Flylow athlete Lucy Sackbauer
looks back at one of the highlights of her winter: a trip to skiing's mecca, Chamonix, France. You can follow Lucy's adventures here
By the end of January, it was shaping up to be the El Ni o winter everyone was predicting. After countless powder days at Alta Ski Area, switching between hero days and storm skiing, I was ready for the next adventure of my winter: Chamonix, France.
I was asked by many, Why are you going there? And I was told by many that February isn't the month to go. It s best to wait for March or April.
The answer to the first was obvious: I m going to ski.
And my thoughts on my timing of the trip: The ticket is booked and I m going.
Thursday, February 11th
6 p.m. Chamonix, France. We ve arrived. Chamonix is your quintessential European mountain town. Christmas lights are strung from building to building, the windows of bars and restaurants fogged from crowds of warm bodies drinking beer and families enjoying warm pots of fondue. Most importantly it s nuking. The streets are already covered and fat flakes fall on my smiling face as I peer up into the night sky.
Friday, February 12th
9 a.m. Brevent, France. Six day, unlimited pass purchased. The clouds hang low but the stoke is high. Straight from the gondola we head to the tram. A quarter of the size of the one at Snowbird, the tram emerges from the clouds. Only a small handful of people pile in. Avalanche rescue gear on our backs and beacons across our chests we pass by a sign that reads Avalanche Terrain.
Hailey and I look to each other in agreement that we have each other s back. Without a guide, good visibility, or really any sense of direction, we follow a ski instructor and his clients through a maze of rocks, wind lips, and side steps to an area with untouched snow. Hailey and I peer over the edge, surveying the new snow, lightly covered tracks, and what appeared to be a previous slide path. With a nod of approval from the instructor we pointed our skis down the hill, skiing one at a time. Snow report: deep, creamy, and fun. Thank you, Alps.
Saturday, February 13th
8 a.m. Courmayeur, Italy. Turns out you need a passport to travel to Italy from France. Who knew? After a slight delay, our Skida bus dropped us at the base of the Hellroaring Tram to meet up with familiar faces from back home, athletes competing on the Freeride World Tour. They had taken a few runs before we had arrived and without divulging too much detail, they d told us the snow was deep. We got off mid station due to limited visibility up top. Our massive mob split off into smaller groups, diverting to different lift line areas of the tram.
The avalanche gates reminded me of skiing in Japan but there was no correlation in the density of snow. It was heavier. You had to find the perfect balance on your skis to be able to move through it without tomahawking forward. Let s just say that despite being heavy, it was the deepest snow of my life! The best part of the day: the couloir skiing. Not couloirs like you would picture. These were narrow alleyways of thin snow between beautiful stone houses and buildings. With each run they got more technical as the sun heated them, melting away our tracks and the snow.
Sunday, February 14th (Valentine s Day)
Argentierre, Grand Montets, France. Sometimes the untracked runs lead to, well, we weren't sure where. What we thought was a wide open powder field eventually turned into a warm, spring luge course through tight willows that ended up snaking through neighborhoods, leading us to a bus stop a couple of miles below the resort we had started at. Type two fun. A special shout out to my Valentine, who from across the ocean arranged a special delivery of wine and cheese. We feasted like the French!
Monday, February 15th
Brevent, France. Pow day. Turns out powder panic is universal. Crowds of people lingered, waiting for the lifts to open. Pro tip: You better be ready to push because the Euros are aggressive and the lifties don t care which row goes first. Our first few runs of low visibility and extreme vertigo were later rewarded with a wide open bowl full of fast, fresh turns.
Tuesday, February 16th
Chamonix Valley, France. If you ve never been to Chamonix, get a guide, or at least a friend who really knows the snow stability and where they are going. This was my favorite day of the trip. Phil took us on one unforgettable run at each of the four different resorts and ended the day with hot wine on the hillside. Stop 1 La tour. Here we got a glimpse of Switzerland and how cold the Alps really are. The views of the stark white mountains and the blue sky made you quickly forget how cold your toes were. Once the crowds began to fill the lines we piled in his VW and headed to Aguille du Midi. Pre de Rocker, which started with an open field of playful pillows was his top to bottom run of choice.
Next stop, Brevent for some real couloir skiing. The group s enthusiasm quickly became apparent. Leading up to the ENSA couloir was some of the most picturesque views I have ever seen. We finished off the day on the Grand Montet glacier, where the 360 degree views at the top of the tram were truly unreal. This is another staircase that I never want to be walking down with powder panicked Euros it was so steep! After much prodding on my part, Phil found us a mountainside refuge. We all raised a glass to another great day in the mountains.
Wednesday, February 17th
We had to do something touristy. So we skied the VB, as the locals say. And touristy it was! But also so incredibly beautiful and expansive. And lines for days. We stuck to what seemed a common route down and Andreas (our Italian guide) made sure we didn t stray too far from his path.
Thursday, February 18th
Rest day. How much cheese and chocolate can we fit in our suitcase before we exceed the weight limit?
Friday, February 19th
Courmayeur, Italy. Phil had so much fun with us three days ago that he decided to show us what Italy had to offer. We skied everything from trees and soft, snow sluffed couloirs, to bluebird sugar snow. We downed an espresso at the top of Hellbronner and watched Lindsey Vonn race during our lunch break. Mont Blanc even gave us a glimpse of her rugged spines. A perfect day to end the trip! Lucy Sackbauer