Kandahar

In the afternoon, we headed to the Grands Montets, where Anna and I finished the day on the Point de Vue while Ben and Ed went for a little exploration on the Argentiere glacier. I only mention that particular run because, so far this year, it has been my favourite; besides one other couple, we were utterly alone, and it was that very still time of day when most people have retreated to the bars and cars and the shadows are quietly lengthening across the valley. The top of the piste was utter bliss; amazingly, there was some powder on the moguls so we could bump and jump our way down, like playing on a trampoline throwing the skis from side to side, and the views that greeted us at each turn, the colours deepening ever so slightly as we descended, were quite magical.

The following day we headed to Courmayeur, where Ben wanted to take Ed on some unpisted territory he had been looking forward to skiing. We had arranged to meet for lunch at 2.30, so we were relieved to get a phone call at 2.45 saying they were fine… “though not without an incident.”

At the top of the Funivie di Monte Bianco, Ben found the couloir that he had previously earmarked for their descent; a narrow, fifty degree slope hemmed in on either side by bands of rock. Ed snapped this fantastic shot of Ben dropping in; he then put in a couple of turns, before pausing to let Ed follow.

Ed quickly took a turn on his toe edge, but rotating onto his heel edge, the board slipped out from under him. He started sliding down rapidly on his back before being flipped onto his front and flying headfirst down the couloir in an enormous ball of snow – all in all, a fall of about 200m.

Incredibly, Ed wasn’t even slightly hurt, much less fazed; indeed, they immediately took the lift back up and did the whole thing again. Nonetheless, I asked Ed what he was thinking while he hurtled down the slope, and he replied, very calmly, “I was thinking that there was a possibility I might die.”

If you are lucky, in that you are in good health and live in a safe neighbourhood, you don’t often find yourself in situations in which you are faced with your own mortality. But going into the mountains regularly does increase the likelihood of meeting these situations; few people who are part of the climbing, off piste skiing and other extreme sport communities don’t know at least one person who has been badly injured at best in pursuit of their passion.

We have had several conversations about this over the past few weeks; the invincibility that one feels as a teenager, how increased age begets increased caution, but how too much caution can also become risky. Few things are more dangerous than letting nerves take over in an environment that demands clear, logical thought.

Are you warm enough, are you hydrated, how are your blood sugar levels? These were the questions Ben asked me immediately after my knee injury; while that was not a serious situation in itself, it had the potential to become serious if considerations such as these were not attended to and emotion was allowed free reign.

Personally, that’s something I really struggle with, though it’s safe to say that remaining calm was not a problem for Ed.

Other fantastic moments of his and Anna’s stay included an entirely empty run of the Foret Verte, zipping down the switchbacks through the heavily scented pine to finally arrive in a ghostly feeling Vallorcine, an intense Pacman competition at Bar’d Up, and too many sunny lunches and golden afternoons to recount. Also, our first homemade fondue…

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