Alpine Love in the Time of Coronavirus
Part 2 — Report from La Grave, France
by Josefine Ås (21/3)
Conditions in the mountains are all-time. The high pressure that settled in last week has meant perfect spring corn on south-facing aspects, while some north and east faces still hold powder. And a storm expected soon means even more snow. Isn’t that what we all dream of during winter?
It’s mid-March in the French Alps. High season for ski-touring and big-mountain skiing. And that’s certainly what we normally do here in La Grave. But for a few days now the mountains have had more room than usual to breathe. Because no one is on them.
Things happened so fast, a complete roller coaster—from full throttle to total isolation in 24 hours. From hundreds of people from all over the world, queuing to squeeze into our cramped six-person gondolas to get to the goods and then finish the day with a beer among friends, to a ghost town. The only thing left open, a small grocery store—and then only for a few people at a time.
Action sport is prohibited, locals are locked down in houses and apartments.
What happened this week is something none of us ever could have imagined—being literarily locked down in our houses and apartments. Ski touring, skiing, hiking or any other “action sport” is prohibited. We dwell in the heart of these mountains, but until further notice we’ll have to be content with the stunning views. The only thing we’re allowed to do outdoors is go for a walk close to our home. Individually.
Why the drastic change and such severe rules? Basically, to prevent accidents. Hospitals need to put all their resources into helping those who suffer from COVID-19. There’s neither time nor capacity to cater to those who, for the sake of their own personal pleasure, get injured in the mountains.
We live here out of a passion for skiing and the outdoors. I like to call our breed “free souls”—people who’ve chosen a different path in life because of a strong calling for the freedom of the hills. We didn’t see this coming. That we wouldn’t even be able to go out for a ski tour in our own backyard. It took a few days to adjust our mindsets, to understand why we should stay home, get our exercise and fresh air with a walk or a run, get on the push-ups programme, enjoy our garden.
Not even ski-touring, far away from the crowds, is allowed at this time.
Only last weekend, when schools shut down, then bars, restaurants, ski resorts and everything else in society, we in this small enclave of unruly free souls still believed we’d be enjoying our quarantine up high, ski-touring far away from the crowds, endangering no one. We thought we’d be able to continue enjoying the mountains with only slight modifications to our normal routine. Slowly, most of us have accepted this won’t be an option for a while. That the wisest, least-selfish thing to do for the time being is to stay off of our beautiful peaks. For the sake of solidarity, that is today’s reality. So, we’re staying home—trying to come up with ideas on how to remain sane, healthy, and strong. Dreaming of future outdoor projects and working on our patience—with a mix of humour, despair, reflection and crazy outbursts…
Those passionate about mountains and the outdoors are often considered selfish, spending so much of our lives doing what we love—things that seem only to serve our own egos. But because we share this unique love with friends, there’s also a strong sense of community among mountain people. So now, instead of sharing information on snow conditions we share thoughts on how we can help in this crisis, how we can best do what needs to be done so that at some point, we can all get back to living our outdoor passions.
For now, the mountains might be enjoying their breathing room. And though we don’t know how long it will be, I’m sure they’ll eventually welcome us back.
Josefine Ås is an international media relations expert
and communicator, based in La Grave, in the French Southern Alps.
Mattias Fredriksson and Christoffer Sjöström.