Barbegazi: The Alpine Snow Gnomes

High up in the alpine mountain ranges that form the borders between France and Switzerland live the Barbegazi. Cousins to the more standard variety garden gnome found throughout the European continent, the Barbegazi take on a similar stature and form.

The main differences between the two are the frozen icicle beards that are found on male and female alike, and from which they are believed to be named (barbe-glacée means frozen beard in French). The second major difference is their gigantic flat feet which can be used to ski down the snowy slopes allowing them to traverse the wintery terrain with ease. They also help them to burrow through the snow, creating the giant network of tunnels in which they live.

These creatures are well adapted to the snow, so much so that they practice aestivation, a process that is somewhat the opposite of hibernation (a state of dormancy and lowered metabolic rate in warmer temperatures). They are only ever seen in the winter months, and will never venture beyond the tree lines.

The Barbegazi’s also have a distinctive hooting call that echoes across the mountain tops allowing them to communicate with each other. Legend has it that when the Barbegazi hoots grow loud it is a warning sign for an imminent avalanche, and anyone out in the snow best take cover. That is not the only way they are believed to help; they also have been said to light fires to lure lost travelers out of the snow and back into safety.

That said, don’t mistake the kindness of these creatures; they are intensely private and if you try to follow one back to its home it will toss you off the nearest cliff without a second thought.­

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology

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