Last weekend I had my most expensive single day of skiing, but it was worth it!
I had been in Geneva for a business trip until Friday afternoon, and the sensible thing to do would have been to take the Saturday noon flight back to the US. Instead, at my own expense, I rented a car, stayed in a Chamonix hotel 2 nights, rented skis (I brought my own boots & other gear), skied Saturday, and drove back to Geneva airport Sunday. I would have liked to stay another day or two but needed to be at work Monday.
The only ski area still open near Chamonix was Les Grands Montets. From the village of Argentière, you take a cable car up to the base of the other lifts, at elevation 1970 m (6460 ft):
This is the Bochard gondola and Marmottons chair at Les Grands Montets. The tram building is behind me. Those were the only three lifts open.
At this point it was raining slightly--not a good sign. Fortunately, the rain stopped soon, and in any case slightly above this elevation the precipitation fell as snow.
Never having been to this area, I started small on the Marmottons chair. New, heavy snow had fallen overnight. The snow at the bottom (about where the gondola crosses over the piste) was saturated with water with a sudden transition where your skis grab. First chair on Marmottons:
The Bochard gondola is the second highest lift, with top elevation 2765 m (9070 ft). The top of the gondola was in the clouds, with piste markers barely visible:
Once below the clouds, however, the views were spectacular. The tram is visible to the left in this photo:
This is the piste down from the gondola (classified Red on the European scale of Green-Blue-Red-Black):
The village of Argentière is visible in the valley:
Plenty of fresh tracks could be had, though the snow was very heavy and damp:
View looking back toward the tram building (housing both the upper terminal of the lower tram, and the lower terminal of the upper tram, along with the restaurant and shops):
The tram ascends to 3275 m (10740 ft). Once you arrive there is a long staircase down to the snow:
Behind me on the platform is a small restaurant with spectacular views on clear days. The customers seemed to all be regulars and know the cook; everybody used the less formal "tu" form of address rather than "vous." He was making omelettes to order.
I had been prepared to strap my skis to my pack, but everybody else was carrying theirs by hand so I did the same. Looking back up toward the tram terminal:
Boarders dropping into the bowl at the start of the Point de Vue and Plyônes pistes:
Looking back up the bowl at the start of Point de Vue and Pylônes pistes; the gap in the rocks corresponds to the entrance with the boarders in the previous shot; the dots at left are people:
There was a cloud layer to get through. The piste is marked by poles which are barely visible. There's a glacier over to the right somewhere:
Rock face along the edge of Pylônes piste:
Last couple of views:
The heavy snow was better than than ice and rocks, but a challenge for me as someone more accustomed to US East Coast hard pack. The skis I rented were not great for the conditions--Dynastar Legend, maybe 83mm underfoot. I definitely had the skinniest, crappiest skis of anybody I saw on the tram (and the worst technique of anybody I saw sking down off the tram).
Crowds were completely nonexisent, and on Pylônes piste I was nearly alone. It is very wide, and I would occasionally see someone in the distance. I never saw a ski patroller, and I expect that if I had injured myself I would have waited a long time before being helped! I would assume that mid-season is more crowded.
View from my hotel room (Mercure Chamonix):
Total personal cost for 1 day of skiing, including car, hotel, lift tickets, etc: about EUR 500 ($650).
Desire to go back: intense.
Edited by jeff2010 - 5/16/12 at 3:43am