A Most Unusual School Run: Paret Sledge Descent in La Rosiere
Ever wondered if the school run could be a bit different? If you visit La Rosiere in the French Alps you may get some fresh ideas. A paret sledge descent offers the chance to slide down a mountain on the traditional wooden sledges that French kids used in the 1900s to get to school. It’s quirky and exhilarating and anyone capable of getting down a mountain at sunset can have a go. We tried it with the kids…
The blush of a first date
The ‘White Mountain’ blushes like a teen on a first date. The normally imposing Mont Blanc pushes this shy pastel welcome across the cloudless sky. The peachy light lures us up, higher and higher to the top of the lift. We step off. The lift stops. Silence floods across the rocks, broken only by the last few skiers whooshing and swooshing away towards the valley and the ski resort of La Rosiere.
Not quite silence.
Wisps of whispered invitation drift up the valley, Fractions of childish phrases on the wind. Faraway cries, fragile as a shard of ice…
Breathing in the past
I can smell the cold. I breathe it deep into my lungs, unaware that this evening we will also be invited to breathe in the past. I bang my ski gloves together. But not for long. I am handed a wooden sledge and invited to sit on the snow as the people who clear skiers off the mountain slowly move away. In minutes we are alone with our guide and our tiny sledges. The White Mountain turns up the colour from shy teen to blushing bride as Ed our instructor from Evolution 2 activity company throws out instructions. They are urgent and direct. The clock is ticking. We need to master a new skill and get down the mountain safely and alone on these unfamiliar, ridiculously simple contraptions. Before dark. Before the White Mountain decides it’s bedtime.
Weaving and wafting past ragged edge. Snaking through slush. Satchels swiping sheets of ice. Small feet skirting random scree..
Easy yet hard
My sledge is basically three pieces of wood tacked together with a blade on the end. Worryingly unfancy, (where are the brakes?) but also surprisingly sturdy. Ed explains paret sledges have been around since the early 1900s, helping children to get to and from school more quickly in the mountains. The sport is curiously both easy and hard to master, you need to embrace the rush, find your centre of balance, throw your weight from side to side like you do on skis and relax. It needs more courage than it looks like it should. And that’s just step one. Step two is to figure out how to carve turns, a bit like skiing but without hope of elegance and with a ton of spray in your face. The kids get it straight away, blasting straight downhill into the sunset without any fear, determinedly dashing into the last remaining light and away from the White Mountain’s seductive mood.
Supercharged speed, fragments of lessons left behind in the light, streaming into darkness through a sheen of spray…
Echoes from a distant school run
I find I am hopeless at paret sledging. I damaged a knee skiing and am worried about damaging it further. I have no goggles to protect my eyes. I am stiff from a hard day of activity and I am underconfident at leaning back. I stop the sledge. I pause for a moment and hear my kids screams fade into the wind. I hear nothing and then I something. A shift in the wind? A leftover spray of snow? Or a connection with the past? An echo from a school run long ago? I look down the mountain where the ski lift criss-crosses a sky that’s layered like the ripples in desert sand. I cannot see the snow any more. My guide is long gone, accompanying the children down the hill as every good guide should, no doubt waiting at a safe spot for me. But I can hear the faded faraway screams of pleasure from rural kids like mine; freed from the confines of the classroom and happily pushing on home, without the modern worries of stranger danger or traffic. The memory of them is a hug on this cold day. An embrace that would make the White Mountain blush in her sleep.
Finding my balance
I push on. I tilt and lose control. I press an imaginary emergency eject button and fall off. I get back up. I push on again. I gain speed and confidence. The mountain shrinks, the night pulls me into its grip, the cold rushes through and out of me. I let go on the snow. I ride, I slide on this petite sledge that doesn’t feel like it should even take my weight. And I feel the schoolchildren rush and play and laugh alongside me. Not an echo from the past, but a shout of encouragement, a shriek of congratulation. The sound grows; I am almost there. I can see only the moving light of the snow plough weaving its steady way up the ski slope. Then in the torchlight I see the smiling faces of my children. I fall off, no longer light and agile and fast. Ed thrusts a gluhwein into my hands and grins. But I don’t need it. I have been touched by the blush of the White Mountain, and her childish spirits. I have travelled to the end of a school day in a century past. I am warm inside.
Paret sledging was one of the activities we tried in La Rosière in the Tarentaise mountains, over the course of a week. We also had a go at ice hockey, sledging and ski jumping. And our snow adventures were topped off by passport free skiing into Italy. Paret Sledge descent with Evolution 2 lasts 45 minutes for the beginner and 1.5 Hours for advanced groups. The last chair up from La Rosiere is at 4.30pm and you will need a pedestrian or ski lift pass. Equipment is included and a hot or cold drink is provided at the end.
Disclosure Note: This post is brought to you in a collaboration with Atout France and France Montagnes to help promote winter sports in the French Alps. All opinions, photography, videography, skiing, falling over and lounging around is entirely our own.