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Read an extract from A Season in the Snow by Isla Gordon

A Season in the Snow packshot


‘I might give you some of Vanessa’s brandy too, if we ever get there,’ Alice murmured to the dog as she crawled the car forward. She followed the tail lights of a car up ahead, and in the darkness could see the shape of mountains looming above her.

Eventually a street lamp appeared, and then another, and another, and when a large sign appeared pointing towards a multi-storey car park, with a picture of a cable car with ‘Mürren’ written beside it, she exhaled with relief. The road widened and sloped-roofed buildings lit from within popped up on either side, a large canvas of happy skiers strung high over the road.

Alice indicated left towards the car park, saying, ‘I think we’re here, Bear!’ We made it!

In the back seat he sat up and yawned, shaking out his ears.

But there was a man beside the entrance to the car park who seemed to be turning people away. Alice opened her car window, a blast of freezing air entering their warm pod, and asked, ‘Excuse me, we’re looking for parking to go up to Mürren?’

The man, wrapped up in thick clothing, the tip of his nose bright pink, replied, ‘For Mürren, keep going to Stechelberg and get the cableway up the mountain.’

‘Keep going? We can’t park and go up from here?’ No, no, no, this wasn’t the plan. They were here.

‘No because the car park is full. There is a renovations taking place so it is only half of the size right now. Stechelberg is six kilometres that way.’

‘But Stetchenblog—’

‘Stechelberg,’ he corrected.

‘It’s the wrong . . . ’ She faltered. He couldn’t do anything about that, and a couple of cars were now indicating to try and come in after her. So Alice nodded a thanks to the man and reversed, making her way back to the main road. She drove in silence, watching the comforting lights of Lauterbrunnen recede and the darkness welcome her back.

Six kilometres may seem to stretch long like elastic after nightfall, but in reality the lights had started to appear again after ten minutes. Dotted beside the road, one after another, were simple, illuminated Christmas shapes taking her into Stechelberg. A bell, then a tree, then a star, and before she knew it the road took her off to an open-air car park with a large building – the cable car station – at the end.

Alice pulled into an empty space between two other cars, very very carefully as the car park wasn’t gritted and she was driving over an inch or two of snow now. And she switched the engine off.

Nowe’ve made it, Bear,’ she said, and both the dog and the car heaved a sigh of relief.

Alice rolled her stiff shoulders as her stomach growled. It felt so good to know she wouldn’t be needing to climb back into this cramped vehicle for some time, and the few other people pottering about the car park reassured her that the cableway was still running.

She opened the door and whoosh, the cold air hit her. Wow, the wind chill in the mountains was real. She grabbed for her coat and for Bear’s lead, and he was about to hop out of the car when he came to a standstill, peering over the edge of the car onto the ground below.

Alice blew upwards, trying to warm the tip of her nose.

‘Come on, what’s wrong?’

He stared down and she adjusted to try and make more room for him to get out. As her boot slipped just a little on the ice, she realised what he was staring at. ‘Bear! Your first experience of snow! Look.’ She scooped a handful into her glove and held it to his face. He pressed his nose into it and left it there a while. ‘Do you like the cold? There’ll be plenty more of this over the next few months. Are you going to have a go at walking on it?’

She gave his lead a small, very gentle tug, and Bear stepped down, lifting his paws high as if it could be three feet deep. He toddled  forwards, dragging his nose into the snow as he walked, weaving this way and that, listening to the sound it made under his paws. He tried leaping in the air and watched it powder-poof around him, and he tried licking it off the back of the car while he waited for Alice to gather their belongings and take them to the cableway station.

Alice worked fast, her fingers freezing, and pulled out his bed, her handbag, one of her suitcases, the bag with his food and toys and a food bag. She surveyed the pile of belongings. Because of Bear, she would only have one hand at her disposal, and this was way too much to haul up a mountain.

‘What do we not need tonight?’ she asked him.

Bear stuck his head in the bag of his stuff. He was telling her that if nothing else, this bag was essential.

‘Maybe we don’t need your bed,’ she mused. ‘You slept all over the place in our old house, so I’m sure you can do without it for one night. Don’t look at me like that – it’s huge. If I take your bed I can’t carry your food and toys as well.’

He snorted through his nose and rested his chin on the lip of the boot, resigned.

She put the bed back in the car, for now.

‘I guess I don’t need  everything  in this suitcase.’ Alice opened up the case on the car park ground, revealing her carefully packed winter clothing and toiletries. Jesus, it was cold. No time for keeping things neat. She pulled out a handful of clothing and underwear and threw it back in the boot, making a gap big enough to stuff her handbag into.

‘Okay, that’s two-in-one. We’ll leave my food bag, since Vanessa said we could eat her stuff. Don’t judge me, Bear, you eat my food all the time, and we’ll replace anything we use up. As for your bag . . . ’ She pulled out seven bright dog toys in various textures, sizes and colours. ‘Pick just two favourites for tonight.’

