One of the most common questions I get is “How do you make life work in Chamonix?” and a follow up to this piece on living the dream.
Everyone will be forgiven for thinking that I am a man of leisure with no work commitments, and just a never ending string of days climbing, skiing, and running in the mountains.
If only that were true.
Actually, no, I’m glad it is not true, I would get really bored if I did not have work to keep my brain ticking over.
Fingers in Pies
Much like a lot of people here in Chamonix, I do not have just one job and throughout the year I will work in various capacities but it is always in and around the idea of organising things, logistics, and general being a fixer.
My one year-round contract is with The North Face. I am the Community Manager for Never Stop Chamonix in which capacity I organise events and community activations for the local people of our home town as well as the many people who pass through.
Examples of this are our weekly training sessions, runs with athletes during the UTMB, and event a massive group descent of the Vallée Blanche last winter – check out the awesome video here from Everyfield Films.
I absolutely love this work as I get to come up with exciting and inspiring events that I want to partake in then share them with everyone here – it is pretty much a dream job..
But, it is only part-time. So, my other work..
As of last winter, I am learning the dark art of boot fitting at Sole Bootlab – learning how to choose, fit, and deliver the perfect ski boot for whoever might be coming through Chamonix. Sole have an incredible reputation as the boot fitters for the freeride elite as well as being known for helping people with complicated feet finally get a boot that works for them.
The breadth of customer that comes in is inspiring and the team simply awesome. I could not have had a better season last year and, with plenty left to learn, I cannot wait to go back this winter.
As a result of my writing on my blog, I have another string to my bow – content production. This comes and goes throughout the year but has involved writing content for The North Face Strava running group, writing for Sidetracked Magazine and filming for Vodafone. All of this is based around me getting outdoors as much as possible and so is a great excuse to say yes to whatever adventures come my way!
Finally, as an extension of the content production and general fixing, I have been working on a scripted feature film based in Chamonix that has seen me filming on the north face of the Eiger, shooting from helicopters, and being a climbing double. This is an ongoing project with plenty more to come so watch this space!
An epiphany – we are all f*cked and will be working until we are dead
Phew. So that all sounds like a lot of work but do not worry, I certainly do not work all the time. I moved to Chamonix because I realised that my life in London was based around working hard to buy a future.
My background was in technology and I had a few startups – that, as most do, catastrophically imploded. As I was recovering from the failure of my last venture I had an epiphany. My whole motivation for the success of the business was to build an app, sell it for millions, and then buy a chalet in the mountains and climb all the time. This, I realised, was putting a lot eggs in one basket; what if I never succeeded? What if I don’t survive long enough to see it become a reality? What if I do finally make it but then I am too old to enjoy it all?
With life expectancy increasing and retirement ages already rising regularly, I am under no delusions that by the time I am 65 the retirement age will be way higher. By the time I reach this new number it will likely be higher still, ever out of reach. Our generation will not retire, we will work until the end.
If that is the case, I want to work doing what I love and live a life I am happy with now, not one that I am counting down the days to accomplish.
So I made a change – both in my perspective and in my life. I moved to Chamonix and have worked hard to build a life that is balanced. That allows me to love the time I am spending right now and to be happy continuing in this way until my time comes.
Finding a balance
For me, the balance is sufficient time in the mountains. I need it. If I don’t get out regularly I find myself slipping into self-destructive behavioural patterns and I can spiral down a rabbit hole. It might sound easy to just get outside more but it is by no means a walk in the park and it takes sacrifice and commitment to make it work.
I don’t ask for sympathy as this is my life and the life I have chosen but it does not come for free.
Take this winter for example. It was the winter of all winters, the one we will be talking about for years to come. I wanted to make the most of it and needed some motivation to keep me committed. Nick Draper, of Eyebright Adventures, and I were talking about the mythical 100 days of skiing in a season, a tough challenge that is mostly completed by guides/ski instructors or ski bums, rarely by people working in non-ski jobs. In a drunken bet, he agreed to buy me dinner at Munchies, a local restaurant, if I reached 100 days by 1st May. I threw myself into the challenge.
To complete it, I would need to ski 5 days per week for 20 weeks. I know, poor me, I can feel your hearts bleeding in sympathy..
However, during this time I was also working 28 hours per week at Sole and 20 hour with The North Face. This somewhat complicated things. With careful planning and some good juggling skills, though, come 1st May I hit day 101 – check out my little infographic here.
I will be honeI will be honest, some days were less than stellar – think one lap of Brevent at lunchtime on a two-hour break – but I also skied my first 5.1 extreme ski, skied Mont Blanc, and also Les Droites in a 19 hour beast of a day. It was the winter I learned to ski.
I was either eating, sleeping, working or skiing for 20 weeks and come May I was completely tapped out. I think I slept for a week.
But wow, this was a winter I will never forget. It might not have been a sustainable balance but I made my rent, delivered on work, and skied a tonne.
Making life work in Chamonix
In short, I have not got a clue – I know I do not have it all figured out. I still have moments where I crave a little more stability yet, for now, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am very fortunate to work with amazing people, doing awesome things, that all allow me to get outside as much as I can and keep a semblance of balance.
I do not recommend everyone choose this path – hey, if you did, the mountains would be too busy – but it works for me and it is sustainable. There are thousands of people here, and millions worldwide who have their own strategy for this way of life, if you do it too, tell me how you make it work!