On the morning of Friday, March 15th, Rebecca and I packed up our winter gear and flew to Geneva, Switzerland. We found the transfer desk in the airport and were soon on our way up the Arve River Valley to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France. Chamonix is in France’s southeastern Haute-Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes region. It is located on the north side of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak at 4810 metres above sea level. It is a well established ski area that held the first Winter Olympics is 1924.
We arrived at the chalet we would stay in for the next 8 nights in the Les Praz de Chamonix area around 6:00 pm. We were greeted by the chalet’s owner, David, who purchased the chalet from the original French family in 2005 and converted it into a ski chalet. Before dinner, David took us to pick up our ski rental equipment. The chalet has 8 rooms, a sauna, a hot tub, and a nice living room with a fireplace. Each night, our meals were prepared by the chalet’s chef, James, and were mostly traditional French cuisine. Soaking in the hot tub and playing crib by the fire was a good way to unwind at the end of the ski day.
The next day, Rebecca went into town to shop for a ski suit while I headed to the Brevent-Flegere ski area. The conditions were warm and spring-like as it hadn’t snowed in about 3 weeks. The views across the valley to Mont Blanc were spectacular.
On Sunday, Rebecca and I skied the Domaine de Balme area at the top of the valley. Rebecca quickly got her ski legs back on the bunny slope, but as we were getting set to go to the top, the gondola was closed due to high winds. A winter storm was blowing in that day which would mean new snow in the days to come!
Due to the low visibility on Monday, David suggested we ski the Les Houches area at the valley bottom. It was a great suggestion as the skiing was excellent and we later heard that some of the other areas were closed due to the storm. I also skied the Kandahar Run which is part of the World Cup downhill circuit.
Tuesday was the big “powder day” and I went to Les Grands Montets area alone as it is the most challenging area in Chamonix. I was one of the first up the lifts and the skiing was amazing. It was one of the best ski days I’ve ever had. That afternoon, I met Rebecca and we went back to the Domaine de Balme area for the afternoon.
The next day, Rebecca opted for some more challenging skiing so we went up to Brevent in the morning. We skied some blue runs there then went over to Flegere in the afternoon. Wednesday is a day-off for the chalet staff so we went into Chamonix for dinner. We ate at La Calèche which serves French fare and we had escargot, onion soup, steak tartare, foie gras, and veal. Trés bien.
On Thursday, we had pre-arranged bus tickets to the ski village of Courmayeur, Italy. It is a 45 minute bus ride that takes you through the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Begun in 1957 and completed in 1965, the Mont Blanc Tunnel is 11,611 metres long, 8.6 metres wide, and 4.35 metres high. The tunnel is not horizontal, but in a slightly inverted “V” and goes directly underneath the mountain. Courmayeur boasts that it is the “sunny” side of Mont Blanc and it held its reputation that day. We made sure to have an Italian coffee in the morning and a nice pasta lunch in the afternoon.
On Friday morning, I had planned to ski the Vallée Blanche. The Vallée Blanche is a high mountain, off-piste, 17 km route that starts at 3812 metres on the Aiguille du Midi and finishes at the Montenvers mountain rail terminus. David booked me into a group with a guide. From the Aiguille du Midi cable car station, I had to strap my skis to my back, rope up to the others in the group, then venture out onto the arête to start the decent. The decent is a hair raising experience as you slowly trek down the switchback in your clunky and slippery ski boots. I’m not sure I would want to do it if the safety rope was not there. I guess people die there every year. Once past the arête, it is an enjoyable ski down the glacier on untouched snow with very scenic surroundings. At the bottom, you must hike up the stairs to the gondola that takes you to the Montenvers mountain train. They have had to add a few flights every couple of years as the glacier is slowly melting and shrinking away. It’s a shame to see the effects that global warming is having on the glacier.
That night, our friend Jen arrived from London. The next day, the 3 of us went up to Flegere and did a couple runs together. I then showed Jen a couple of my favorite runs at the top. She spent most of the day on her own as Rebecca and I only skied the morning. Rebecca and I returned our rentals then headed for the Aiguille du Midi. We didn’t ski down the Vallée Blanche though, but opted for the return trip on the gondola. We met Jen for an après-ski beer and burger at the Chambre-Neuf in Chamonix. The transfer company picked us up from the chalet at 6:00 pm and we were on our way to Geneva. We spent the evening at a brasserie where they make their own beer and tried the Swiss pizza, flammenkueches.
Being Sunday morning, the streets of Geneva were quiet but we walked around in the drizzling rain and saw some sights. We saw Jen to the train station and said goodbye. Rebecca and I had a quiet afternoon while we waited to fly home. Skiing in the French Alps was great and a good way to get a little slice of winter not available in Abu Dhabi.