Bear snuffled along the line of toys, settling on a balled-up rope that had seen better days, and a lump of hard wood that he liked to chew on. Alice returned them to his bag, which was now closable, and balanced it on top of her suitcase, the bag handles strung over the suitcase’s own extended top handle.

‘I think we can manage this lot.’ She closed the boot, locked the car, and stopped. More specifically, Bear stopped. He sat down and refused to move.

‘Bear, come on, it’s cold, let’s get in the cable car.’ He whined back at the car.

‘Are you kidding me? You couldn’t wait to see the back of it earlier!’ Alice tried to pull him but instead he lay his tummy down in the snow, not breaking eye contact. ‘Oh my God, are you actually lying down to stop me from moving you? Bear, we can’t stay here. What’s the problem?’

Nothing. Nothing but a fixed stare and a big sigh.

She opened the  back of the car again to fetch a bag of his treats she knew was in there somewhere, something she could use as a bribe, and Bear leapt up, pushed his head around her and clutched his bed with his teeth.

‘Don’t eat that, it’s your bed,’ cried Alice. But Bear was already pulling it out of the car. She wrestled with him to try and stuff it back in, but he wasn’t letting go. ‘You are so stubborn. Come on, I can’t carry that as well, we’ll get it in the morning.’ She waved a treat under his nostrils, which he ignored.

‘I am not carrying these bags, and you, and that whopping great bed tonight. I’m tired, and it’s dark, and we don’t know where we’re going. I’m not doing it.’

Five minutes later, Alice was trying to hold her temper as she carried her bags, the dog lead, and the whopping great bed to the exit of the car park. Bear skipped along next to her, pleased with himself for getting his own way.

At the entrance to the station, Alice put down the bed that was wedged precariously under her lead-wielding arm and studied a map and a timetable before giving up and making her way to the counter, leaving everything but the dog in a heap by some stairs.

‘Hello,’ she said to the lady manning the enclosed ticket booth, wrapped in a thick black jacket. ‘We need to go to Mürren?’

‘Do you ski?’ the lady asked.

‘Not really,’ answered Alice.

‘If you want I will give you return ticket with pass to use the cable cars and chairlifts as much as you wish?’

‘Actually, I just want a one-way. I have to collect some more things from my car tomorrow, but other than that I’m not coming back down.’

‘Oh okay!’ The lady pressed a few buttons and Bear balanced on his back legs to put his paws up on the counter, the nosy thing. ‘Hello,’ the lady addressed him. ‘You are moving to the mountain too?’

Alice nodded.  ‘We’re here for the winter.’

‘Wonderful. You will love it very much.’

The lady pointed Alice and Bear up the stairs to the waiting area, under a large sign that read, Gimmelwald- Mürren-Birg-Schilthorn. To reach the very top of the mountain, the Schilthorn, you needed to take four different cable cars. Alice dragged their belongings up the  steps, hoping the change at Gimmelwald wouldn’t take long. She needed a wee.

They had  about  twenty-five minutes to wait  (twenty- three minutes, to be precise, and from what she’d heard of Swiss rail travel, precise was how it would be running) and the waiting area was deserted. The cold air crept in through the wooden-panelled walls, and she could see her and Bear’s breath billowing in front of their noses. The lights were stark and large black and white images of the mountains acted as decoration alongside a Nescafé hot drinks dispenser and a vending machine containing interesting Swiss nibbles.

Ovomaltine,’ she whispered aloud, reading an orange-wrappered chocolate bar. Was that the same as Ovaltine? Did they have Ovaltine chocolate here?

She led Bear to a large window and peered outside, straining to see if she could make out a cable car approaching from the heavens. Bear jumped up, paws on the window, which she probably shouldn’t let him do but he was a nice hugging height when he was all stretched tall like this.

Outside was the inky outline of the Eiger, one of the most impressive mountains in the Bernese Alps. Barely visible at this time of night, it was almost impossible to imagine the scale.

‘Wait until you see it in daylight,’ said an accented man’s voice, and Alice turned to see a cableway worker sweeping the clean floor of the terminal. ‘You are just visiting, yes?’

‘Sort of, we’re staying a while.’

‘Showing your handsome dog where he is from?’ The man bent down to say hi to Bear.

‘Yep,’ said Alice. ‘It’s really quiet around here, though, I was expecting more tourists.’

‘The  snow it came earlier than expected this year. All the holiday companies will be trying to pull in their staff and start the ski season as soon as they can. You will have a lot of company up there in no time.’ He smiled and went back to work.

Alice turned back to the window and snuggled into Bear.

‘Until then it’s just me and you, okay? Shall we go up the mountain?’