What’s So Good About Chamonix?

Chamonix is infuriating. The roads are pitted with potholes, but are unavoidable as the ski ‘resorts’ are so far apart and the bus service is ridiculous. The ski lifts are outdated and the pistes poorly maintained compared with the best in Europe. The mountain restaurants serve awful food at obscene prices and service to match, whereas a trip through the tunnel to Italy offers superb pasta for a bargain price. The infrastructure just cannot cope with the masses of visitors. So why do those visitors bother?

Because Chamonix is awesome!

I’d hesitate to call it a ski resort as there is barely enough to keep the average blue/red piste basher occupied for a week’s work-dodging, even if you include all five far-flung areas. But for mountaineers – with or without skis – it is a paradise. At least once you get above the smog-line.

I’ve been back in the UK for 2 weeks now and all these gripes are utterly meaningless when I think of the mountain adventures I could never have had elsewhere. I miss it, so here’s my highlights from the 2014-2015 season.

Argentiere Glacier

Argentiere Glacier

The early season was tough with a frustrating lack of snow – the clouds may not have been heavy with precipitation but they were, on occasion, pretty spectacular.

Geoff Harper's Fatbike Tour du Mont Blanc

Geoff Harper’s Fatbike Tour du Mont Blanc

The lack of snow was a blessing in disguise at it forced me to expand my horizons beyond skiing and climbing. And no ski resort can offer variety like Chamonix. Meeting Geoff Harper was the start of something special as I followed him through the season and through his training to become the first person to complete a winter Tour du Mont Blanc on a fatbike. The full story is coming soon….! I also hooked up with Sophie and Charley Radcliffe in a project for Sidetracked and Salomon to document their pursuit of new adventures. Alpine running in winter was another eye opener.

Sophie and Charley Radcliffe - "I run to live"

Sophie and Charley Radcliffe – “I run to live”

There was just about enough snow when the Freeride World Tour rolled into town. It was great fun to shoot the event, but the real bonus of the press pass was the opportunity to take the bubble through the clouds before dawn. In Chamonix it often seems like the stars are in disarray, but when they align, they do so with precision!

Pre-dawn cloud inversion in advance of the Chamonix leg of the Freeride World Tour

Pre-dawn cloud inversion in advance of the Chamonix leg of the Freeride World Tour

Le Tour plastered in snow, with Steve Walton and Whitedot Skis

Le Tour plastered in snow, with Steve Walton and Whitedot Skis

Only a few days later the snow hit and the sun shone. I had my first chance to shoot for Whitedot Skis with Steve Walton (above), and a couple of days later with James Thacker on a shoot for Chamonix based Off Piste Performance. This is when Chamonix came into it’s own; steep and deep, and despite everything I said above, nowhere is quite like it for fast hard freeriding.

Moodier skies and watery sunlight for a shoot with James Thacker of Off Piste Performance

Moodier skies and watery sunlight for a shoot with James Thacker of Off Piste Performance

In a complete change of pace and style I was engaged by the British Ski Academy to create some promo shots for their website. Having never photographed ski racing the challenge was one I relished – ski photography is so reliant on body shape and compared to unpredictable freeriders these kids had discipline in spades! (Sorry freeriders, let’s blame the different terrain…!!!)

DSC_1575-9

Discipline and angles; race training with the British Ski Academy.

Another great thing about Chamonix is that Italy is so close. And they have heliskiing! My first trip over (or, more accurately, under) the hill to ski in La Thuile was memorable – a lifelong dream realised and another chance to ski with the guys from Off Piste Performance. Had to get the classic heli shot.

What every skier dreams of....? The only way to ski La Thuile.

What every skier dreams of….? The only way to ski La Thuile.

Stripping a season’s worth of images down to a blog post has been difficult. Too difficult, it turns out, so there will be a “Part 2”! Keep your eyes peeled for the second installment later this week, but for now I’ll leave you with two shots from a very special day. The Compagnie du Mont Blanc graciously allowed Geoff and his bike to access the lifts. It gave Geoff some altitude training and me some awesome photo opportunities at the top of Brevent. It also gave the other lift users plenty to talk about… Maybe it’s sights like these that keep people coming back to this unique playground.

Fatbikes allow you to ride terrain you otherwise couldn't; but not everything!

Fatbikes allow you to ride terrain you otherwise couldn’t; but not everything!

Alpinism on wheels

Alpinism on wheels

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