It was true: I did feel in tune with the landscape, as I skied past farms and along tracks that moved with the terrain. In the forests, I made no more than a slight wisping sound; the silence remained undisturbed. Even the snow weighing heavily on the branches would not be shaken free by my presence.
I knew that lynx and deer lurked in these woods. I might not spot any wildlife, but my chances would not be compromised by a noisy approach.
My newbie status would, however, become apparent with the first steep-ish uphill. Now I had to leave the safety of the channels and herringbone again. By the time I reached the ‘summit’, my jacket was fully unzipped and my face the same shade of bright red. On the downhill, the skiers making their way uphill had no option but to stand aside. Stopping involved falling over; only my ski jacket, I reckoned, saved me from multiple internal injuries.
Soup, charcuterie, a hunk of Morbier (a distinctive Jura cheese with a vein of chimney soot running through it) and a hot chocolate fortified me for the return. What I hadn’t appreciated was that I had been gaining altitude since leaving Lajoux: the way back was terrifying, if mercifully quick.
The exertion involved in cross-country skiing is possibly the reason why apres-ski amounted to no more than reading a book by the log-burning stove in Valerie’s eco-chalet, and sipping on a Vin Jaune, the local sherry-like wine, while the snow piled up outside. Cards and conversation followed a substantial five-course dinner that always featured Comté, Morbier and Bleu du Gex, the famous trio of Jura cheeses.
With each day, the snow grew deeper; on the last, the landscape had lost all sense of the tree-roots, paths and boulders that normally gave it texture. In such conditions, walking would have been impossible without snowshoes.
On the penultimate day, Valérie escorted the group and me to a high mountain hut over the border in Switzerland, where we lit the woodstove and prepared a three-course lunch centred on cheese fondue. From the highest crest, at more than 1,500 metres, I had a view over the cloud-covered Lac Léman that ranged from the peaks of the Bernese Oberland in the east to Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses in the west. The Eiger and the Matterhorn were easily picked out.
On the final day, there would be no home comforts. Rather, I would learn how to light a fire and cook lunch in the snow. Beforehand, there would be lots of snowshoeing, and I was given the job of breaking the trail. Thankfully, the snow had stopped and the heavy grey clouds cleared to reveal a cold blue sky.