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Val Cenis February 11, 2013

Posted by stevenseligsohn in Travel Log.
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ImageDead silence. Stillness. Complete solitude. A muted world. A pair of feet barely hanging over a near vertical wall of bright white that curls off in the distance. Beyond that, a gaping valley, across which majestic mountains rise. To the right and left: dense forests of trees on a thick white carpet of snow. The world freezes, unmoving, tensing as if waiting for something. Motion. The wall is suddenly behind me as I plummet downwards along it. The only sound now is the panting of my own breath and the low hiss of skis sliding across smooth snow. An uncontrollable grin reaches from one of my ears to the other. The skis dig in: cut to the left. ImageThe wind grasps at me as we race, intertwining down the mountain, one gaining, the other falling behind repeatedly. Bent knees, cut into the snow, sharp turn to the right. The forest around me slows as my skis bite the snow hard. Too hard. The snow is now above me, my skis no longer caress it. A rough shock travels through my body. The skis are finally on the snow again, but my feet aren’t in them. Sliding now, through the snow, limbs flailing. A soft, cold landing in a snow bank. The skis skid, stopping meters away. I collapse on my back, my grin never fading, and I laugh. A hearty laugh, the combined side effects of adrenaline, pain, and exhilaration. I rise to my feet, snap the skis on, and I’m moving again, the rush of the slope enough to counter whatever hesitation I may have felt about continuing on this crazy journey.

This is just a tiny fragment of one of my days in Val Cenis, skiing in the French Alps. There is but one problem with this place: I cannot decide what part I like most! The night before this wild skiing adventure, the hostel served a family-style dinner: an aperitif of cheese and kir, a homemade white wine and blackberry juice cocktail. Next, a magnificent salad, covered in thick diced bacon and cheese cubes with a dressing to put America to shame. Then, the chef and hostel owner bring out big steaming pots, full of melted cheese, and baskets of bread cubes. Thankfully, the French family next to us, with whom I could rudimentarily communicate, taught us proper manners for cheese fondue. These were quickly forgotten as we tasted the fondue, which is now a major contender for the best meal I’ve had. The cheese pots were scraped clean before long. And for dessert, a decadent chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream.

But by far the most valuable thing I gained from this trip was cultural perspective. In this small ski village, the hostel owner told us, American visitors in the winter are few and far between. Nonetheless, we were shown no shortage of hospitality by anyone. A woman who owned a small store for ski lessons near the ski lift offered to let us shelter there, in the heat, while waiting for the bus. One of the Georgia Tech students traveling with us met a man on the ski lift who offered him free ski lessons for the day. While stopped on the slope, waiting for friends, I had a number of skiers come offer assistance. The hospitality offered to us, despite political and cultural barriers, was incredible. 

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