Chamonix, France is one complicated valley. From crevasses to avalanches and a whole mess of Brits skiing on top of you in the backcountry (off-piste), it’s definitely not the easiest skiing in the world.
Chamonix Stoke: Seth Morrison “So Freaking Extreme” In Chamonix
However, with a little bit of education, the necessary gear, and the right people to show you the way, Chamonix has the best backcountry skiing in the entire world. That’s right, I said it– it’s the best in the world.
Before traveling to Chamonix with delusions of Blizzard of Aaahhh’s hop turns swirling in the brain, skiers must educate themselves on where they are going and how they must ski.
First off, successful completion of a Level 1 avalanche course is a prerequisite before skiing anything off-piste in the Chamonix Valley. With over 9,000 vertical feet from the top of the Aguille du Midi to the valley floor, the snowpack can vary drastically depending on elevation, aspect, and snowfall history. Assess snow, terrain, and weather accordingly because what might be blower, stable snow up-high could be a nightmare hard slab at mid elevation or monstrous wet slides at lower elevations.
Crevasses and glaciers dot the mountainous landscape of Chamonix and intimate knowledge of the terrain, glacier travel, and crevasse rescue can mean the difference between life and death. Get familiar with the inherent dangers and make sure to hire a guide for a day of crevasse rescue training before skiing the GNAR.
In addition to crevasse rescue techniques, basic rope work can take saavy skiers to the untracked with ease. Familiarity with roping up for glacial travel, rappelling (known as abseiling in Europe), and thorough knowledge of anchor systems are all required if you want to ski the best lines in Chamonix.
Employ A Guide (Trust Us…)
Somethings we have to be shown– especially in Chamonix. So in order to find the righteous path, hire a guide to get the lay of the land. We strongly recommend employing the services of Chamonix Experience as they are all English-speaking and will happily guide skiers through some of the sickest lines in the valley at a reasonable rate.
Basic Chamonix Climbing, Crevasse, And Mountaineering Gear
While gear lists can be found for objectives in the United States with ease, Chamonix is a little different. Required gear alternates based on the line. Needless to say, little modifications can save loads of time. However these are just the basic pieces of alpine climbing gear required for skiing glaciated terrain in Chamonix.
Note: Avalanche safety equipment (shovel, beacon, probe, airbag) are always recommended when skiing off-piste.
Rule of 2’s– Always split your gear evenly on you harness. For example, place 1 ice screw on the left loop of your harness, one on the right in case you get pinned on one side in a crevasse and can’t reach the piece of gear needed)
(1) Climbing Harness
(1) Belay Device
(1) 50m 8.1mm rope
(1) Grivel Daisy Chain + Twin Gate Carabiner
(attached to the neck or chest)
(1) Ice Axe
(2) 3m cord for prusik knots
(2) Ice Screw
(2) Pulley (one locking, one not)
Note: This is a very basic gear list. Depending on the objective, a variety of other tools, rope, and extensions may be required.
While Seth Morrison can be seen straight lining couloirs off the Aiguille, most of us need to take it slow, go from edge to edge, and ski smart. Part of skiing smart means taking your time, making strong turns, and exhibiting restraint. Bottomline, patience is not just a virtue in Chamonix, it’s the most powerful piece of gear in your pack.
Slow it down, ski the steep stuff well, and enjoy Chamonix!