The name Chamonix is whispered in hushed tones in ski bars the world over for its steep, aggressive lines and treacherous couloirs. As Greg Stump said in his 1988 masterpiece “The Blizzard of Ahhh’s,” this French mountain town is the extreme skiing capital of Europe. He goes on to claim that 50 to 60 alpinists die here every year. While that stat is both scary and pretty accurate, don’t let it put you off this alpine paradise.
I have skied in Chamonix my whole life and now call the valley home. Growing up, I loved nothing more than straight-lining from the top of the legendary Grand Montets all the way down to the parking lot.
But after suffering a traumatic brain injury in 2010—which I sustained neither on skis nor in Chamonix—I was forced to relearn everything, including skiing. Needless to say, it took more than a few turns and a handful of helpers to get me back to where I was.
The L’Aiguille du Midi cable car will take you and your skis to 12,604 feet. Photo: Morgan Bodet
On a sunny spring day four years after my accident and after four years of begging someone to take me back to the summit of Grand Montets, I once again got to ski from the very top. I had to be carried down more than 200 metal stairs from the top of the cable car on a plastic chair by two loyal friends because I’m still a bit wobbly from my fall. All of the instructors who had helped get me back on skis since the accident joined me on this monumental day. I gingerly side-slipped down most of the first steep wall. Then, after building my confidence, and appreciating being back where many thought I’d never be able to ski again, I continued my way down before joining the piste near the top of the La Herse chairlift.
I tell this story with the hope of dispelling myths about this amazing valley. Yes, there are plenty of highly technical couloirs and faces, but with the proper guidance, preparation, and the right conditions, any decent skier can take a sip of Chamonix’s legendary cocktail. Hell, I skied (a variation of) one of its famous routes and I couldn’t even walk down the stairs by myself.