In February 2018, I went on my first solo vacation. After skiing with my family in the US during my Christmas vacation, I decided I wanted to ski in France. My family told me that I had to ski in the Alps. I thought “what an unforgettable experience that would be!” and “When are you ever going to have this opportunity again?” So, I went for it!
I was worried this trip would be expensive, but traveling alone and as a young adult helped with my budget. I decided to stay at the Auberge de Jeunesse, a youth hostel in Chamonix (you don’t have to be a twenty-something to stay there though!). At the hostel there was also a package that included a ski pass along with the price of lodging and meals. For 4 nights, 4 days of skiing and adventuring, rental equipment, breakfast and dinner, it cost about 300 euros. With the ski pass I had access to the buses, all of the ski stations, and some sight seeing options!
Off to Ski!
On my first day in Chamonix I took a few trains from Annecy, another city in the region that I was visiting and arrived at my hostel in the morning. Luckily there was a train stop at Les Pèlerins (the pilgrims) only a 10 minute walk away from the hostel, so I didn’t have to go take a bus or walk from Chamonix center. When I arrived in the morning I was given my ski pass, but I couldn’t have access to my room until 5:00 PM. Luckily the staff let me leave my stuff in the office while I went out and explored. I was not sure where to start my adventure, but the staff was very helpful and gave me recommendations of where to go and pointed everything out on a map for me.
I told the staff member that I was not a beginning skier, but I preferred skiing on more easy and calm trails because I skied more frequently as a kid than I have as a young adult. He recommended La Flégère because there it had big wide trails out in the sunshine. Once I got my ski rentals, I hopped on a bus and headed to the station. I ended up missing my stop because it was hard to see and hear on the crowded bus, but when the bus turned around at the end of the line I rode it back to where I was supposed to be. Once I got there, I saw that there was a booth to buy ski passes and the line for the gondola up to the mountain, but there was no lodge at the bottom with lockers to store my snow boots and purse that I brought with me. I wondered by everyone was wearing their ski boots on the bus and why they all had little backpacks. I couldn’t ski with my extra boots and purse so I had to go back to the hostel and put them away in a locker at in the ski atelier.
When I got back to the gondola it was around 1:30 PM. I decided to eat a granola bar and some dried figs for lunch because I didn’t want to get up there too late. To ride the gondola (and some of the chair lifts) you have to scan you ski pass. Everyone had little pockets on their coat sleeves near their wrists so they could easy keep their pass there to scan it. I didn’t have one of those so I kept my pass in my chest pocket, which was awkward to try to scan, so I ended up having to take it out. A couple days later I figured out it was easier to just put the card in my mitten. After waiting in line for 15 minutes because there are only two large gondola cabins for this station, I was off to ski! The ride up to the station was kind of scary, not because I was scared heights, but because I couldn’t see the ski station from below so I imagined myself skiing down the steep part of the mountain like someone going hors-piste (off-trail skiing, which is what Chamonix is known for). Once I got to the station everything was fine, and I saw that the trails were not scary like what it looks like from below.
In France, the ski trail ratings are different from the US, where you have Green Circles for Easy, Blue Circles for Intermediate, Black Diamonds for Advanced, and Double Black Diamonds for Extremely Difficult trails. In France the ratings are Green for Very Easy (usually shorter trails for people learning), Blue for Easy, Red for Difficult, and Black for Very Difficult. On this first day of skiing, I only stayed on Blue and Green trails.
The green trails that I did were easy and fun. My favorite Green trail was called Trappe, which had the option to go left and continue normally down the trail, or go right and ski down a short steep hill to go fast and then around some cones if you wanted to. My favorite blue trail was called Retour Flègere, which had a some flatter slopes and a gorgeous view of Mont Blanc. Chavanne, the other big blue trail that I went on was wide and more difficult than I was used to. There are general ratings for the pistes (trails), but at each station the difficulty level can vary. That trail was steeper and not as well groomed that what I was used to so I had to be careful going down. I don’t know if it was harder because it wasn’t well groomed, it had been heavily skied on , or if there is just more snow in the Alps than what I’m used to. My leg muscles even got sore turning down the trail!
I skied until 4:30 or 5:00 PM then headed over to the gondola to get back down. The wait was not fun because I was cold and hungry and it was very crowded. Once I got back to the hostel, I settled into my room, took a nice hot shower, then headed to dinner which was at 7:45 PM, normal for the French, but a little late for me. Dinner that night was Fondue, typical for the Haute-Savoie region in the French Alps. Normally I eat a vegan diet, but when traveling in France it can be difficult so I decided to just worry about being vegetarian on this trip. I had a tomato salad instead of ham because I was veggie, pieces of baguette dipped in the melted cheese, and a salad with a typical French mustard vinaigrette. At the end of dinner I was exhausted from finding my way around and skiing so I went straight to bed wondering what I was going to do the next day.
Stay tuned for the next post to find out what other adventures I had in Chamonix!
À la prochaine,