Friday, 27 March 2009

Cross country skiing

I write this from a sandwich shop in the French Alps having crossed over from Switzerland in the hope of skiing the Vallee Blanche way up above the town of Chamonix. The weather has though dictated what I do again, hence the sandwich shop as opposed to being on and in amongst glaciers under the gaze of the formidable Mont Blanc.

I say the weather dictates again as I found myself doing something different to planned yesterday also. As nice as this sandwich shop is (playing blue grass good and loud), yesterday's alternative to ski touring was more satisfactory. From staying in Le Chable at around 800m above sea level, I caught the bus to a stunning small village called Champsec. It always amazes me how little a distance we have to travel to find ourselves outside of the company and atmosphere of fellow tourists. Particularly in mountain valleys where foreign interest seems to stop at the last turning to a big ski resort. Champsec is a 20 minute bus ride on from the turning to Verbier. I swapped a glossy mass-produced piste map for a hand drawn one.

Champsec has a cross country skiing course with two modestly sized loops, one of 3km, the other of 5km. Cross country skiing far from always happens in short loops and arguably is at its best when done long, from cabin to cabin. As regular visitors to slowmoves may have read, I have written previously about ski touring and all the joys it offers, not least the appreciation of where one is. Yesterday reminded me what I like about cross country skiing. It's good exercise on snow - calling on every major muscle group - and invariably comes with a still and silent countryside setting (from limited experience - Champsec and also in Norway (where cross country skiing is called langlauf), cross country skiing best takes place in sheltered surroundings). There is something medative that happens when you get a rythm of striding out. Like going for a good walk, or run, in a place away from roads, traffic and people. You don't have to think, you can just do. And for some reason snow makes the air nicer to breathe!

The slowmoves case goes deeper. Cross country skiing offers a great alternative to the more popular downhill skiing. It's a far cheaper option (equipment, insurance and normally no pass required) and there is a broader selection of places to do it. Plus higher potential for adventure. You don't have to be in the mountains.

If you need a goal, how about the Vasaloppet?


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