Balsam für die Seele

Balsam für die Seele- Cross Country Skiing in the Vallée de Joux

I never wanted this day to end. In my mind I am still floating across the glittering snows of that enchanting landscape. Exercise, beautiful scenery, and a friend to share it all with? What could one want more out of life?

I woke up super excited before sunrise and scurried to get my things ready and have breakfast. I was so happy to see that Marcia was up and very excited too. I knew it was going to be a good day when I was already privileged to a glorious greeting from the pink streaked sunrise out my window over the distant, yet so perceptible Alps.

The metro ride only bore more good news as we saw our beloved moutons grazing in a small field outside one of the metro stops. How could a day that starts with a pink sunrise and sheep be a bad one?

There were a few hiccups in the journey, but they were few and could not possibly mar such a divine day. The first was that we were having trouble buying our ticket at the Renens train station. I got scared we would miss our train as we fumbled with card, bills, and coins, but we did not and even had time to spare.

The train ride was already superb — unfolding before us was a panorama view all the way to Mt. Blanc and Grand Combin (two of the most majestic Alpine giants). The adventure then nestled itself into the sleepy Jura mountains and to our final destination in the quaint Vallée de Joux. Switzerland  may be small geographically, but it packs an abundance of natural wonder in every nook and cranny of the country, making it a land large in riches.

the view from the train

We were headed for a village called Le Sentier at the southern end of the Lac de Joux. It was like entering an enchanted snow globe complete with a partially frozen lake, snow embraced pines and hills, fairytale Swiss homes, and yet another great Swiss accent.

where we went, (photo courtesy of

Second hiccup — when we arrived to Le Sentier the rental store seemed open, but the door was closed and no one was inside. We were perplexed. I was worried that we would have to spend time finding another place to rent skis, but we asked the people in the watchmaking store across the street who told us she had probably gone out for groceries and would be back shortly.  Sure enough, and luckily for us, she turned up right after our cross-street inquiry.

The third hiccup came when the lady told us conditions weren’t good and that we needed a car to access the trails, all of which turned out not be true at all in my opinion, but when she said that it really scared me because I had been so looking forward to cross country skiing and sharing it with Marcia and would have felt really bad if we had made the trip all the way there and could not ski.

a map of the xc ski trails, there are 220km to explore in the area! photo courtesy of
a map of the xc ski trails, there are 220km to explore in the area! (photo courtesy of

It was so fun to teach Marcia who was such an eager and fast learner. Over the years, I have a taught a few people to cross country ski and seeing the fresh joy of a first experience never gets old.

We skied the day away meandering between forest and field, between groomed trails and the traces of bygone skiers, between French and English, between a hushed landscape and our yelps of joy, all the while gliding through an ever changing delighting light.

fresh tracks!

Everything was glittering and the trees donned their finest frost. There were some wisps of fog in the valley below and some clouds above in the broad sky, and all was basking in silence of the purest sort.

One of the only people we met out in the snow that day was a friendly old man who spends much of his retired days cross country skiing (I too dream of such a retirement!). We learned a lot about his life and the area between his French and his German (even that there were wolves in this region!). We were about to start heading back, but he suggested to us a nice loop through the forest which turned out to be quite magical. When we crossed him again later he described cross country skiing to us as “Balsam für die Seele” that Marcia later explained to me is a German expression that translates to “lotion for the soul.”

I think no expression captures the essence of cross country skiing better. It is, as many outdoor activities, soothing for the soul. It is gentle and relaxing, but at the same time tires you slowly, so that by the end of the day you are left elated by your effort and exhaustion.  The kind of tired that comes through miles of silent woods and the light rhythmic woosh of skis on snow is undoubtedly one of the most satisfying.

The way back was full of delightful downhills- spurred by Marcia’s new downhill technique of crouching down so as to almost sit on one’s skis and flying along the snow surfaced earth.

We finished the day with a bit of speed-walking and running to catch the train at Le Brassus (another small village of the region) to go back to Le Sentier where we were to return the skis. But we were not so hurried that we did not notice the stream and leafless trees and snowy plain extending into the orange and yellow sparks of the waning winter light.

After returning the skis we had coffee in a cute bakery reveling in our day. Contentment at its finest. Quoi dire? C’était une journée magnifique!

Then it was back to the story book train, whistling and creaking and groaning, as we made our way back across the fuzzy boundary between fairytale and reality. Watching the lake and the glowing windows of tranquil homes in the blue light of almost night was positively magical. Vallée de Joux you have my heart!

I never want this day to end. So may it never! And instead stay ablaze in my mind and make itself cozily at home in my memory alongside all the other twinkling scenes already there. I think good experiences become little fires of memory that you can huddle your thoughts around when your soul seeks warmth.


What kind of day do you want to never end? What kind of experiences are “Balsam für die Seele” for you?

Published by Johanne Boulat

Johanne Boulat was born in French-speaking Switzerland, where she lives again now, but she grew up under the resplendent California sun. For 21 years she basked in the spirit of the Wilderness, which she discovered on hiking as well as literary paths. She received her Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology from the University of California, Davis in 2012 and since then has worked as a scientific field aid, a translator, a sales specialist, and a running coach. In 2018, she completed her master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She now teaches English and Science at a local elementary school and dedicates her free time to the three “R”s: Running, Reading, and Writing.

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