Chamonix was a place I had never been in all my years as a skier, so this trip was a real treat. Kye Petersen and I were here with an Oakley film crew to document our steps as we scouted lines for an upcoming late-spring trip. Chamonix is not a place to be taken lightly -- danger lurks around every corner, and you're never actually safe until you are at the valley floor drinking a beer with your bros, reflecting on the day's adventure. It was unlike anything I have ever done. One day at a time and working our way into it was the routine.
For the most part, the snow was hardpack. This made the steeps even steeper, and the degrees of the runs here are the real deal (most of these areas have been climbed and that's where the steepness ratings come from). In addition, I was skiing on powder skis the entire time, so it was an added challenge to stay focused on the hardpack conditions. No-fall skiing was the name of the game, and focus was the main concern as we practiced ice climbing, familiarizing ourselves with crampons, ice tools, rappelling and other needed bits of exposure to the world of Chamonix. Skiing with a much heavier pack than usual filled with gear you normally wouldn't carry at your local ski area is something that definitely keeps you mindful of each turn.
We did a lot of skiing on and around glaciers. Each day was filled with some sort of hike/skin or rappel to get to a line. 9000 vert runs loom off the Aiguille Du Midi and even 11,000 vert off the Mont Blanc. This place is big and real. Fear of rock fall, falling into a crevice, avalanche, serac fall, or a small mistake (like a crash) are in the back of your mind during every run.
The bottom line? The lifts take you to places that -- in other parts of the world -- would take many hours to climb to from the bottom. There are regular ski runs in the valley, but that wasn't our program. We went for the mind-altering experience of being in these mountains, and skiing around with some seasoned American Mountain Freaks gave us a look into what Chamonix is truly all about. It's clear why people come here year after year: In this place, it doesn't matter how good you are or how rad you think you are. Looking around you see people doing things much crazier than you and what you're doing doesn't really matter other than getting down in one piece.
... Which, of course, is another reason why a few celebratory beers are in order at the end of every day on the valley floor. You made it out alive, and that's a big enough feat in itself.