A foursome for Easter weekend

Bruno Compagnet and Layla Jean Kerley set off with a couple of friends on a trip into Italian Walser country. A chance for Bruno to sing the praises of spring skiing and for Layla to capture the magic of the last turns of the season.

Layla Jean Kerley

Just over the Simplon pass still basking in the full moon, we pushed on up this long, remote valley where each village has its own granite quarry and where the local architecture pays tribute to the abundance of this natural resource. As we gained height, I realised that we had reached the land of the Walser, a Germanic community that colonised the lands above 1500m altitude back in the middles ages. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t demographic pressure that forced the Walser to colonise these wild areas, it was a carefully considered decision to settle in this hostile, harsh environment. This lifestyle choice that centred around family and natural resources afforded them certain tax breaks and the opportunity to work the forests.

Layla Jean Kerley

Far away from religious strife and reforms of the time.

The most obvious trace of these farming people who survive to this day- apart from the transalpine communication routes, bridges and countless agricultural partition walls they built- is seen in their dwellings. With a round section for the stable and a square for their houses, they are characterised by a harmonious mix of stone and wood. Stone is for the foundations, the roof and the parts most exposed to the elements. The wood, the techniques of which the Walser had a perfect mastery, was used for insulation and comfort. Protected by enormous boulders strewn around, sometimes just metres from the path of avalanche couloirs, these buildings took advantage of even the smallest plots of land. Our destination had all the makings of a journey through time.

Layla Jean Kerley

Make the most of the day and the sun that’s starting to shine.

I kill the engine and enjoy the relief of silence. Layla opens her eyes but I know she isn’t quite there yet. I get out to stretch my legs in the little car park where the last ski tourers are kitting themselves out from the trunk of their cars. Light, skinny skis, clingy Montura pants, Jack Sparrow like buffs and horrible looking cycling glasses. We really are in Italy. I drag my aching back with my sore muscles over to the bar. Matt has just sent me a message. They will be here in about half an hour. Just enough time to drink a coffee and get out of synch with the majority of the alpine troops…

Layla Jean Kerley

In tune with your medium.

I never get tired of raving about spring skiing. Firstly, there isn’t the stress of getting first tracks. The window of opportunity to ski the super cream is wide and if you play with different aspects, you can take your time. This soft medium is faster than powder and allows you to play with the terrain. You can really push yourself to the limits and flirt with gravity. Ah what a joy to put every turn down onto perfect snow in such a wild, varied environment. Since most skiers are up on their bikes and others at the beach, this is a pleasure to be shared just between us friends. It’s a different world awaiting crazy skiers who are searching for perfect curves, the absolute. But before that there’s the active meditation. Crossing the white deserts that endlessly stretch before your eyes that fill with sweat, burned by the merciless sun. Those moments when others become nothing more than little dots hanging onto the slopes in front of you or behind you, depending on your energy levels. Then comes the moment when you reach the top of the line, not necessarily the mountain, when the only essentials are snow quality and the aesthetics of the descent. But before launch, you stop for a moment. That’s when I put a dreamer’s thought towards the shadows of the clouds running over the ocean of snow. The feeling of freedom, the independence and above all the serenity that comes with this activity fill me with a strong sense of well-being.

Layla Jean Kerley

Matt and Paola join us in the parking lot and we get ready to share all the things I’ve just mentioned over the course of the next three days. Paola, who knows the area well, guides us towards a nice couloir to start with. The tone and the rhythm are set. We are here to ski but we are going to take our time because the days are long now. We won’t be eating energy bars and won’t be drinking Isostar. Each to their own… Skiing with one eye on the clock and data running through your head is not our thing. We wanted it this way and, like anyone with such a passion, if you oppose your own wishes your existence just becomes more problematic.

Chamonix, end of April
Bruno Compagnet

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