“I have some free spaces for snowshoeing on Friday evening, would you and Charlotte like to go?”, asked Davina from Ski Connections one sunny day in Serre Chevalier.
I had memories of snowshoeing during my winter season in Finnish Lapland two winters ago and all I could remember was trekking over fells in knee-deep powder with a temperature of -35’C… and falling over a lot in the process. Davina must have read my expression as she quickly added: “It’s a fairly flat walk too, nothing strenuous!” I laughed and agreed to go along so by Friday evening at 5pm we were all kitted up with snowshoes and poles and ready to go!
We drove up the valley to the neighbouring village of Monetier, nestled right on the edge of the Ecrins National Park, one of the two French national parks.
Ben, our guide, has been a qualified mountain leader and walking guide for many years: he came out to Serre Chevalier about fifteen years ago with the intention of “just doing one winter” (don’t we all) and has since moved out permanently to live in this corner of paradise.
We started off our walk following a semi frozen stream on a fairly flat (Davina was right so far!) track leading away from the main valley to a little side one. Ben often stopped to point out interesting things related to the wildlife, the mountain environment and how people used to live here before it became a ski resort.
I learnt why Serre Chevalier has so many larch trees, which makes it famous for tree line skiing. I got told how woodpeckers store their food in v-shaped hollows of tree trunks to make it easier to eat the nuts and I was also shown hare tracks and how to tell in which direction they were hopping.
We got told about the local wildlife (yes, there are even wolves in these woods!), how quickly the different glaciers were receding and how locals still very much depend on the nature surrounding them. Ben showed us places where wild boar had been rummaging around for food, and trees where roe deer had been feeding off the bark.
Ben was a fabulous guide, adapting the information he gave to the group in front of him and although he did drag us up a really steep stretch, he rewarded us with tea and coffee and his own distilled liqueur made from local berries (just what you need to warm you up!) before heading back.
Walking in the forest at dusk is a truly magical experience; all your senses are heightened as it gets darker and you become so much more attentive to little details like the sound of the stream next to you or a shuffle in the trees above. Knowing that there are so many wild animals around you is at times a scary thought (don’t think I fancy meeting a wild boar, thank you very much!), but at the same time there’s almost a primordial feeling of blending in with the surrounding nature.
As we walked back to the minibus I looked up at the stars twinkling above us and let out a sigh of contentment: snowshoeing that evening was a beautiful experience and well and truly can be defined a “walk in the park”!
Blog by Dolores, Inghams resort manager in Serre Chevalier.