Europe: Chamonix and all the trimmings

How many francs would a French franc be if a French franc could be Swiss? And how many dollars is that? Man, can’t wait for the introduction of the euro in a couple years. But then, who cares? A week like this past one in Chamonix is hard to put a price on, you know, priceless–and it’s true, they don’t take American Express anywhere over here. Bring a Visa or starve.

We rolled into Cham-gri-la on Wednesday afternoon via the Col des Montets and Argentiere. It’s been a warm winter so far in all of Europe, but the rain from earlier in the week finally turned to snow; we’ve been getting this pattern of one day snow, one day clear and things are looking up.

Chamonix is everything you could ask for in a resort town (everyone already knows about the terrain, right?)–more of a city, really. It’s one of those rare Euro places where everyone wears a harness even when riding the resorts-glacierville around here. It’s also one of the few places where the same harness and ice-screw toting snowboard bums can hook with (or at least stare at) Europe’s finest. The sidewalks in Cham are more like catwalks and girls actually dress in all the stuff we only see in fashion magazines back home. This is all, of course, according to my bros (my girlfriend has internet access).

While the scenery in town is pretty killer, it’d be safe to say that there is no view in snowboarding that compares with the one from the top on the Grand Montets.

We happened to be standing near the tram station when it opened on Thursday-a serious case of right place, right time because the Grand Montets gets tracked out (except for the gnar) at about the rate ofSnowbird.

Brevent, another resort near town, is a favorite with locals. Big, easy access chutes (I think chute in French might mean fall, really); looks a bit like Verbier and doesn’t have the glacial hazards of Les Grand Montets or the Aguille du Midi.

We rode the Aguille on Saturday with some friends from town–guide, and photog Rene Robert, and young gun Marco Siffredi (Marco’s best known for his descent of the Nant Blanc on the Aguille Verte last June–considered the heaviest extreme snowboard descent to date.). With them leading the way, it was a follow the tracks in front of you run through the glacier and down the Mer du Glace back toward town. No one was around because it was cloudy in town and seemed like a bad weather day, but 6,000 feet higher, it was insane. One of the most memorable runs in this poor snowboarder’s life.

It’s cool hanging over here; snowboard culture (I don’t mean being the cool guy at your Orange County high school because you can do a switch 540) is alive and well. The center of the ride vibe is at La Cantina (formerly the Freeride Chalet) in town–a hotel sort of literal boarding house, bar, club, hangout. Swing by when you get into town, chill in the Apres Surf tent or tune your board. You’ll have more new riding friends in a day than in a year back home. Good Mexi food, too.

Just so you know: if coming from Courmayeur Italy, the Mont Blanc tunnel is still closed from the fire last year.

Tomorrow we’re off to Verbier, home of the Red Bull Freeriding event and hottie ripper Sophie Shaad, who we’ll be trying to keep up with on the boney and ballsy slopes of southern Switzerland. I’ll keep you posted.