I started 2017 telling myself that this was going to be the year I challenged myself to do more things and say yes to opportunities. So, as last year was coming to a close and my friend M asked me if we would like to go up to the mountains to see them, I said yes and booked us in a B&B right away. I’d never been to the mountains in winter. My parents aren’t skiers and my mom’s idea of a holiday is having a spreadsheet that says exactly what you are doing that day and at what time… think “colosseum 9 am, Roman Forum 11.30, lunch 13.00, gelato 15.00”. So, for me going to the mountains in the snow was going to be a completely new experience and it soon became a set joke that I had packed xanax for anyone who might have needed it! I’d never been on a ski lift and I haven’t worn a snow suit since I was 4. I have the responsibility of my own child, but I just want to build a snowman. I’m old enough to order a bombardino, but drank my first hot chocolate in years as the winds howled outside.
Alagna Valsesia, on the slopes of Monterosa, is about 2 hours by car from Milan. The town is at 1200 m above sea level and it’s a more rustic and perhaps less touristy than places like Champoluc and Gressoney. They say that if you learn to ski in Alagna, you really know how to ski. And apart from a small area for beginner skiers, I didn’t see any easy slopes around! Even 5-year-olds go down the serious slopes! I would say that I fell in love with everything about Alagna Valsesia while we were there… the skiing atmosphere, the relaxed dress code, the food, the wine, the fresh air. We stayed 3 nights, but I could have easily stayed a month to discover everything that Valsesia has to offer.
When M invited us to join in a family birthday celebration by sleeping in a baita at 2000 m our first night, I didn’t need to think twice about it. I just said, “Are you sure it’s ok with everyone else? Ok!” And I have no regrets about it. When we arrived at Rifugio Grande Halte by snowmobile, their family and friends welcomed us to their group. We ate, drank wine, laughed with them and sang Tanti auguri a te. I tried a sauna for the first time and actually timed it. I lasted 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Better luck next time! Rifugio Grande Halte was rustic and I never managed to get hot water, but I loved it. I loved the challenge of being out there in the middle of the mountain. There was a lot of discussion that evening about the high winds predicted for the following day. Were they going to open the ski lifts? Would we have to go down by snowcat. An idea that could have potentially freaked me out excited me instead. Embrace what hasn’t been planned, Roanna. Just go with it.
The night was quiet and our room of 6 bunk beds made my 4-year-old very happy. It was dark. I had a hard time falling asleep from all the excitement and my daughter wasn’t very settled and every time I fell asleep it seemed her voice would wake me. Part of me wanted to stay awake all night in the downstairs dining room and chat with everyone, but there I was awake at 12.53 am while everyone else slept. I thought about how isolated we were, how far we were from the town, that no people were wandering around outside. This was so different from the recycling truck waking me at 5 am every Thursday morning. I crept downstairs for a glass of water and found the guy who runs the place still pacing around the kitchen on the phone. Seeing him there (and awake) made me feel a little less alone. I admit I distracted myself scrolling through instagram while waiting for sleep to come. Modern life gives us the tools sometimes. Why not use them? And as M’s husband reminded me in the morning: if you’ve got wifi, you’re not really that isolated!
In the morning, I went down early. I found one of our new friends at the table. How did you sleep? Oh, I never sleep well the first night at altitude. Is 2000 m really that high? I hadn’t really thought about it, but as the others came down one by one, some of them hadn’t slept well either. Thankfully there was coffee. Then I thought about how, if you’re not used to it, being that isolated is a lot, but as I walked outside isolation took on new meaning.
Out in the open air there was no one around. The ski lifts hadn’t started running yet. They would open late. No skiers, no one walking around on the packed snow. Just stillness. The air was so fresh and cold. I looked to the peaks of Monterosa and saw the wind picking up the snow in dusty white hurricanes. It was peaceful. I felt absolutely alone in the world, and yet surrounded by nature’s antiquity. No manmade monuments have yet to amaze me as much as hers.
The morning lazily progressed, skiers started to arrive and the lifts were officially open. As my 4-year-old and I rode the snowmobile back up to the ski lifts, passing my husband and the other fathers with their snowshoes, I yelled “woohoo” in a sort of freedom and abandon. They probably thought I was nuts, but I had gone up the mountain one person and came down reborn.
At nearly a month later I look back at all this and just laugh at my silliness, but my next trip to Alagna is already booked. Watch this space!