03 Mar Chamonix – Winter Wonderland in the Heart of the Alps
Mush! Yeah, hurry! Hurry hard. For a moment it was as if I were voice training for the Canadian Olypic Curling Team, but as cold as it was there was no ice to be seen, only an endless expanse of crystaline snow and the perfect field of powder with one small track snaking its way into the distance. I was temporarily mezmerised by the beauty of it all, just before a jerk in the track brought my attention back to the sleigh I stood on being pulled by a troop of four massive Huskies at a suprisingly quick pace. Come on man bring your focus back to the task at hand, this is Dog-Sledding through the forests and the back valley of Chamonix, France in the heart of the Alps.
I remember buying a pair a skis in British Columbia, Canada about ten years ago. They were Dynastar and had a big mark on them stating, Made in Chamonix. That same day I was browsing the shop where I bought the skis and a sticker ‘stuck’ out at me. It was of four jagged grainte peaks with the word Chamionx written on it in bold black letters. The sticker was about the size of my hand and would fit perfectly on my newly purchased skis. I bought it and to this day, that sticker is still stuck to my Dynastars. It was also a constant reminder to visit the Alps and see first hand these mythical peaks depicted on my skis.
Almost a decade latter I got the opportunity to travel to Chamonix and better yet, in the winter!! I packed up my Dynastars and hit the road. It was to my absolute pleasure and childlike amazement that the first night turned out like this.
I joined two of my close friends Elisa and Max (Frenchies) as well as two American brothers (Alex and Marko) whom I hadn’t met but had been following via their YouTube channel and had a pretty good idea of what they’d be like. I was spot on with my assumption and they are as awesome in person as they are on the internet! #awesome
For the next five days, the five of us travelled up and down the Chamonix Valley attempting to experience all of the activities possible. It was a hectic and adventurous time with Dog-Sledding and winter trekking, lookouts from 3,800m and a brisk -35 centigrade, winter paragliding and wildlife spotting from the canopy, sking incredibly powdery powder lines (twice), and visting the base of a thousand year old glacier.
This is just a quick overview of the main things we were able to fi into the five days. There is still a ton of stuff that sadly we were not able to do, not to mention the summer season and the complete new set of activities posible then. I am figuring out, that as an outdoor adventurer and lover of semi extreme sports, this would be a great place to live for a few seasons.
Chamonix is iconic. It is the birthplace of mountaineering and possibly one of the first tourist destinations in the Alps, with records of people ‘visitng’ as far back as the mid 18th century. It was also during this time that some adventurous explorers were pushing the limits of their curiosity and venturing further and further up the sacred and mostly feared mountain peaks.
In those days the people of Chamonix thought that dragons lived high up the mountain and that any bad omen was sent down upon them by the jagged and ominous peaks. Glaciers too big to imagine flowed down into the valley below and would often grumle and crack sending shivers down the spine. But this was also the time of science and discovery, and there were people out there brave enough to venture into the unknown and return with information that would shape our history.
The small town of Chamonix became the base for most high altitude exploration at the time. From the 1780’s well into the late 19th century, Mount Blanc and the surrounding peaks were charted, mapped, and summitted. Each expedition bringing varrying levels of difficulty and challenge, and each expedition being documented for all to see. From what I read and the photos I saw, it loked to be a very interesting and exciting time.
Chamonix grew and begun to build a reputation it still holds to this day. This back valley in the heart of the Alps is a pinnicle of big mountain sport and will always be full of people pushing the limits and creating new innovative ideas. Like winter Wing-suit Base Jumping, or speed sking with a parachute.
It is also known internationally as one of the best places to visit if you’re looking for some great outdoor adventure, both soft and more challenging. The amount of hiking, biking, and climbing on offer is worth the summer trip, with the amount of sking, ski touring, and snow shoeing, making the winter wonderland a pleasure to experience.
It is all around a great destination and one I was fortunate to visit especially with four good friends. Now that I am based in Europe I am planning a return trip to Chamonix at some stage. The five days was incredible, but it was just a taste of what the valley has to offer.
What’s your favourite location in the European Alps? Have you been to Chamonix? What did you do?