Chamonix Freeride Dayz 2003

Ski-Areas > Northern Alps > Haute-Savoie (74) > Mont-Blanc > Chamonix Mont Blanc > Chamonix Freeride Dayz 2003

We barely had time to unpack, wash and repack our gear from the Pyrenean ski tour before we were off again, this time by car to Cham for the Freeride Dayz held between the 8 – 11 May 2003. The ‘z’ seems to have been added recently to give the event that ‘happening, kewl, sk8tr boi with attitude' feel.

The Freeride Days bring to an end the French ski season, which began for us in Courchevel... oh so long ago at the start of December, although Val Thorens managed to open in mid November 2002. Since Tignes stopped opening all year round the French ski year looks a bit like this:

  • Autumn Half Term (last week of October) l’Alpe d’Huez and les Deux Alpes open, then close again
  • November: Val Thorens opens – first non-glacier skiing
  • December: Courchevel, Val Thorens, Val d’Isère and Tignes and some of the Pyrenean resorts like Piau Engaly and Andorra open
  • The second weekend of May sees Val Thorens and Chamonix finish the season; there is then a pause for around six weeks before the summer skiing starts on the Glaciers of les Deux Alpes and Tignes with some more limited skiing at l’Alpe d’Huez, la Plagne and Val d’Isere and Val Thorens
  • As passes such as the high Galibier are opened by the teams from the highways department, road gap competitions are organised

In fact, the skiing at Chamonix had already stopped for the season on the previous weekend. The Freeride Days is just a special opening over the four day holiday where the French celebrate the end of the 2nd World War.

One of the main features of the event is that the Grands Montets cable car is for once included in the price of the lift pass and not subject to an extra 5 Euros per trip tax. The leaflets from the lift pass office try to make out that this tax is of great benefit to the skier, but it is hard to see how - unless lightening the bank-balance helps skiing.

On the weekend the party begins on the piste with live music, a water slide and a snow park. There is also the possibility to demo various skis and boards. On Saturday night there is the Dynastar party for those not too pooped from skiing. Every evening starts in the MBC, the Chamonix Micro-Brewery.

We left Paris late, around 9pm, with the intention of stopping around midnight at Beaune in the excellent au Raisin de Bourgogne (tel: 03 80 24 69 48). This is around 40 euros for a nice double room close to the motorway junction with the advantage that the ‘English Pub’ style bar is still open, although not for food. Madame did manage to knock us up some pâté sandwiches but this is unusual. We slept like logs and got away from Beaune close to 10am the next day. The drive to Cham was quiet and we were able to check into our hotel by 1pm. The drive costs around 40 Euros from Paris on the A6 and is some 600 km.

We were staying at la Savoyarde ( An excellent ‘chalet style’ hotel I’d used before on the slopes of the Brevent with splendid views of Mont Blanc and the Bossons glacier. It is not the cheapest place in town but we wanted to be close to Chamonix rather than Argentiere. Gigi was keen to check out the excellent shops. We were due to meet the SkiPass group who were staying in the Gite Belvedere ( . After dropping off our stuff we headed for the slopes. For the Freeride Days there is a single day forfait or lift pass costing 28.50 Euros, pretty steep considering that apart from the Lognan and Grands Montets cable cars they only had to open the Bochard bubble lift and the Herse chair. Still this gave access to the available skiing and on Thursday there were no queues, even to get up to Grands.

As I’d mentioned, we’d been down in the Pyrenees ski touring and I’d not even had a chance to wax my skis between trips let alone do a full service. This was a big mistake. I met Tribubabar and Powerstef from the skipass crew and we took the car to the top. We decided to ski down the glacier that flows down the right hand side of the mountain looking up towards Grands Montets. With the heat we hoped that the snow would be better. In fact there was precious little snow but a series of ice steps. About half way down I lost a ski, fell and lost the other, I then bumped down the glacier until I could turn around and dig my heels in to a self-arrest. A ski whizzed past my head and vanished out of sight, the other was stuck some 100 meters up the slope. This was the first time I remembered losing a ski all season. I’d come to a halt just above a massive crevasse! I climbed up, kicking steps with my boots and got my missing ski, as I came down I noticed the other one had not gone far, it was stuck on the lower lip of the crevasse, like a tooth-pick poking out of a giant mouth. I gingerly crossed a snow bridge and reached in to pluck it out. I then realised what had happened, the screw that holds the Diamir toe-piece had obviously loosened with the previous weeks touring and the binding was no longer engaging on the springs that stop it opening.

A pain in my arm reminded me that I’d not got off unscathed. The glass sharp glacier ice had scraped most of the skin off my lower arm, which was now a gory, red flesh colour. My gloves had also torn in my helter-skelter slide. I found a one cent coin to screw down the binding and set off down to the first aid station. I went in to see the first aider and asked for a bandage. “what’s up? Why don’t you try a chemist”. I showed him my arm “oh, that’s pretty bad, sorry I’ll get you fixed up”. The two pisteurs then spent some time looking for surgical gloves. “oh don’t worry about that”, I said, I was missing valuable ski time and despite the pain was growing impatient. “Monsieur, they are not for you but to protect us, you may have Hepatitis, or Aids… hah but you are British, you probably have Mad Cows disease”. They thought this was very funny and slapped themselves on their backs with their excellent humour. Still they maybe had a point.

