You wouldn’t know it – the snow is still packed and light in places, spraying upwards when I push the toe edge of my board into the steep bits to break my speed – but the winter season is coming to an end.
It rained yesterday afternoon, for hours. On some lower pistes the dark earth is a shadow beneath a sugar coating of crystal snow and snow streaks from the peaks down the rugged striations of rock like tears.
The slopes above St Martin
I have even taken to skiing in the worst weather; soupy mist and snow so wet that your trousers cling to you. Rain is forecast for this week, up to an altitude of 2650 metres. Soon the snow will be gone and in just over 10 days time so will I.
Looking back – as we are prone to do – the passing of the season has been so quick. That’s not how it seemed at the beginning, but now it appears that existing in a season is like living in compressed space and time.
The sun was at its brightest at the top of the Thorens lift, the Glacier Du Bouchet visible beyond the bowl behind us, when a Blazing Raisin* (one of ours) slid by, refusing to wait for us, masked face intent on the piste ahead. “Don’t worry,” called Jamie, the chef, from his position on the snow behind me, “he’s on borrowed time.”
I giggled and feeling the cold radiance of the snow beneath my bum I continued to casually ratchet my snowboard binding tighter; if I’m in borrowed time then the debt is massive.
So, some say you can borrow it, others that it is precious (although this is misleading, because surely they mean the moment, not the measure of the moment). Others believe it is an illusion with no value at all while there are some who think that we are stuck in it. Can all of these be true?
I recent years I have heard writers talked of the multiple and layered nature of time. Never are we in one place in time. Walking the street we are remembering an event, feeling it, perhaps oblivious to eyes that move over you, a child that falls across the road, or an item dropped, more intent we are on the past or the future. In which case, perhaps all those things can be true.
Four months, 17 weeks, the passing of winter. It is not long, whichever way you look at it. At the beginning, ready to be trained, among 50 strange faces and having endured 28 hours on the same coach with them (making them none the less strange) one season seems a long time. Because while time is a completely inadequate measure of the unknown experience to come, it is the most common.
After training, when we arrived in Reberty, still unsure of each other, testing, wary, hesitant, we unwound the place. Dust was cleared from furniture, cling film peeled from plates, mugs, bowls, pans, cupboards stocked with food and boxes of wine stacked beneath the stairs. Leaflets were laid out, chalk boards drawn up and through sweat and sneezing (dust snd chemical induced) the place was unfurled, spread out like a carpet for our first guests. Work and snowboarding lay ahead.
When the guests arrived the routine began. Days were marked by meals, cleaning and snowboarding. Slow at first, the cogs of my clock clunked as i struggled with nine bathrooms, determined to catch every last hair yet anxious to catch my colleagues before they headed to the slopes. Christmas and New Year, our customary landmarks in time, passed with little celebration. It was all about the snow and welcoming the New Year by being on it. Yet, each outing on my board was an ordeal, my heart and the fears of a life time were in my mouth, while my legs burned. I despaired, but eventually improved, skimming the contours of the snow instead of fighting them. And time sped up too.
The guests, the alliances and dramas with colleagues stained time but do not slow it. Some marks are heavier than others; two religious groups; the one which held services in the dinning room, the other that tried to convert us; The Johns, jovial, funny, wise; The Academics, tentative and kind; the girls who received the romantic attentions of The Chef.
And now time turns back on itself. The cling film is wound back over the kitchen goods, the cupboards are sparse, the cupboard under the stairs is empty. And colleagues begin to wander away; some physically, others have already left in their minds and all that is left are the motions.
During a season you are contained, perhaps more visibly and completely than in everyday life. Imagine a snow globe; conveniently it is not unlike this. By mountains and an electronic lift pass you are held in a scene. You live in a picturesque chalet, from which you walk out into this scene and every so often some one tips the globe and a load of white stuff is dumped down on top of you. At one moment all you have is the plank you strap to your feet and your scenery to explore on it. And then you have neither. The glass cracks, the liquid leaks away and the snow turns to mush. You are free.
The other night I served my last supper and in the morning hugged the three of my colleagues goodbye, preparing for them to be strangers. The first trickle through the cracked glass.
A last outing
* A Blazing Raisin, a term found in the ABC of Snowboarding Dictionary to describe an old(er) dude, made raisin-esque due to time served in the sun, who canes it down the mountain like his life (and everybody else’s) depended on it. Here in Reberty, we had two.
RIP Steve, who left for Gatwick car park last Sunday.