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The Chamonix Dream

The first time I became aware of the European Alps I was 14 years old. I was backpacking through the North Cascades on a 3 week Outward Bound style course. My first mentor, Miles Becker, would often wax poetic about the range, comparing the Cascades to the Alps. He shared tales of alpine daring by the likes of Louis Lachenal, Lionel Terray and other famous climbers of the modern era. I was captivated by their antics in the mountains surrounding the world’s alpine climbing epicenter, Chamonix, France.

After that trip I regularly read magazines and books about the area dreaming of the day I could walk, climb and ski amongst the famous peaks. Over the years I’ve fulfilled similar fantasies in other great ranges such as the Andes, the Himalayas and the Southern Alps of New Zealand. But the mountains of France have eluded me…until now.

The iconic Aguille du Midi tram stationIt can’t hurt to ask. That’s what people say. Well, ask I did and I was granted a two-month leave of absence from my job this winter to fulfill my dream of skiing and climbing in Chamonix. If all goes to plan, I’ll spend March and April doing just that.

The Aguille du MidiI haven’t worked out all the logistics yet. I still need to find housing. I have some solid leads but no commitment. Partners are certainly not locked in but I have some contacts that may develop in that direction. Cham is a busy place in the winter and lodging is pricey. I’ve budgeted accordingly but I’m still trying to be sensible.

Tour Ronde

I've spent hours on YouTube watching video after video of climbing and skiing in the area. I've become familiar with past and present players in the game. I've also become aware of those who've been hurt or killed playing in this formittable arena. I call several of them my friends. I'm nervous and excited. I'm certainly not getting any younger so the time is now.  

If any readers out there have helpful tips or suggestions, I’m all ears.  

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Reader Comments (11)

Awesome!!! I'm sure you will love Chamonix. Been there once and can't wait to go again. When I went, I stayed in the youth hostel (I was 30 something) and it was really cheap. I also liked the fact that I could have full board, including a really nice lunch bag. I saved a ton of cash that way. Now 40, I would try to find an apartment, especially for 2 months, but it still a nice option for a short time say if you need to wait a few days to have one.

Summitpost.org is a great ressource for all that is mountain, including asking questions on the forum and finding partners.

Have fun and make us dream!

Tu put you in the beat, watch Downside up: https://vimeo.com/78476552

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Ferron

I must say I am green with envy. Very excited for you and you chasing all the fun in France!

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJill D.

Hey Richard,
Yeah, I feel fortunate to be able to afford a flat for the 2 months. As for the video, I bought it a couple of weeks ago. Serious steep skiing porn.

December 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian

Hi Jill,

It should be outrageous. Can't wait to share tales and pictures with you.

December 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian

If you're happy with a little uncertainty I would consider waiting until the last minute to look for a place to stay. Cham attracts (along with the hard core crowd) lots of first time seasonaires. They take out accommodation for the season but many run out of interest and money by spring. If you want March April accommodation this dynamic works very well for you. Lots of black market season passes from these folks too but I'm not sure want the risk involved in that trade is.

December 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBentley

dream trip for sure, sounds like you are doing it right. 2 months should be amazing. looking forward to the TR's.

December 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjay

Hey Bentley,

Interesting idea. Although I take my share of risks in some aspects of my life, the logistics of this trip is probably not a place I will. Hate to be scrambling at the last minute. I actually found a place this week that is pretty sweet and close to town. I'll do a post on it when the time comes. It's available to anyone. I got the early season price on the Valley Pass so I'm good there. Still not cheap at $1300 but it buys a lot more terrain for the money than any similarly priced pass in the states. Stay tuned.

December 5, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian

just in case you haven't come across these videos yet during your research, highly recommended viewing:



December 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjay

Hi Brian,

Great that you are making the pilgrimage--Cham really is an incredible playground. I live in Switzerland, so I am lucky to be able to visit two or three times a year to climb.

I could not even begin to suggest skiing objectives for you--I am a beginner skier. I imagine that as you find partners and make plans, the adventures will just unfold. On the other hand, here are some tips to make your time in Chamonix a little safer, sweeter, and more interesting.

Carry a cell phone
I would be the first person to say that the most important piece of safety gear you carry is your brain, and that you should not plan on somebody else being there to rescue you, however, the rescue service in Cham is so well established and efficient, that it’s just absurd not to carry a cell phone. I don’t know what sort of cell phone and international coverage you have, but one option is to buy an inexpensive phone in Cham that you can easily charge with minutes. Across the street from the famous Snell Sports, where you will certainly spend some time browsing gear, is a good book store. On the ground floor you will find a great selection of climbing and skiing guides. On the ground floor, you can buy a phone for about twenty Euros. Make sure you get it all set up and charged before you head up. It can be tricky. Several of my climbing partners from the US have bought these phones.

A nice cafe
I am sure you will find all the cool places to hang out. But if you want a really great hot chocolate, try Aux Petits Gourmands, on the main street close to Snell Sports. I am a chocolate lover. The hot chocolate at Aux Petits Gourmands actually tastes like chocolate, not hot water with sugar and chemicals. They also make amazing pastries, and good sandwiches. If you ask them the night before, they can have a sandwich and pastry packed for you before the first bin up. It’s pretty great to get to the top of a route and have a tasty meal!

Rabbit on the Roof
There are various custom wooden skis out there, but I’m not sure there are any as beautiful as Rabbit on the Roof skis. Save a visit for day when the weather is bad. It’s about a fifteen or twenty minute jog down the road from Chamonix. If you follow the main shopping street in Chamonix all the way through town in the direction of Argentiere, the shops will eventually disappear, and it will turn into a more secluded and residential back road. Just keep following the road. The workshop is in an converted mill on the corer where the road turns toward Le Praz. I have visited several times. I’ve never met the owner, but the door is always open, and you can go into the old dark front room, and stare in wonder at the amazing skis lined up against the walls. Truly impressive.

Well, I could go on, but that should get you started.

I am actually going to be there in mid April, doing some mixed climbing with a partner, and some ski touring with my wife. If I see an American guy walking around in a Dynafit racing suit, talking about the snow in the Tetons or Alaska, I’ll say hi.

All the best,


December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBruno Schull

Hey Bruno,
That's awesome! It'll be a Crazy Idea suit with wasatch skimo on the sleeve and hopefully surrounded by some Francophiles with similar ambitions. Can't wait to check out your beta.

Thanks again.

December 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian


Those are classic descents on my list for sure. Hope I'm up to it. Very excited. Thanks for the links.

December 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterBrian

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