The first time I saw mountains was in Banff National Park. I was 14 and completely mystified. To this day, my family makes fun of my romantic reaction to the sight of them. “I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the mountains”, I said out of both awe and infatuation. What a geeky thing to say. Oh well, I was in love.
Since then, I have always felt a strong pull to the mountains. I am not sure exactly why I am so captivated by them; perhaps it is the striking presence of both danger and beauty, the draw to push myself beyond my limits, or the harsh reminder of my insignificance in nature. Whatever the reason, whenever I am surrounded by mountains I am always dominated by one feeling: freedom.
Over my February Half Term Break from school, I had my first experience with European mountains, the Alps, at La Plagne Ski Resort in Savoie, France. With altitudes between 1250 and 3250 m, 225 km of skiable terrain, and stunning scenery, it was definitely worth the 18 hour bus ride from London.
I signed up for an organized group trip with two Canadian teachers who I have been lucky to have become friends with in London. Taking part in the group trip turned out to be a great decision, as we were able to meet other travelling teachers (mostly Australian) to share experiences with, and have a great group of people to hang out with both on and off the slopes. It was an amazing 6 days of skiing with pretty good conditions and blue skies for most of the trip. Unfortunately, the biggest dump of snow was on the day we left, so we didn’t have the opportunity to ski any fresh powder, but luckily, I was able to find enough good snow anyways.
While I was there, I tried hard not to think about returning to London. Although I do really like London, my love for the mountains made me dread going back to the grind of city life. Despite the fact that my current status as a teacher in London has its perks: lots of vacation time, the opportunity to live in one of the world’s greatest cities, gaining valuable experience in the classroom, it has also been a test of my resilience, as I constantly feel as though I give and give and give to very needy students and inadequate systems with minimal return for my investment. This being said, I seriously contemplated getting a job as a ski-lift operator and staying in La Plagne for the rest of the year (or the rest of my life). Truthfully, I think that the only thing that held me back was that so many of my personal belongings were in London.
The whole debate makes me question why so many people choose to live in the city instead of the mountains. I suppose it all goes down to a feeling of usefulness. In the city, there is more opportunity to contribute to something greater than oneself. For me, living in the mountains would simply be blissful ignorance. After having been exposed to so many social problems from my experience teaching in London, such as child poverty and homelessness, dysfunctional families, gang violence and bullying, inadequate resources and funding in inner-city schools resulting in student underachievement and staff burnout, it is hard to walk away without doing something to help. This being said, I think I would feel too guilty in the mountains to really enjoy it. Unfortunately, with the guilt also comes the feeling of overwhelming helplessness: the problems are politically and institutionally rooted- what can I really do to make things better?
Maybe I would be happier working as a ski lift operator, but I am guessing that eventually I would get tired of doing the same thing everyday, and develop an itch to do “more” with myself. At least the mountains will always be there for a temporary escape; a chance to appreciate the world’s beauty and forget about the often troubling realities of city life.