Last winter, while still in London, my training consisted of strength and conditioning, and road running. The running didn’t provide the most inspiring of environments but it served a purpose. At the same time, I saw friends out in Chamonix waking up and setting off to go ski tour up a mountain, enjoy the alpine dawn, and ski down in time for work.
One of the biggest items on my Alps tick list has been to do just that, it was the last straw that made me want to through it all in and move to Chamonix. Finally, after a choppy start to the winter, Sophie and I set off on our first ski tour. I’m hooked!
Meeting the team
As ski tours go, this was pretty tame, we were to meet at the bottom of the Brevent lift and skin up the home run, an easy angle but narrow black run that was far enough out of the way that the pisteurs wouldn’t get upset. Once up, we could then either take the lift down or ski back to town.
Though the commitment and technicality of the route couldn’t get any lower, we wanted to get a few tips and so recruited a little team to help us get off on the right foot.
First, we contacted Flynn Jackman, an Australian outdoor instructor who is living the dream in Chamonix right now as he has worked hard enough to take the winter off and go skiing and climbing. A lot. Always great to hang out with, we hadn’t seen him for a while so catching up was going to be awesome.
Next, we were contacted by Steve Wakeford, who has been regularly skinning up this route the last month as he is in recovery from a pretty terrible climbing accident. I had heard the story from a friend, Nick, and had met Steve once or twice in the pubs but this was the first time we would be out on the hill with him. Though still piecing himself back together, he is well on track and proved invaluable with advice and tips.
Lastly, we had Steve’s friend Ollie. I only had a brief chat with him but hope to get to know him more over the winter.
Setting off on our first ski tour
Sophie and I got everything packed up the night before as we needed to be at the lift for 6.15am. Lots of new kit was laid out and we were excited to finally be using our own skis. Choosing, and then buying, skis is a bit of a minefield as we seemed to be getting a lot of conflicting advice. When you’re about to spend rather a lot of money on it all, it gets a little scarier too. We took the plunge and, after one day, reckon we didn’t do too badly!
Pulling up a few minutes late, we got our kit out and set about getting ready. I’d told the guys we were complete beginners but I don’t think they realised we hadn’t even put skins on skis before let alone clip into Dynafit bindings.. Anyway, a few minutes later and we were off.
The sun was just starting to come round the mountains and I knew we were in for a treat. Chamonix as seen low dense cloud for a number of weeks but we were about to be greeted by a bluebird day. Perfect.
After a few hundred metres, I felt I had the knack and could settle into catching up with Flynn and getting to know Steve and Ollie better. Going at a steady pace, we were making good progress but still able to hold a conversation.
Another vertical KM
You might have read about Sophie and my escapades on the intimidating Vertical KM in Chamonix, the route we were taking today would cover the same vertical ground but at a mellower, more skiable angle. Needless to say, 1000m of ascent is a lot and, with the rise in Sophie and my training at the moment, was bracing myself for a tough morning.
With a steady pace, we started ticking off the vertical metres. My new boots were not the most comfortable but I had been warned it will take a few sessions to properly bed in. Add to that my poor technique, and I reckon they’ll be superb once dialled!
With the sun coming up, chatting away with new friends, we ground quickly fell beneath us. Well, I say quickly, it was the best part of two and a half hours but the time flew. Coming out onto the main pistes, and climbing the last few hundred metres, we were greeted by all the holidaymakers rushing off the first lift.
What goes up must come down
Steve is still unable to ski with all sorts of metal spikes and plates in his body and so he left us to take the lift down. Ollie had to rush off and get to work and so that left good ol’ Flynn to see us safely back down to the valley. The home run is pretty mellow but graded a black as it is pretty narrow with a lot of exposure on the side of the piste.
The new boots really started to take their toll on this run down and after a 10 minutes we encouraged Flynn to leave us behind as we were suffering a little. As he raced off, Sophie and I undid our boots and sat back, taking in our morning. It was not even 10am and we had been out and about for 4 hours, worked up a good sweat, and had ticked off one of our dream activities in Chamonix.
After a brief rest, we squished our feet back in and headed down, making the bottom in no time at all. Not tempted by one last run, we headed straight back to the car to rest our non-ski-hardened feet and bask in the satisfaction of an awesome morning in the hills.
Here is to many more with new and old friends alike!