Adventure Journal

A month in Europe

A month in Europe

Chamonix: Revisited

Part One of Three

Ben White rappels into the classic Cosmiques Couloir.

It’s no secret now that the North American winter was especially harsh for us in Colorado this year. By harsh, I don’t mean those brutally cold, snowing sideways, whiteout vertigo days where free refills have skiers living blissfully on cloud nine. I mean it by its other definition. That being that the climate and weather patterns were just so cruel to us here, teasing with only a few inches of snow or just a light dusting, always hinting at winter but inevitably leading to blue skies and high-pressure. Nothing substantial. And, apart from one or two good weeks in February where it actually snowed, we were left just like that all season. High and dry.

Rare moments of powder. PC: Jesse Hoffman

For many of us who have experienced seasons like this before, you know that in the driest of times, the skier is often left to wondering desperately at every juncture about just where winter has gone. Some even go as far as to suggest that “it may never snow again.” In truth, it’s because without those deep days, the passionate skier seems to be left with an empty void that only mother nature has the power to fill through bountiful helpings of powder snow. That void being our innate but simple need to experience the sensation of floating through bottomless snow.

A deep, stormy day in Wolf Creek with Jeff Cricco.

I consider myself a fairly patient person, so after an unusually slow start to December and January, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to head into the backcountry to sniff for signs of soft snow or even winter for that matter. I kind of figured I’d have my opportunities for good skiing at some point, and left it at that. But, like every skier, as the winter months passed, and things looked like they would never really come around, I started to fall into that trap of looking elsewhere to fill my need for good skiing. Of course, after spending nearly three weeks in Chamonix last winter and instantaneously becoming #chamonzied by the infinite and seemingly limitless possibilities for climbing and skiing steep, I found myself booking tickets and making arrangements for a partial winter abroad. At this same time, my friend and ski-partner Aaron Carlson was also making plans for a week of skiing in the Lyngen Alps of Norway. Aaron just happened to be as equally powder starved as I was and his idea for a powder-filled trip to mythical northern fjords was quickly aligning itself well with a couple weeks amongst the spires, seracs and vertical faces of Chamonix, France.

Sunset in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Photo by Jeff Cricco

With the lack of snow, and having been experiencing considerably less motivation to ski than I had during past droughts, our late March blitz to Europe was looking like the right call to fill our powder needs. February was, for the most part, dry, and as we entered March I scrambled quickly to get some serious ski time in on the legs, enjoying offerings across the four resorts here in Aspen/Snowmass. Surprisingly, I actually managed to find a good level before heading straight to steeper, more European locales. Perfect, as my arrival in Chamonix, coincided with a foot of fresh snow on the famous west side of the Aiguille du Midi and I dove in head first with two incredible solo descents on variations of the well-known Cosmiques Couloir. “If this is the best snow I get while in Europe,” I thought to myself, “well it was worth it.”

Aiguille du Midi.


Variations of the classics. Solo day on the westside.

Day one, run one.

Cosqmiues Couloir. PC: Ben White

Of course, when you go from a place of high-pressure, to one experiencing one of the snowier winters in several years, you find yourself immediately struck with a harsh reality. If you want to ski great snow, in steep places, you’re going to have to wait out a lot of bad weather days in the process. Perhaps this was a foreign feeling for me at the time. Afterall, it had been nothing but blue sky for an entire winter in Colorado. “Oh well,” I thought to myself, “it’s all part of the process.”

Reverse traverse of the Cosmiques Ârete. Pete Houghton leads the way.

Nice spot for a rappel.

Pete Houghton on Cosmiques Ârete.

30m vis. Making the most of another storm day in Chamonix.

So, unlike last years trip, I found myself espresso sipping, couch sitting and book reading nearly half of my entire two weeks in Chamonix as poor weather high in the mountains prevented access to its treasured slopes. But, when high-pressure did present itself, it was well worth the wait. Several excellent days on the Argentiere Glacier where succeeded by a rare descent of the Breche Nonne-Eveque, a tight pinner couloir upwards of 50 degrees that local athlete Dave Searle had the vision for, and we enjoyed in sheltered powder. For me, these days were way more than enough to satisfy my deepest need for good snow as they were highlighted not just by great snow, but by incredible terrain and light. The quintessential, transcendent combination of elements us skiers are always chasing, and will ultimately spend all our money traveling to the farthest reaches of the earth to find. Just one of these experiences is enough to make an entire trip worth it. But, fortunately, there was still time for more.

Chevalier Couloir (5.3/E3) PC: Pete Houghton.

BISE winds on Mont Blanc.

Cédric Aubert above the Noir.

Joel Evans enroute to the Traverse Pointe Yeld.

Point Yeld (5.2/E3)

Taking in the view.

Traverse Brèche Nonne-Évêque w/ Dave Searle.

Brèche Nonne-Évêque

Part two to continue from the Lyngen Alps, Norway…