Stories in the snow

Where better for a journalist to go story-hunting? The dramatic scenery of the Alps attracts equally wild adventure-seekers: at every turn, there’s a tale to be told…

For a writer, the mountains in winter are heaven. Extreme snowboarders, ice climbers, speed skiers, all have thrilling stories to tell. Then there are the people who work behind the scenes: the helicopter rescue pilots, the folk who drive the piste bashers all night, the technicians who scale icy pylons on clifftops to service the cable cars, whose lives are if anything more remarkable still.

The area of the Alps where I am based, the French-speaking Valais in Switzerland, is particularly fascinating. Home to some of Europe’s highest mountains, from the Matterhorn to the Monte Rosa, and offering some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the Alps, it also lies on a cultural fault line: the French and Italian borders are just kilometres away, and a couple of valleys along, kids growing up speaking German.

I love the cosmopolitan atmosphere – not to mention the spectacular natural scenery, and all the attractions of French-speaking Switzerland: Swiss precision, quality and reliability, twinned with Mediterranean charm and a love of the good things in life.

I guess I have mountains in my blood. My mother comes from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, and grew up in a house overlooking a palm-lined lake; her dad used to like standing on the balcony after work, singing opera arias to the mountains across the water.

No one really skied in my family. My first chances came later, when I left school: while I was working as a stable boy in the shadow of Mont Blanc, and soon after as a dogsbody for a gang of nuns high above Lake Lucerne in Central Switzerland.

In subsequent years I’ve made a living writing – especially about the mountains, Switzerland and winter sports in general.  Home is now Verbier, in the 4 Vallées ski area, where I also teach at the Swiss Ski School.  Top tip? Always make time for chocolate and cake.