Chamonix – France

The things that come to mind when I think of Chamonix are: Big mountain skiing, extreme drops, and amazing views. Chamonix had never been on my radar except when I saw it in extreme ski movies or in travel shows on TV. That all changed in 2011…

Skiing has always been part of my life however big ski trips had never been something I did or even imagined. I had only skied on the East coast of Canada and the US. I had never been exposed to high mountains, steep drops, or crazy “Powdah”. I had been to The Canadian Rockies a few times but never for skiing. In 2011, to my own surprise, I was presented with the opportunity to spend ten days in CHAMONIX!  This trip to Chamonix would be my first exposure to the Alps and big mountain skiing, and I had no idea what to expect!

I flew from Montreal at the end of February to Geneva, Switzerland and took a shuttle-bus to Chamonix. I actually stayed in a little town called Argentière in walking distance from the Grands Montets lifts. As soon as I arrived, I got my ski gear ready, bought my lift ticket for the week, and took the gondola up for my first descent. By 14:00 I was at the summit of the Grands Montets at 3295m gazing upon Les Drus, the Aiguille Verte, the Aiguilles de Chamonix and the Argentière glacier. It was breathtaking. Not only because of the view but because of the altitude!

The first few days were spent skiing the “hors-piste” in the Grands Montets such as “La Face”, the “Glacier des Rognon”,  the “Grand Mur”, and the “Combe des Rachasses”. The ski conditions were not very good that year so there were many crevasses and the terrain was quite icy. It was amazing nonetheless!

After a few days of “hors-piste”, I went on my first ski-touring adventure up the Col d’Argentière at 3552m. We rented our ski-touring equipment the night before and were on the first gondola the next morning to the Grands Montets. Skiing was a little difficult at first as I had never used ski-touring skiis. They are lighter and slightly shorter than regular skis so I felt I had less control at higher speeds. We went down the Glacier des Rognon and headed to the Argentière glacier. We passed many seracs however made sure to stay clear of them and tried to follow the tracks that had already been made by others before us. Crossing the Argentière glacier was amazing!

At the bottom of the Col d’Argentière, we put on our skins and started to make our way up. What an adventure! I had to learn how to do kick-turns (conversions) and have to admit I fell a couple times in the process. At times I was laughing at myself so much that I could not get back up! The views were spectacular and it was so quiet and peaceful. Once we arrived at the summit, we relaxed, enjoyed the view, and had a nice lunch.

The next days were spent exploring more of the Grands Montets area, the Aiguille du Midi, and attempting some steeper descents. The one I enjoyed the most was the Couloir Philippe in the Grands Montets area. This is a steep couloir and the only way to access it is through the avalanche barriers at the top of the couloir. The access to the couloir was pure ice so I actually went down sideways for the first few meters. Once I passed the avalanche barriers the conditions were not very good so I had to be careful during the entire descent and I was quite happy to arrive safely at the bottom!

About to descend the Couloir Philippe
About to descend the Couloir Philippe

Exploring the Aiguille du Midi area was such an adrenaline rush! From the start there is an incredible view of the Mont-Blanc and the Valley Blanche. There are various routes you can descend with various levels of difficulty. We went down the Aiguille du Midi ridge which proved to be a challenge in itself without crampons and took the Grand Envers du Plan towards the Mer de Glace. There were many crevaces and seracs however we were able to find a nice big rock to rest and enjoy lunch.

The conditions were not very good so we were not able to make it all the way down and had to take the Montenvers train back to Chamonix. This was one of the best days of my trip!

The following day I decided to attempt another ski touring adventure and went up the Col du Passon at 3028m. Once again, we rented our equipment the night before and were up bright and early to catch the first gondola to the Grands Montets. The climb was more technical since we had to remove our skis, attach them to our backpacks, and put crampons on to hike up the steep and narrow couloir to reach the summit.

Once at the summit I felt I was on another planet! Unlike the Col d’Argentière, you do not return the way you came. On this tour, you descend towards Le Tour and the route is harder to follow. Of course, we did not go far enough to the right and got stuck in small schrubs and could not find a safe way down. We had to trek back up and were finally able to find a small opening that brought us back to the correct route and made our way to The Tour.

To celebrate our safe return, we enjoyed a nice beer on a terrace outside before taking the bus back to Argentière!

The last few days were spent mostly in the Grands Montets and some time in the Chamonix village itself.

This was the best skiing of my life and I hope to have more great opportunities such as these in the future. I hear Austria has some really great skiing…! 😉

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