A Most Unusual School Run: Paret Sledge Descent in La Rosiere
Ever wondered if the school run could be a bit different? A paret sledge descent in La Rosiere in the French Alps offers the chance to slide down a mountain on the traditional wooden sledges French children used in the 1900’s to get to school. It’s quirky and exhilarating and may make you reassess one of your daily routines…
The blush of a first date
Like a teen on a first date, the normally imposing Mont Blanc sends a flush of pink across the cloudless sky. Her blush invites us closer, and the chair lift obliges. As we step off, the cables stop whirring and the last few skiers of the day swoosh and whoosh into a blur. A gradual silence descends as I sift soft powder through gloved fingers. I crouch on a compact, uncomfortable wooden contraption while my kids chatter with the confidence of those who know they are good at sport. Trying to puzzle out how my sledge might work, I hear whispers and echoes of laughter from behind me. We are not the only skiers here?
Snatches of sound drift over the hill. Fractions of childish phrases on the wind. Faraway cries, fragile and opaque as a snowflake…
Breathing in the past
I smell the cold. I suck it deep into my lungs. The pisteurs and ski lift staff glide away, back to La Rosière centre. We find ourselves alone with our guide and the teeny tiny sledges. 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 under our own steam. Before dark. Before the White Mountain behind us embraces the night.
Carving and weaving through freshly laundered sheets. Snaking through patchy beds of slush. Satchels swiping sheets of ice. Small feet skirting random scree…
Easy yet hard
My sledge is little more than three pieces of scuffed and ageing wood tacked together, with a wooden blade on the end. Unfancy but surprisingly sturdy and reassuringly close to the ground.
“Where are the brakes?” I wonder out loud.
Ed explains paret sledges have been around since the early 1900’s, 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, he says. “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.
“Where are the brakes?” I ask again. He laughs and sets off.
Blinded by spray, I practice making slow and wobbly turns, a technique that took me years to master on skis. My kids get it straight away, effortlessly carving out their place on the mountainside, hardly registering a brush with a protruding rock or a high speed skid on a patch of ice. I look back at Mont Blanc to buy encouragement and time, but find her pink and white has been consumed by darkness.
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 quickly discover I am hopeless at paret sledging. Having hurt my knee skiing earlier in the week I am worried about damaging it further. I am stiff and bone-tired from a long day of downhill skiing and not relaxed about leaning back. I lift my feet barely more than a few inches off the ground and fall over yet again. I snack on snow, and watch the others fade into a horizon I can barely see. I am alone. I am left behind.
And then, with a shift in the wind and a crinkle in the light. I’m on the school run. Not our school run, filled with SUV’s and time strapped parents and SAT fattened kids. But the school run of La Rosiere past. A spray of snow comes from nowhere, like a playful snowball fight. I slide a little, pick up courage to go at more than a snail’s pace and dig my edge in as Ed instructed. I look down the mountain. I cannot see my own kids any more. But I hear whispers and a feel a glow; there are free spirits here, released from the confines of the classroom, unaware of the dangers of strangers or cars. Echoes of their laughter and a sense of their independence spur me on. Happy kids from La Rosiere past. with simple toys; the act of going returning home filled with joy and laughter. If only our school run had been like this. I carve and fly and fall in time to its rhythm. If I could see the White Mountain I think she’d be blushing with pleasure.
Slipping away from a school day, skimming rippled snow, a dreamy bridge between sleet and sleep…
Finding my balance
I thrust and tilt and lose control, throwing myself into powder dusk. My laughter is louder than the giggles on the wind. I push on again, gaining speed and confidence. The slope shrinks, the darkness leads me down into the valley, the cold funnels through and out of me. I let go, and arms out, legs high, I glide. An extra push comes from nowhere and I rush towards the end of the run, following the criss-cross scrawl of ski cables and the last moments of sky. An illuminated snow plough lumbers by, and in the torchlight I spot my kids. I fall off clumsily, no longer light and agile and fast. The school run is over. A grinning Ed thrusts a hot drink into my hands. But I don’t need it. My cheeks are blushing. I am warm inside.
Check out our video for our take on the school run with paret sledges:
Paret sledging was one of the activities we tried in La Rosière in the Tarentaise mountains, over the course of a week on a French ski teen adventure. 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.
Read More about how to get your teen outdoors in the Alps:
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.