Vive la (snowboarding in) France!

Posted by jswt | Posted in France - Chamonix, General | Posted on 23-12-2009

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So this morning (Weds) I hopped on a bus to Chamonix in France. It’s this long valley region in the Alps with a whole schwack o resorts… Of course, things being as they are, forces conspired against me.

With snowboard in hand, I got on the bus at the airport and was the only one on a double decker. Enjoyed the ride to the first stop at city centre where there were a ton of other people waiting, and I was asked to exit the bus. Seems there was a rockslide on the main road to Chamonix, and we had to wait for a smaller bus that would fit under the bridges on the second road. North American efficiency would likely lead to the call for a new bus to have one delivered about the same time that ours arrived. Here though, that’s when they called the other bus driver to go to the bus depot in the suburbs and pick one up to drive into the city centre.

Well over 90 minutes later, we were on the road again and it was an amazing ride into France and up into enormous canyons and tunneling through mountainsides (These jagged steep peaks give the Rockies a run for their money).

Part way through the ride, I realize that though I’d booked a ski-shuttle through the website, I’d been lumped into a group of tours all chartered on the same bus, which was not actually going to any of the resorts in Chamonix, but continuing on with a bus tour of the alps. I hopped off at the Chamonix stop, and luckily the town has a fantastic free shuttle service that runs in a constant loop. Before catching one of the shuttles, I popped my head into a rental shop and looked for the snowboarding-stoner-guy (there’s always at least one in a rental shop) and asked him what I should be pointing myself towards for good snow and off-piste terrain. He said there was no decision – it was Les Grands Montets which had just had 25cm+ of snow the night before.

Of course, once I get there I find out that 2/3 of the mountain is currently closed due to “too much snow”. Having come all that way (and without a bus home until 5pm) I figured I’d make the most of it and have some fun on what was open.

Then the ticket agent informs me that their credit card machine is broken.
And they only take Euros (of which I have none).
And they don’t normally do it, but they can convert the Swiss Francs I’ve got.
It’ll be 70.
I’ve got 40 left after buying breakfast.

In the end the woman working the counter took pity on me, and said I couldn’t have come all the way from Canada not to play in the snow, and she sold me a child’s ticket which somehow ended up getting me back 5 euros.

So I eagerly busted up the gondola and wanted to grab some fuel before riding.
Of course, the cards aren’t working at the top of the mountain either.
And i have only 5 euros.

Again, sympathy prevailed and the girl at the counter hooked me up with a great sandwich and a drink for about half what it should have cost… Back home, they would have told me to f’off, but I seriously appreciate the French willingness to help out and sway to the winds of judgement. Vive la France!

So, fueled up and halfway up the resort, I was ready to hit it, and looked outside and realized what I was getting myself into: Enormous tree free powder fields splayed endlessly out from the peaks and glaciers far overhead. My first run led me into waist deep fresh untouched powder just off the main chair. I could have gone home happy after that one beautiful run, and it just kept getting better from there. About an hour in, they opened another chair into a bowl that they’d finished blasting, and I got to spend all afternoon hitting fresh tracks on huge wide open faces… Sooooooooo good.

Took a midafternoon break, and since the card machines were working again, I treated myself to the frenchest snack I could sort out: French onion soup, a local beer, vin chaud (mulled wine) and a crepe.

Even without the gondola to the top open, there was so much wide open challenging terrain and tit-deep snow, my day was filled with what was on tap, and my legs were giving out way before I wanted to stop. After riding out, I found a great pub near the bus station that worked out wonderfully for some aprez-ski until my bus came and shuttled me uneventfully back to Geneva.

So in all, it was a bit of a challenging effort to get there, but smiles and good manners thwarted those negative forces, and thanks to French hospitality, I had one of the best days of riding of my life at Les Grands Montets.

Ahhhhhh oui!