Living in the Alps, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the ski season, rushing out after each new snowfall to get some ‘freshies’ before everyone else skis it out, and photos of epic powder days on Facebook only fuelling the feeding frenzy. This winter, however, I’ve been forced to take things slower and leave the skis in the garage that bit longer than usual. The reason? The arrival of two rescue pups in the household.
You might be surprised to hear, though, that far from suffering from FOMO (stands for Fear Of Missing Out, they tell me…), my enforced ‘celiba-ski’ has ensured that I’ve enjoyed a different, quieter side of winter. For a start, our backyard is not anywhere near any pistes, so walking the pups is a peaceful experience devoid of almost any other humans (or lift infrastructure for that matter). The mountains are no less majestic though, and walking at a leisurely pace rather than hurtling downhill gives me the chance to fully appreciate the beauty around me.
That first breath of cool, clean mountain air early in the morning is something to savour (and well worth getting out of a warm bed for!), as is the rising, warming sun that lights up the rockfaces and makes the snow sparkle. And at the other end of the day, while the skiers are downing beers in the pub celebrating a day of epic ‘pow’, Yukon, Nanuk and I may well be moving silently through the snow and trees in the darkness, the moon lighting up the mountains around us and the total stillness befitting what rightly could be described as ‘nature’s cathedral’.
Watching your dogs’ delight in the snow is a pleasure in itself, especially young dogs that have only recently seen it for the first time. Each new day holds something different; different weather, different views, different smells… and after new snow, well, that’s like all their Christmas’s have come at once! It’s not too bad for me either, as the woods and slopes become a winter wonderland that never loses its charm. Walking in the same area every day gives you the chance to notice the little changes too. A tree’s bough that falls across the path under the weight of new snow; the animal tracks showing you new routes to take through the trees; the changing light that highlights certain features on the surrounding rockfaces and distant peaks. And, having recently moved to the area, there’s simply no better way to discover the network of small trails that link up my new backyard that I hope to get to know intimately in the coming months, and perhaps years.
Of course, I am looking forward to getting out on my skis eventually – but I will cherish these few weeks that my new pups and I have explored and enjoyed the winter mountains together, a shared experience that will no doubt have helped bond us in this formative stage of their lives. And when next summer ends and the first snows arrive again, the tingle of excitement in my belly may well be as much about the prospect of once again walking through snowed-up woods and by icy rivers with my dogs, rather than carving perfect turns in fresh powder. Because now I’ve experienced the quieter side of the winter mountains, I believe that there’s probably no better way to see it.
Words: Chris Kempster Pictures: Amanda Travis, Chris Kempster