[There are places you love coming back to... and there are places you wish you'd never left. All photos: Sam McMahon]
They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but for Pingu one sprouting patch will forever remain the vert-est of the vert.
Still, there's the one he left behind; the one he now comes to, cap in hand, begging for another chance. He's willing to put all the other snowboarders she's been with since he left behind him, and have a fresh start. But will she take him back?
I know you probably don't want to talk to me right now. You are hurt. I understand, I know I have been unfaithful to you of late.
It’s not a justification, and I know it sounds like a lazy excuse, but so many years of familiarity had allowed a soupçon of contempt to permeate my thoughts, like a mouldy confiture being stirred into my cold semolina. I’d grown so used to you, it was almost as if I looked straight through you. I’d taken you for granted and my gaze and attention were drawn to your younger, shinier cousins in the New World.
You have every right to reject my advances, having been so publicly and shamelessly spurned.
But, please forgive me.
For I love you.
History. The smooth slates across which I can glide in my stocking feet remind me of your past, their mercurial patina curated over centuries by the industrious steps of those who have scurried, lumbered and whisked themselves around your higgledy-piggledy ancient buildings as they went about their daily work.
That slate, heaved from your hillsides, provides an almost magnetic connection between the town and the landscape. It reminds us why you are here, where you have come from, and why we need to respect and be grateful to the peaks which loom around you.
"You were not conceived in the imagination of a business executive seeking to capture a greater share of wallet in leisure expenditure, but because it was in your fertile bosom that men were able to scrape an existence together many hundreds of years ago"
The cleansing bustle of La Dranse, which gets angry when it rains (like we all do) but which glistens with crystalline mountain water, breathing life into the town and giving succour to the forest and its scurrying, foraging and nibbling residents.
You were not conceived in the imagination of a business executive seeking to capture a greater share of wallet in leisure expenditure. It is true that you now find ways to entertain us as we rumble insouciantly down your slopes, but you are here because of the life-giving force of La Dranse, because of the resolute slabs of slate, and because it was in your fertile bosom that men were able to scrape an existence together many hundreds of years ago. I feel that connection, that authenticity, every time my feet touch the floor or I hear the rush of the river through my bedroom window.
The school, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the everyday lives that jangle throughout your intertwining streets - they reassure me that you are here for all the right reasons. And it is your people that make you so great. The locals, who heartily welcome us in as outsiders each year, whether we are staying just for a short break or for longer. Of course there is the odd harrumph when cultures clash or the interlopers are not respectful of your ways, but you are open-armed, warm and have always been loving to me, for which I am eternally grateful.
"The everyday lives that jangle throughout your intertwining streets – they reassure me that you are here for all the right reasons"
And those who have come from other worlds to make their lives amongst your ski slopes and summer trails, they bring with them the passion of frontiersmen, those who have decided to change their lives in the pursuit of their dreams. That energy is coursing through your town, the desire to build a life around sports, passion, nature and ultimately fun makes you such an awesome drinking partner and one of the best buddies to hang out with. You are always up for something.
The food, how could I forget the food? How I have missed your cheese, your stinky, ripe, gooey churned milk that took centuries to perfect, and has been perfect for centuries. That very same cheese that honks out my fridge and clogs up my arteries, a million miles from the plasticated, shrink wrapped sandwich-shaped pieces that are stacked on stateside refrigerated shelves. The cured meats which are impossible to cut, the cornichons which make my nose tingle, the heaving great salads and the thick, laden omelettes that overflow with champignons, fromage and jambon and you serve with a quarter weight of pommes frites. God, I have missed your food.
"I know we were 'on a break' but I promise I didn’t do anything… Well, maybe I kissed someone else last winter, but it didn’t go beyond second base"
The bars which jump to the rhythm of cheers, back slaps and exaggerated stories of snow depth, air height and speed. A perfect bouillabaisse of bonhomie and bullshit which bubbles up at the end of each day on your slopes.
But I need to draw breath….
For it is your slopes, and the mountains around which they which wrap that bring me so much joy.
Whilst you can’t lay claim to being the tallest or the most gnarly, there are smellier, grimier relatives of yours that I might visit for a dirty weekend… but along with your cousins from the Portes du Soleil you have an embarrassment of downhill riches that are above all, fun.
"Let’s go for a fruity beer at the Bec and, my dearest Morzine, I will show you how much I love you"
Dodging the chains of ski kids and bezzing back down Pleney in time for tea, laying out eurocarves on Mont Chery, melting butter in the meadows, floating front threes and party lines in Chapelle, hucking in Arare, bottomless turns in fornet, side hits in Lindaret, bonking and bouncing through the stash, flying through back gardens in the pow through Prodains, getting happy in the valley, hooning down to Chatel, ambling around the old world in Champoussin, glugging on unknown lines in Roc D’Enfer. Noodling my way back to Super Morzine and stopping for a Demi as the sun goes down at La Grenouille, the atoms in my body finally ceasing to oscillate, my mind relaxing, docile, free…
It’s all good, it’s all really good with you.
And after a decade of exploration, so much more awaits. We’re only just getting to know one another, and you keep showing me new sides, like Brochaux. I know we were “on a break" but I promise I didn't do anything… Well, maybe I kissed someone else last winter, but it didn't go beyond second base.
So please take me back - let’s go for a fruity beer at the Bec and, my dearest Morzine, I will show you how much I love you. I promise I will never betray you again.
Yours, forever faithful,