Six college buds skiing and riding our way through the French and Italian Alps
Every year I meet up with my ski crew from college for our annual ski-escape. In 2018 we hit up the French and Italian Alps, basing out of Chamonix. Over the course of 7 days we skied all over Chamonix and Courmayeur. We even managed to squeeze in Valle Blanche — the famous 12.5 mile ski route, with a vertical descent of almost 9,000 feet.
Let's Start With the Edit
The most important part of any ski trip is getting footy for the boys.
Skiing Around Chamonix Valley
Even without venturing beyond the lift-accessible ski areas surrounding the village of Chamonix there's an incredible amount of terrain you can access. From our first day on we had just incredible conditions. As a bunch of North-East skiers, we literally couldn't believe what was happening.
The powder was fantastic, and sheer scale of what we could access was beyond anything we'd ever seen.
There was something for everyone. For me, the views themselves made the trip worth it — let alone the skiing.
I think my favorite part of skiing in the Alps is how it's such a different experience than the traditional American resort. There isn't this massive company running everything. Taking lifts feels like taking public transport, and then the mountain services are managed by small mom-and-pop outposts.
My favorite of these in Chamonix is the warming hut skiers-right on Grand Montets. This little outpost is an amazing place to stop off for a spiked hot-cocoa and incredible views of the valley. On our first stop there, we grabbed drinks and sat on the porch and watched avalanche after avalanche run down the face opposite our view.
Just like all public-transit in Europe, the cable-car infrastructure in the Alps is an absolute marvel. It seems like they'll will build a cable car absolutely anywhere — stringing them across entire valleys.
The views while riding up these trams are nuts. You're just dangling thousands of feet above the ground as you move from station to station. The stations themselves are constructed on sheer cliff-faces — making you wonder just how they keep it all attached.
Skiing the Valle Blanche
The most exciting part of our skiing in Chamonix — hands down — was the Valle Blanche. This 12.5 mile long ski route starts from the top of Aiguille du Midi — which is the highest mountain peak served by a lift or cable-car.
It's so prominent that you can see the station at the peak from most of the other ski areas in Chamonix.
Most of the route down is on a glacier — which means the danger of falling into a crevasse is real. So we hired a guide to show us the way.
Even the ride up to Aiguille du Midi is no joke. Perhaps more so than any other tram in Europe — this one is just mind-boggling.
After the tram, the start of the route is a traverse along a tight walk-way. Our guide roped us in for this traverse — a small slip under the saftey ropes and you were on a 10,000 foot fall down to town.
After this traverse, it's just 9,000 feet of pure skiing, all the way back to town. The conditions were incredible with clear skies and we could not wait to get going.
The skiing through Valle Blanche is incredible, but the views are even more impressive.
The scale of the landscape is just staggering and it's hard to comprehend just how big everything is.
Even more impressive is realizing that you are standing on ancient ground. Throughout the descent, massive chunks of glacial ice stick out from the snow, reminding you of where you are and what you're skiing on. It's a humbling experience.
There's something just surreal about having this place as a playground. We took about four hours to get down — taking our time to enjoy the views, hit some jumps and really soak in the experience.
And of course, just like any good European experience, the route ends right at a bar. This is one of the most incredible ski experiences you can imagine. If you find yourself in Chamonix, it's an absolute must.
Skiing and Eating in Courmayeur
If you leave Chamonix and drive south, you'll pass through an impossibly long tunnel to Italy. Some fun side reading might be about this ridiculous fire that happened in the tunnel in 1999. It's truly a thing of horror. No worries though! They learned a lot from that experience, and today the tunnel is as safer than ever.
Once on the other side, the Italian ski area of Courmayeur is yours for the taking!
From my experience, everything about Courmayeur is more fun and lively. The terrain is just as grand, but it's way more of a party atmosphere.
On that note, it's worth mentioning that my favorite part about skiing Courmayeur is the food. If you do one thing while skiing in Courmayeur, it's eat. While there are standard resort restaurants and cafes, the absolute best approach is to seek out one of the independent restaurants that dot the slopes.
Stop in around 10AM or so to find the owner and make a reservation for your group. They're often very casual about it and you can have your choice of time. Then, report back for some of the best slope-side dining you've ever had.
Wine is an absolute must — but you also can't miss out on fresh pastas with locally cured meats, legs of lamb, of course, Tiramisu.
Around Town in Chamonix
Back in Chamonix, the town itself is also an amazing place to experience. The apres-ski culture is strong and a total blast. After you finish your day, get out to one of the many pubs, bars and restaurants serving up Aperol Spritzes and snacks.
In general, the town is pretty lively until about 7:00, at which point people head back home to rest, or sit down for an earlier dinner. The bars get oddly dead for an hour or two. Then, after the first dinner seating gets out around 8:00 PM, things get lively again.
The food in Chamonix is as good as you would expect from a lively, upscale destination in France. It's worth checking out the food blogs before you go, and always call ahead by a day or more to make a reservation.
I've had the privilege of skiing in Chamonix twice now and both times were absolutely ones to remember. It's high time I make it back, so my fingers are crossed for a strong 2021 season in the Alps.