In the beginning, or somewhere thereabouts, I wrote and posted an itinerary; a detailed list of my travel plans until September. That was what I understood an itinerary was; a list of travel plans and places to visit. Another meaning of the word is the record of a journey. This is my record.
Over the last months I have come to realise the word means more. While an itinerary to me is a list or a record, on a mountain it is a physical route, a line of travel, down. An itinerary is not a pisted, tended run, but there is a way down for you to find and it is away from the bashed motorways of piste ridden by every other skier, boarder and their family; your own way.
This is Le Masse, the summit I can see from the chalet window. Down the back of Le Masse runs an itinerary. To get there, turn left at the goat (strictly speaking, an ibis)…
…(goat riding before committing is optional), follow the ridge, negotiate the rocks and undulations, bend around the mountain and finally into the crevice that scars the left hand side, can you see it?
I was scared at first. For off-piste skiing (or snowboarding) you should carry full avalanche equipment (transceivers and spades) and be insured (in France a Carte Neige does this). We left the top of Le Masse with no equipment and no insurance and my inner risk assessor screaming worst case scenarios. But there were five of us and the pow was thick* with limited tracks (the lines cut by skis and boards) running away over the blankets of undisturbed snow beneath us; we had to go. And to explain the ‘why’ you have to understand the feeling of swooshing through light powder, it is like no other…or you could say it is like floating and floating is something I do not do particularly often.
Contrary to the effortless implications of floating, pow is hard work. Stand back, use your back leg to turn, lean back to make sure the nose of the board does not begin to dip into the pow or so will your face. By the time we reached the edge of the first ridge Steve, Alix and I (the uninitiated) were panting; as much with fear as with exertion; where were we going?
But, as we followed tracks from ridge to ridge, between outcropping rocks and along traverses that hugged the mountain our breathing slowed and our confidence grew. In the distance was a hut, ‘we’re going that way,’ our leader said. And we did, onto a track that traced the scar of the mountain, taking us back to the piste. Smiling, relieved – because we had done it – we were back on safe ground. We had traced our own itinerary down the mountain.
The next time was different. A week or so later, with no fresh snow and blue bird skies blazing with spring sunshine, the undulating passageways had become hard, and deformed by moguls. The ridge that we followed, left of the goat, was striated with hard humps of snow. Needless to say I fell, I got up, tried to turn on one of the sun blasted humps and fell again. Then, as my companions slid further into the distance my fear returned, both a fear of the mountain and an older, latent fear that has lived in me for a long time. It became stronger with each fall, with the scrape of the hardened surface against the board edges, the impact against my legs as I hit the snow, sliding over a mogul, down with my heel edge fighting for purchase. I could not do it. A helpless child’s cry welled up inside.
By the end I was sweating. I had made it but my left leg was throbbing and I was angry, gripped by a fear that belonged in another time and place. I had made it but as I chuntered at my companions, fighting for control, I knew I needed to make that journey again.
I have done that; twice since then, each time with focus, rather than fear. Not necessarily with much greater skill but perhaps I make one more turn with each new journey. My journey; my itinerary.
And during this time my itinerary, my list of places, has changed. In the beginning I was not not staying for the entire ski season but would move on on 15 March towards Asia. Instead, I will be here in Reberty until the slushy end. This can be little more than a month away now: the lower slopes have turned to mush and the chalet roofs drip constantly onto the now exposed Tarmac.
When I move on I would not say I have a route, a line of travel, beyond that list. England seems a world away (wages, taxes, shopping and TV), like a pisted run I was brought up to travel on. I want to make my own line of travel, like dropping off the back of a mountain which you have been told is passable but you have no idea how until you get there.
* I have learnt over the last three months that all ‘pow’ (fresh powdery snow) must be shredded (ripped up with fresh tracks). This is known to some as ‘shredding the pow’ and is typed by this 33 year old with the greatest irony.
Tired and grumpy having shredded people who have shredded the pow.