Greybird skies on the Agui du Midi.
After the Ski Mountaineering Word Championships in Champery, wet, dreary weather was forecast for the area. Our original plan was to spend a couple nights at the Bertol Hut in the shadow of the Matterhorn, but none of us were looking forward to a potential needle in a haystack search for the hut in whiteout conditions. We decided to head to Chamonix instead in hopes of skiing off the Agui de Midi on Sunday and what looked like the one nice day in the three day forecast. With all of us packing our duffel bags and ski bags to the 50lb limit, it was a struggle to fit all our gear both in and on top of the rental car and the rainy weather didn’t help.
We (Me, Zahan, Cary and Wick) were soon on our way into France with Pete Swenson and Monique Merrill following us in another rig with some of our gear the didn’t quite fit. It was nice to have Zahan, who grew up in Switzerland and speaks fluent French, at the driver’s seat. Although his Mario Andretti driving style wasn’t something I enjoy.
This photo is for my friend Chris B who loves dogs.
While in Champery, we had befriended one of the coaches from the Swiss Ski Mountaineering Team, Nicholas Combed, who told us to visit a ski shop, Bike Evasion on the way that was known to stock a fair bit of rando gear and owned by a guy named Dominik. Zahan had lost a pair of racing skins recently so it was a good excuse to make a pit stop and see what he had to offer and it was only a short detour from our route to Chamonix.
We found the store without much trouble, and it was obvious that the ski season was quickly coming to and end by the number of mountain bikes he had in the store. I’m not much of a mountain biker myself, but Pete and Cary are very strong riders and they were both in awe of the new KTM bikes he had. They ranged from super light road bikes to full on downhill bikes with an ungodly amount of travel. They looked pretty cool to me and even made me think about getting a bike this summer.
As we ventured deeper into the store, it was obvious the Dominique was an accomplished athlete by the number of trophies in the tech shop. I didn’t know that dog jouring was such a popular sport in Europe, but Dominique was the European Champion and had some pictures of him and his dogs on the wall to prove it. As a runner myself, I can see the benefit of a dog puling me up a hill and maybe on flatter sections of trail, but it would seem like shear terror to have one pulling me down any sort of slope. Man…those Europeans will do anything.
Dominique had two types of Colltex skins for sale. The red version was supposedly for wetter snow conditions, while the blue ones are made for drier, colder snow. It was a tough call for Zahan to make as far as which ones to buy, but in the end I think he went for the colder version, since most of the races in the states start in the early morning hours. I’ve definitely learned a lot over the past week about some of the ways to make your skins faster, but I’m not willing to let the secrets out just yet, since I need all the help I can get these days.
Soon enough we were back on the road and pulling into Chamonix. We didn’t have any lodging lined up so we stopped at the tourist center to see what was available and found some hostel style lodging for only 12 Euros a night. Not too bad really, considering one ride up the Agui du Midi tram is 38 Euros. We proceeded to the go to the office that gave weather and avalanche updates to see what we were in for the next couple days and it looked like Sunday was still looking good. The office was a dream come true for people that like to study routes and maps, and had an endless supply of information available to the climber/skier.
We moved on to the walk the streets for a bit and we found ourselves in another shop that had a great blend of gear for the freeride and light-is-right skier, and I’ve never seen a shop with so many ski crampons in stock. Most shops in the states probably buy only a few pair a time, but this store had bins full of them. On the ski pole rack we saw some super light poles that collapsed like a probe pole. I can imagine they weren’t very durable, but I could see how they would be useful for a climber who needed to carry their skis and poles up a route. Arc’teryx gear was very well represented in Chamonix and I even spotted a ski made by Pure Skis emblazoned with their logo.
Clearing skiers above Chamonix
As the sun got lower in the sky, the clouds began to lift and reveled the Agui du Midi and some of what lured so many people to Chamonix and the Alps. Handing seracs seemed to be glued to near vertical rock walls and smooth clean granite lite up like fire in the late day sun. Though I knew with such a big group, skiing some of the steeper terrain was out of the question, but I bought a guidebook for the area for future trips none the less. Sleeping wasn’t easy that night, but I was soon dreaming about skiing the Valle Blanche and looking up at Mont Blanc.
Part II tomorrow! Hopefully.