Chamonix is a mecca for extreme sports in France.
You get a sense of it the first time you walk into town - I had never seen so many pharmacies with knee, arm, neck braces displayed on their windows.
Flying to Geneva is the easiest way to get to Chamonix which is only an hour and fifteen minutes from the airport. There were multiple shuttle services operated by mostly Brits that you can book for around 20 euros (tip: definitely, book in advance).
The week we were there was one of the warmest of the season. It hadn’t snowed in at least four weeks and the locals were desperate for it (tough season for Europe in general). However, because of the high altitude there was still plenty of snow to please an East coast skier and if you want to go ski touring, there was definitely enough to play around with.
The town itself is charming with a main street lined with high end boutiques and specialty shops that range from Patagonia to Artyrex to Leica and endless amounts of local food and wine purveyors.
Finding a fun bar or a restaurant is easy in Chamonix. For starters: the après ski scene is pretty epic (on more than one night there was table dancing). As for dining out we could not get enough fondue and raclette and really enjoyed all of the local wine (altesse and monduese in particular) and liqueurs (genépi and chartreuse) . I can tell you from experience that for some reason it's actually very difficult to get hungover in Chamonix. Maybe it's all of fresh air? Whatever the reason it just gave me one more reason to love the place.
The Chamonix region is made up of five different mountains that you can get to using the free public bus. From what we experienced, most of the slopes are pretty advanced - definitely not recommended for beginners. They all have their own charm, but Valley Blanche is a must see if you want to experience glaciers. It is recommended to have a guide with you at all times, but I can see how locals could hit those slopes by themselves. The backside of the Aiguille de Midi is Courmayeur in Italy. We did not get a chance to ski down to that town due to the conditions, but will definitely plan on doing on my next visit.
Off-piste in Chamonix is on a different level. I had never seen slopes with this amount of off-piste skiing. If you want, you don’t have to ski on the runs at all.
Hadley and I ended up renting fat bikes, on one of the days when the slopes got shut down due to high winds. After you forget about the ridiculousness of the width of the tires, these bikes are actually a lot of fun in the snow. most French towns in the area were connected with xc-ski track and running trails. We were told to take those trails. Most important tip! Wide tires don’t mean that you will have traction on ice. We learned it the hard way. Also, get used to getting a lot of attention. Everywhere we went people came up to us and started taking pictures.
Annecy & Geneva:
The town of Annecy was one highlights of the trip. It's a beautiful quaint town that sits on a pristine lake. Apparently this is where fashionable Parisians hangout in the summer. Take some time to walk around the town by foot and then get in the car and drive around the lake. If you have time - rent a kayak or paddle boat and get out on the water.
We decided to spend our last night in Geneva. The best way to explore a city is to get on a bicycles, but we did not have the luxury, so ended up walking a lot. Even though, I had been to Geneva before, I had never really explored the city. The old town - around an hour of walking from city center - is worth the visit. All of the buildings are painted in beautiful pastel and it's just very quaint and charming. There are a lot of nice clothing boutiques, design shops and cafes just about everywhere you look. On the way back, we came across an awesome skatepark where BMX kids were getting some serious air - everytime, I see BMX kids, I always ask myself why I picked skateboarding over bmx when I was younger. Anyways, the point being there's a lot more to Geneva than high end shopping that people often associate it with.
This trip definitely cost less than a trip to the West coast (with comparable skiing like California and Colorado) and included seeing a totally different country and culture. Suffice it to say, I am already planning a trip to Chamonix in the summer for mountain biking.
Daghan Perker is a creative director, photographer, and an athlete. You can see more of his work on his instagram handle @dperker He is also a founding member of tobedetermined.cc