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Chamonix is steep. I’m talking really steep. Maybe you’ve skied 55 degree slopes at New Hampshire’s Tuckerman Ravine, or Jackson Hole’s Corbett’s Couloir, or the Palisades at Squaw Valley. But nothing can quite prepare you for the scale of the mountains in the Chamonix Valley, where the steep skiing is longer and a lot bigger than most other places. When it gets really steep, don’t forget to pole plant and if necessary, do hop turns by picking up your skis in unison and turning them in the opposite direction across the hill.
The bad news: Accidents can and do happen. Take into account the massive scale and daunting pitch of everything in Chamonix. The good news: The Chamonix Valley has the best rescue service in the world. In France, national rescue insurance (called Carte Neige) is available to all for a reasonable fee. It can be purchased in Chamonix at the tourist office, and covers helicopter rescue in the Alps.
Your skis may get trashed. You will be sidestepping down 45-degree rocks and side slipping through rock chokes that are narrower than your skis. The less you care about your recently sharpened edges, the more fun you will have. If you’re that concerned about ruining your new skis, demo a pair when you get to Europe—that way you can avoid the airline’s excess baggage fees too.
When in Chamonix, wear a helmet. With easy access to some of the most extreme terrain in the world and lifts that can take you as far as 9,000 vertical feet above the valley floor, you’re going to want to protect yourself. Try Giro’s Revolver [$70], which is durable enough to protect your dome and ventilated enough to keep you cool when you overheat.
Sometimes you need to ski with a harness. There are gaping crevasses, seracs, and bergschrunds around every turn in Chamonix, so you’ll want a harness and a rope for rescue purposes. If you’re skiing in glaciated terrain—like Chamonix’s Vallee Blanche, a 10-mile off-piste glacial run off the Mont Blanc—go with a guide (hire a good one at www.chamonixskiguide.com). You can rent a harness from your guide, or bring Black Diamond’s Couloir Harness [$50], which is lightweight and packs into a ball the size of a soup can.