Back on Grands I explored the two blacks. The start slope had some large moguls which I took carefully on the hard snow but further down the skiing was pretty good although none of it was incredibly steep. Given the good snow that I’ve seen in Cham the sking could be brilliant although the slow lift system of sixty person cable cars and the GM tax would really put me off skiing here in the season. Gigi commented that even the walking pass was expensive, 12 euros to make the return trip to Lognan although the liftie let her go all the way to the top of Grands Montets on the same ticket.

Going Out

It has to be said that Cham is pretty quiet at this time of year. The sandwich bars of Beluga and Midnight Express are still doing good business but many hotels and some restaurants have shut until the summer season gets underway. We ate at Munchies, a bit like a London restaurant. Next night we looked around but most places were pretty much empty, we eventually settled on a Tartiflette (in trust!) at the Bar Nash (National). What a palarva. The girl started setting up a table right at the back next to the loos. I said we would prefer somewhere by the window where we could watch the occasional tourist go by. “but M’sieur, ze are for 3 or 4 people”. I pointed out that they were not exactly busy. “on sait jamais… it is not unusual for 30 people to turn up”. I pointed out that it was 10.30 pm and that there were probably not 30 tourists in the whole of Chamonix at that moment. She relented with a truculent pout but said “zis is most unusual”. Still the Tartiflette was good. The best restaurant we found was la Bergerie, we had a Fondu au Morilles and some Savoyard wine, a Mondeuse or Chignin or some such. Grapes that I know well from summer spent sunbathing by the vineyards. Savoyard wines are not the best that France has to offer, rather pricey, the vines suffer the extremes of French climate, freezing during the grey winter months and only to be baked to raisins in the summer. The wines can be quite acidic, but holidays give you the chance to discover other cuisine. There is always McDonalds near Chamonix railway station, of course.


Gigi dubbed Chamonix the St Tropez of the Alps. Full of surf shops, babes in bikinis, guys in baggies and cafes. Hah, she's not lived through a long, cold Chamonix winter! The ski shops seemed to have a real end of season feel about them, although not as far as prices were concerned. There were no real bargains. We checked out Sport Extreme, a big ski supermarket that sells many of its own brand at keen prices. Not sure I'd want to be trapped on top of Mont Blanc in one of their jackets but worth investigating if you need a cheap pair of gloves or something. We also toured the chic shops of Quicksilver, O’Neil and Esprit. Gigi was disappointed that the Converse women's range doesn't go beyond size 40 feet. They obviously don't get many Nordic babes shopping for shoes. She had better luck at VO, the bookshop, which has a very helpful owner and a wide range of English language books.

On the Piste

After a quiet Thursday and Friday the Freeride Dayz proper got underway at the weekend. A big queue for the Lognan cable car, we waited around 20 minutes and noted that it is worth getting here early like our friends. A jazz band greeted us at the top and there were some last minute preparations going on in the fun park. I skied in the morning with Castor and Co. The star was undoubtedly Yannick, a member of the St Gervais rescue services who delighted in jumping cliffs and doing back flips and stuff. I was a bit hindered by my injured arm so didn’t ski some of the steeper stuff but to give you an idea, at the top of Grands there are a couple of alternative routes which are clearly visible from the bottom of the cable car. You can ski ‘sous le tele’ on an ‘S’ shaped tongue of snow to join the Pylones piste, but watch out for crevasses. Alternatively you can climb up to the observation platform and ski down to the same run but on the other side of the cable car wires. Apart from that we skied pretty much everywhere on the mountain, although there was not a huge difference between the official ‘marked pistes’ and the rest at this time. Suffice to say that higher up there are crevasses all over the place, some that could swallow a bus.

In the afternoon I skied a bit with PowerStef and her boyfriend Alex, who lives in Sallanches. This was his 50th day of skiing; in comparison I’d only managed 28. Stef is a good skier herself but Alex had obviously benefited from his time on the snow, doing flips of any kicker or ridge he could find, each one rewarded with a kiss from his woman.

Gigi spent plenty of time on the terrace, this gave her a view of the funpark activities… the most interesting of which was the water slide… a giant swimming pool at 1900 meters. Skiers, and some surfers, would launch themselves down the mountain hoping to gather enough speed to make it to the other side. After water skiing across the icy lake the last obstacle, a 6inch lip was the only thing between dry land. This proved too much for some, and a spectacular piece of mistiming saw 4 skiers take and freezing dip. Fortunately a warm tub helped them to thaw out.

A storm blew in on Saturday night and left a present of a covering of some 10 cm of powder on the top part of the ski area first thing on Sunday morning. A nice surprise for those who were still alive after the Dynastar sponsored end of season party. We made a video? of some of the activities, which gives you a better idea than anything we can write here.

So that is it, until next season, then.

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