Adventure Journal

Back to Chamonix

A Month in Europe

Back to Chamonix

Part Three of Three

Col des Courtes (5.3/E4)

Knowing my little European ski tour was finally coming to an end soon and we might not have many opportunities to ski once back home, Aaron, Mason and I, accompanied by Teague Holmes, were ready to take advantage of any and all good weather opportunities for skiing. So, after a full day of travel, we anxiously gathered up our gear and prepared to head out to the Argentiere Glacier on our first day back to find what remained of any cold, steep, north facing powder. Fortunately, our plan paid off in dividends, and we enjoyed a sensational powder day at the head of the Argentiere Glacier skiing Col des Courtes. A two thousand foot curtain of beautifully fluted powder spines a top near vertical blue glacial ice. A steep climb, up to 55 degrees, well sustained at 50 for 1,500ft, this was one of the real highlights of the entire trip. The entire experience left our little group astounded by just what else Chamonix would have to offer us before heading back to the states.

The beautiful face steepens almost immediately, giving way to 50-degree climbing.

Air under the feet.

Quite possibly the steepest, most continuous climb I’ve ever done.

Lunch spot…waiting for Aaron and Mason.

Aaron drops into the fluted curtain.

Aaron continues his way down the face.

Of course, as temperamental as spring can be anywhere, rain and wind engulfed us again, forcing us to retreat to Italian pizza joints and the flooded streets of Courmayeur to spend our last remaining days sipping Fernet and pints of beer to pass the time. Of course, we all hoped for one last chance at skiing. In all honesty, who really knew what we’d be heading back to in Colorado. Hell, it probably hadn’t even snowed more than a couple inches since we left. So we better make the most of this. “Can’t give up now,” we thought, collectively.

Ben White on the west-side.

Inevitably, our last day in Chamonix was fast approaching. Evening showers continued to lead into cloudy mornings where poor visibility and avalanche conditions kept us out of the mountains. On our last night, the notoriously unreliable forecast revealed that the following morning could quite possibly present a quick opportunity for one final day of skiing. Skies looked to be clearing, and winds subsiding.

Sunsets and evening light.

Aaron and Mason had never skied off the west side of the Aiguille du Midi, so we decided to rendezvous there early that following morning to see if we could get a window in the weather to ski. Per usual, the lineup for first bin was laden with an intense, anxious energy, as many accomplished skiers eyed the queue hoping they’d finally make it up the Midi after so many days of bad weather closures. As push came to shove, our threesome ended up on the right side of the crowd and we loaded. First bin. The cable car moves quite efficiently, for being first constructed in 1955, and within 30 minutes we were already gaining the top of Europe’s highest tram. An astounding 9,200ft plus of vertical relief. We quickly trotted down the arete, while clouds were already starting to envelop parts of the surrounding mountains, and strong winds began to pick up once again. We stayed on track, with a quick ski and traverse over to the west-side, where we found several groups already overcrowding the famous Cosmiques couloir, and no parties heading for the Rond. Working our way down the arete again, we found the run in perfect condition and watched local legend Tof Henry open the line, in fresh powder, over blue glacial ice. I followed suit, albeit with a few extra turns down the far skier’s right side. A variation I hadn’t yet skied after three previous times on the line. Aaron and Mason followed, and I enjoyed the views of the Chamonix valley below huge seracs, Mont Blanc, and elated smiles from the guys as we regrouped. The conditions were phenomenal. The long, mellower exit couloir in bottomless powder guided us out onto the glacier for an adventurous ski back into town in mostly good snow! We all smiled, ear-to-ear, while looking back to see clouds building at the Aiguille again. Our common expression, so predictable after such a great run, and our joint knowledge that this was the best possible way to finish off an incredible trip, left us feeling incredible.

Crowded morning at the top of the Aiguille du Midi.

Aaron and Mason about to drop into their first ski down the Glacier Rond.

Just before dropping into the skier’s right variation, the entirety of Chamonix is visible below you.

Perfect conditions.

Deep in the exit couloir! Mason about to take it to the bottom.


Beyond stoke.

We’d skied Colorado’s driest season in many years. And, in contrast, some of the steepest terrain in Europe, all with those beautiful fjords of the Lyngen Alps, Norway, in the back of our minds, forever. We’d had our incredible moments, the ones that as skiers keep baiting us into going back to places like Chamonix, or Norway. And of course, we’d gotten more than our fix for those innate powder urges. Finally. The void was filled and overflowing. At least for now.