THE GNAR HORIZONS OF OFF PISTE CHAMONIX
Why come to Chamonix? Who better to ask than Off Piste Performance instructor and member of the Jottnar Pro Team, Alison Culshaw, as Chamonix is her home, office and playground...When we asked Alison if she had pictures of Chamonix, the town, she said no, only pictures off piste. That's because it's the off piste that is her livelihood and the reason why skiers and snowboarders from all over the world come to Chamonix. And, then, there are also the views...
Q. Why do you think we should come to Chamonix?
As a ski resort, it’s unique and, in my opinion, the views are some of the best in the Alps. The spiky peaks and towering glaciers are so dramatic it’s hard to keep your eyes on the slopes. The great thing is that you can enjoy the views whatever level of skier your are and even if you are not skiing at all. The off-piste terrain is, also, very special. The pistes haven’t been crammed in, instead lots of open space is left to ski between the runs, giving so many options.
Q. Guess you know the resort like the back of your hand? What’s your favourite run?
I do know it pretty well but there are always new corners to explore. My favourite will be whichever one I did yesterday! The great thing about Chamonix is that there are so many options depending on the prevailing weather and snow conditions. What could be a favourite one day might be a nightmare in different conditions. It’s about going to the right place on the right day.
The right place on the right day. Image: Daniel Wildey
Q. What’s your ski set up?
I have quite a few! For work and all mountain skiing I use Atomic Vantages 95mm with Marker Tour bindings on them. I love my K2 Superbrights on powder days and I have a pair of K2 Talkbacks for touring. Then there are the lightweight race skis, Trab Aeros. And not forgetting the locally made Dynastars for those piste days.
Q As an off piste ski instructor for Off Piste Performance in Chamonix, where would you take clients for their first time on a bluebird powder day?
Most likely either Le Tour or Les Houches. Le Tour if the weather is good and the wind has been low. There are plenty of wide open easy angled slopes there. If it’s been windy then Le Tour does tend to catch the wind, being at the head of the valley, so Les Houches can be better as it’s more sheltered. There are plenty of tree runs there too.
Alison teaching off piste. Image: Lukasz Warzecha
Q And where would you head if you were client free on a powder day?
On a ski tour away from the lifts. The hustle and bustle at the lifts on a powder day means that it can be a lot more relaxed if you skin somewhere or head to one of the much smaller, lesser known resorts within an hour's drive of Chamonix – there are lots of them. The location will also depend on the freezing level and the wind.
Q. What will you be wearing on a powder day in Chamonix?
No powder would be complete with out a warm, well fitting, non restrictive, layer. Freedom of movement is so important. I'll wear my custom made Jottnar Bergelmir shell. If it's cold day then I'll have the Fenrir underneath, and on the warmer days the Alfar. If it's really cold then I'll be wearing both!
Q. Where is the most awesome view?
It’s got to be from Le Tour. From there you get a fantastic view down the whole valley. It’s a great place to be as the sun is setting. It’s probably one of the most open views you can get in the area and the view of Mont Blanc and the surrounding glaciers is stunning.
Q Where will we find you when you’re not skiing?
Most likely skinning up the piste at Les Houches! I enjoy dabbling in ski mountaineering racing and like getting in a bit of exercise after work. On my days off it’s most likely that I’ll be ski touring somewhere away from the lifts. It’s a subtle difference I know between 'skiing' and 'ski touring' but that’s what my winters consist of.
Away from the lifts. Image: Blue Bear Photography
Q. Which is the coolest bar(s) for après?
Après ski isn’t quite like it is as in many other resorts; you’ll not see as many people still in their ski gear at 7pm. One of the best places is Les Marmotton café as you come off the ski slope at Les Grands Montets. It’s also a good place to start the day with a coffee. Elevation 1904 is a great place to go for a celebratory drink if you’ve just done one of the runs down from the Aiguille du Midi, being very convenient when you get off the train.
Q. And which is your favourite restaurant on the mountain? What should we order?
It would have to be Les Vieillies Luge at Les Houches This rustic barn is full of Alpine charm. It’s the perfect place to warm up on a cold day. The home made vin chaud goes down very well after a hard day skiing and the cakes are delicious, as are the traditional Savoyard dishes.
Q. Anything to do in Chamonix apart from ski/snowboard?
Plenty. That’s one of the things that is so appealing about the town. Cross country ski, snow shoe, sightseeing in the ice caves, Montenvers train or Aiguille du Midi glass cage, swimming, luge, crystal museum, the list goes on.
High octane sight seeing via the Aiguille du Midi glass cage
Q. What should we wear to fit in as a Chamonix gnar backcountry rider?
A harness. It’s not unusual to see skiers and climbers wondering through the town centre wearing a harness and lots of jangly bits!
To do Chamonix off piste with Alison go to Off Piste Performance