All of sudden, there was snow. Last week, we were gazing at the bare pistes anxiously and checking the weather forecast religiously; one neighbour had promised snow by the end of November, while another said there would be none before Christmas.
When it started, it fell quickly. Twenty centimetres, then thirty, forty, fifty… we threw on boots and dug out thermals and drove through the blizzard to the Col des Montets, where we hiked the Aiguillette des Posettes trail until it was growing dark and our socks were soaked through and the path had long since disappeared under that magical white blanket. We retreated to town for vin chaud, shedding layers as our cheeks turned red from the alcohol and the warmth of the cosy bar, but my thoughts were with those first few steps through the icing sugar snow, untouched by any other animal, and the lonesome beauty of the winter forest against the slate grey sky.
In the days that followed, we built snowmen and we sledged and we skied, we skied until our legs and backs ached, but my mind kept returning to the first few hours of the snow, when it felt like the winter belonged only to us; a precious, fleeting gift.
Tomorrow, I fly to London and from there to the Caribbean for two weeks. Just as the seasonnaires and holiday makers are flooding to our valley, we are leaving, and when we return, the streets and the mountains will swarm with brightly clad skiers, and there will be racks of dripping snowboards outside the bars, and we’ll drop our bags and go and join them for our last month of living here.
This evening, I walked around central Les Houches, silent and dark but for the glow of a bustling Bar Delice and the glitter of streetlights falling on snow. Across the valley, the chalet windows of Servoz glowed benevolently, and I felt torn with the longing to make one of those lights our forever home.
With each day that brings us closer to the next phase of our life, I take a few extra moments to etch the impressions of these mountains and this valley onto my memory so that they will always be with me.