There are some winters when the elements line up perfectly and we have one of those bookmark seasons with day after day of epic conditions. A repetitive pattern of snow and sun forms in crystalline perfection, delivering helpings of wintry joy like fresh marshmallow pies on a conveyor belt. In the Alps, our 2019–20 winter was not one of those seasons, and actually one we would prefer to forget.
Strong winds, not enough snow and far too much rain, not even cold enough to create a base — it all added up to a terrible combination that made our mountains quite dangerous. From the South of France and Italy to the most eastern parts of Austria, conditions were the same everywhere. The only region we found that closely resembled a winter garden that we could play in was in the Balkans, a region in southeast Europe with mountain reaching just shy of 10,000’. But for us, the Balkans are too far away for a day trip or a quick after-work session.
With all of the inconsistent weather patterns, each day would present a new wildcard of conditions that would beg the question: What is the best activity option for today? How can I still get after it? And, there was usually one option.
Oh, it’s raining? Let’s get out on our mountain bikes and enjoy the mud.
Oh, it’s raw and bitter cold? Gather your ice axes and let’s go for a climb on the safest ice falls we can find.
Oh, it’s massively dumping snow in the mountains? Let’s take the lift and ride all the pillows we can find.
Oh, it’s pouring and you’re tired and fed up? Time to grab a good book, a comfy couch, and drink some tea (or dad’s old Scotch).
A true rollercoaster, though we made the most of it.
And after some time, you realize you’ve used up all of your plan Bs, plan Cs, and plan Ds… but you’re still dreaming of the outdoors.
Then, you become aware of other’s ideas — those uncommon ideas, rare ideas, and those absolutely ridiculous ideas that your peers throw out there half-jokingly, half-seriously to see how much they can push you — and push themselves. Other’s ideas are those ideas that come from special friends, those peers with mountain talents that already push you day after day. They truly know your limits (or lack thereof) … and they know how special and capable you are too. They know all of your skills and they know how to convince you, even if the idea sounds, at first … completely off the wall.
Often, it begins with a phrase like: “I have an idea — you’ll love it! It’s gonna be beautiful!”
Then, “I bring the camera, you get the tent and some food and drinks.”
By the end, my pack is so big, so heavy … the weather is too hot, the trail is too steep, and then the sky is not that blue and I forgot to grab a second shirt.
A few weeks ago my good friend, Boris, texted his idea to turn the other cheek on Winter 2020 and gather our tents and some food and get out for a night on the snowy ridge in the Chartreuse Range just above our town. The range is behind our neighborhood and we can watch it from our homes and offices, and as much as we can, explore it after work or on short weekend adventures.
We set up camp and got out for a night and had a great dinner 1000 meters above our little city of a half million people. It was our best option. Red wine, bread, cheese, chocolate, mountains, and a starry sky. What else?
Well, there was plenty of wind, of course. And maybe a bit colder temps than we expected. But all in all, it was just the adventure we needed to settle our souls. We enjoyed some good laughs with best friends, some delicious food, and a few quiet moments as we looked out onto our fellow citizens in the valley below.
And before we knew it, just weeks later, the situation in Europe had escalated into a pandemic and announcements of self-quarantine were being distributed. Though the winter wasn't a dream season, we felt thankful to have squeaked in a fun adventure just before the lockdown. We discovered a new zone — a special place right in our backyard — where we could clear our minds and enjoy each other’s company, and there is nothing better than to relive those precious moments while we wait on our couches indefinitely inside.
Our Dinner Menu:
Fromage: Tome of the Alps
Freeze-dried food: Risotto au soja et légumes de jardin // Garden Vegetables & Soy Risotto
Chocolate: Dark for Boris, Milk for Agathe
François is an adventurer at heart — constantly dreaming of new discoveries or inspiring landscapes to craft stories around. Whether skiing, climbing, hiking, or sleeping in the high country, François has long trusted his NEMO gear to keep him safe. Favorite adventure partner to François, Boris Dufour is often the conjurer of those "other's ideas". His photography can be seen here.