We spent the last week in Chamonix-Mont Blanc; a beautiful resort town in the French Alpes, very close to the borders of Switzerland and Italy. So close that while skiing up on one of the high runs Derek’s cell phone beeped several times with messages from the Swiss Telco provider welcoming him to their airspace!
It was at least 20 years since I last skied – and it certainly showed. On Day 1 I was as comfortable on skis as a fish on a bicycle. I had at least four spills, one of which wiped out Derek as well and I landed on top of his skis with some quite spectacular bruises to show for my efforts. Most of me was sore by the end of the day, but some nice red wine relieved the suffering. Day 2 was a good improvement and on Day 3 I could confidently ski from top to bottom of the intermediate runs without a spill, and loved the sensation of swooshing down the slopes. Derek is a good skier and had last skied in Wanaka and Queenstown about 5 years ago so he was quite at home and explored all the runs on the ski-field we were at.
The scenery is majestic; picture postcard stuff. The mountains peaks look new and sharp, and although the snow covering is deep all over the mountain it doesn’t stick to the vertical cliff faces so that the jagged grey edges stand out and add to the sense of being amongst towering peaks. It was bitingly cold with clear intense blue sky and the views over the Chamonix valley were spectacular. Apart from the sound of the snow squeaking (it’s so cold up there) it’s silent, and very pretty with the snow sparkling in the sunshine.
Despite the numbers of people who go there for the skiing it doesn’t seem crowded (to me anyway) as there are so many choices for where to ski; 3 domaines in the Chamonix valley; Balme, Brevent-Flegere and Grands Montets, plus 3 more domains in the greater Mont Blanc region; Les Houches in France, Courmeyer in Italy and Verbier in Switzerland. The fields themselves are huge; there are beautifully groomed runs for all ski capabilities and apparently fabulous off-piste skiing as well – not in my repertoire yet. All these domains are accessible from Chamonix and, if you want, one “Mont Blanc Unlimited” ski pass allows you access to everything.
We were a bit tame this time and chose to ski at the Domaine de Balme all week and like plenty of others took the handy bus service from Chamonix ville to Le Tour village at the bottom of the Balme field. Each morning there was a procession of skiers traipsing robot-like out to the bus stops (you can only walk like a robot in ski boots) to head up the mountain for another invigorating day of hurtling down snowy slopes on sticks. The reverse journey at the end of the day was a bun fight to get a seat, or else stand, tired, wedged in the aisle amongst poles, skis, and boards until our stop then thank goodness only a short walk to our snug accommodation.
For the non-skiers, or those who ski part-time, the shopping in Chamonix is fabulous too, including a Chanel boutique. Not that I wish to infer that I shopped there, I didn’t, I am just giving you a quality indicator. Of course there are oodles of ski shops where you can spend eye-watering amounts on the latest triple-layered, custom-moulded, natural-wool, carbon-fibre, breathable, waterproof bits of ski equipment and clothing that have probably been designed by YSL, developed by NASA and tested by Bond 007.