I know now, love at first sight does exist. It’s called Chamonix. Roughly three hours’ drive from Milan, Chamonix is situated in the Haute-Savoie region of France. It is bordered by Switzerland and Italy and lies below the majestic Aiguilles de Chamonix mountain range which peaks at the top of Mont Blanc (4810m – the highest in Western Europe).
Approaching the town, we drove down the bendy road lined on either side with hundreds of spruce and larch trees (your typical Christmas trees which are abundant in the area). And there, tucked away in the valley, lay a cosy little storybook town overshadowed by the Swiss Alps. Everything covered in soft, white powder; smoke puffing out of a chimney here and there in an attempt to warm up the frosty air.
On arrival, we stopped for a quick meal at La Petit Kitchen – a favourite breakfast spot for many who heads out for the ski slopes disgustingly early in the morning (in my eyes anything before 9am is disgustingly early when it’s that cold and everything is covered in snow – I don’t care how much you love skiing).
Everyone apparently knows that Chamonix is one of the places to go skiing – Italians, Germans, Frenchies, the lot. I even heard some Auzzie accents here and there.
Most schools close for two solid weeks in February and then this little French town (along with many other towns famous for their great ski slopes) turns into a full-on, buzzing holiday resort. I don’t get some places in Europe though. First, they all have this insanely long summer holiday in August. Then it’s time off over Christmas because, you know, it’s Christmas. Next, just when you’d think everyone is probably into the swing of things at work and school, they pack their skis and off into the mountains they go. And, as if that hasn’t been enough, before you know it, it’s Easter. Hello more holidays. Am I the only one struggling with the math here?!
Waking up early the next morning, I stood staring at a cloud-covered Mont Blanc through the glass kitchen door. I simply couldn’t wait to see this majestic white giant face to face with no clouds in the way.
Donning our ski wear, we headed out to one of the nearby slopes where I was going to have my first ski experience. A ski lift ain’t no joke if you’ve never been on one before! Should you sit? Should you stand? Why is it so weird?! And then the uncertainty of when and where to let go and what waits for you behind the hill. Nevertheless, I made it. Without falling, I might add.
Once at the top, it felt like time stood still. White all around me with clear blue skies and the sun warming up my face. Up there it’s ice cold, yet warm at the same time. A beautiful confusion of time, space and temperature that you’ll only find deep in the mountains like here in Chamonix.
And so my first lesson commenced. My aim for they day? Mastering the snowplough. If you’re not familiar with skiing terms, snowploughing is the basic act of turning the front of your skis inwards in order to slow down, stop or turn. I tried and fell roughly 120 times but once I got the hang of it, I learned to turn in no time. I only once almost fell off the side of the mountain and got stuck in really deep snow. Not bad, huh?
Before I knew it I was going down various slopes from one side to the other in the shape of an S (even though it still required an incredible amount of concentration). No doubt it was lots of fun, but I still think snowboarding would have been much more natural and in general, easier for me. Maybe next time.
After something like four hours in the mountains, my back was off. We headed for Micro Brasserie for an ice cold (miniature) beer and a scrumptious burger. Then I tapped out for the day.
Early the next morning I jumped out of bed, grabbed my running shoes and headed out the door… NOT! I actually couldn’t get out of bed at all – at least not without a shriek of pain escaping my mouth with each slight movement. Damn you, snowplough!
Where’s your favourite skiing spots for beginners?