Chamonix in Summer 2012 – Our what’s on, not-to-be-missed guide….

Chamonix is idyllic in Summer.

The snows have melted back.  The alpine pastures are green and full of wild flowers.
The alpinists are climbing, the hikers hiking…
…and the skies are full of paragliders circling in the thermic air and Chamonix town bustles with life as tourists flock here in their tens of thousands.

Helen walking in the mountains with the Aiguille du Midi behind

For people who only know Chamonix as a Winter ski resort, they might be surprised to learn that there are actually MORE people in Chamonix in Summer than in Winter!

Like any town bustling with life, there are a whole HOST of things going on for people to enjoy and experience…

So, if you haven’t got any plans for summer yet, then you are always welcome to visit Chamonix!  For a week or a weekend, we have space available in July and August.

Every Wednesday morning at 9:30, discover the history of Les Houches at “Les Chavants, 15,000 years of history”…  Trace the last glaciation, agriculture of yesterday, the first tourists…” Registration 4€ from the tourist office in Les Houches.

Every Thursday, there are guided tours around Chamonix town for 7 euros.  Discover the history of Chamonix and its secrets.

The Festival of Baroque runs from the 6th July to the 20th!  In honour of Johann Sebastien Bach, there will be a series of 13 concerts in churches throughout the Pays du Mont Blanc.  Information here: http://www.festivalmontblanc.fr  Listen to Bach in the church in Chamonix on Sunday 8th 20:15 at the Eglise St. Michel, then choirs in Servoz on Tuesday 10th, and Vivaldi and Bach in Les Houches on the Friday 13th 21hrs 22€ on the door. 20€ from the tourist offices in advance.

 

We are especially looking forward to the World Cup Climbing competition – between Wednesday 11 and Friday 13th July, the best climbers battle it out right in the centre of town on a 15 metre high, artificial climbing wall.  Both the technical difficulty and head-to-head speed climbing competitions are equally impressive.  Should be just us and 17,000 other spectators for the final!

This is followed immediately on the Friday 13th July night at 23:00hrs by the Fireworks spectacular!!  For the last 17 years, the company, “Commandos Percu” have been combining percussion with pyrotechnics!  This promises to be quite the best fireworks in Chamonix in a long while.  Original, audacious and surprising!  The post-climbing fireworks are normally SPECTACULAR, so this promises to be quite an event!

Then, more fireworks in Les Houches on Saturday 14th July to celebrate the cutting-off of heads of various French aristocrats a couple hundred years ago…

 

The Chamonix tourist office is celebrating its 100 years with free guided visits, from mon-thurs 16-19 July at 10h, as well as an exhibition of photos of Chamonix 100 years ago. We also have the  Ciné Concerts Tues 17/Fri 20 July and 11/12 August  at 18 & 20h –  a montage of old cinematography (the first fimed ascent of Mont Blanc) accompanied live by talented musicians playing the music of the period (Gershwin, Wagner, Strauss and Rossini!). 18€

 

Not to be missed!  Tuesday 24th July to Sunday 29th July, Chamonix plays host to the Cosmo Jazz Festival – organised by André Manoukian (the French equivalent of Simon Cowell!!).  During the day, you hike the mountains of Chamonix valley and get  to listen to the free Jazz concerts at altitude!   Then, there are more free concerts in the bars and restaurants throughout Chamonix starting in the early evenings.  Superb!   http://www.cosmojazzfestival.com

Béatrice Hombourger performs on the violin with a programme of Massenet, Beethoven, and Maskowsky on the Tuesday 31st July at 18h at le Temple, Place de la Gare.

 

The Fêtes des Guides  starts on the 12th August up in Lavancher, in Les Houches on the 13th, and culminates in Chamonix on the Wednesday 15th August.  The guides festival takes place every year at Les Gaillands starting at 15:00 – with demonstrations of Tyrolienne and Slacklining, acro paragliding with Baptiste Rousset at 18:30, concerts from 20h and the Sound and Light spectacle at 21h30. €13.

 

The Chamonix Adventure Festival runs from the 20th to 26th August –  screening adventure films in Chamonix and Les Houches, and offering courses on adventure photography and videography.

 

Finally on the 31st August, we have the Ultratrail du Mont Blanc.  Cheer 2,300 runners taking on a 166 km course with 9,500 metres of UP!   The runners come through Les Houches at about 19hrs – we have Edgar playing in the centre of the village together with a giant tartiflette!  The time to beat is 20h 05  set by Dawa Sherpa in 2003!    Run, Kilian Jornet, Run!  The man is a machine!  The ‘Usain Bolt‘ of Ultramarathons!

 

So…  that is just a taster of what’s going in on Chamonix this summer –  Our selection from all the events that are going on.
and of course, we still have some of the best walking, hiking, climbing, and mountaineering in Europe on our doorstep….

It promises to be a fun-packed, action-filled summer here… and if you have the opportunity, we would highly recommend coming to Chamonix for a bit of a break away this summer!

Recommended ski computer for iPhone: Ski Tracks

One of the loveliest things about the iPhone is the selection of applications that enhance it’s functionality.

Consequently I have tested a few ski computers, and have found one that I personally like and would recommend, called “Ski Tracks” which, I believe is truly amazing value at about 60 pence!

It is easy to use with lots of fantastic features, a great user interface, and loads of interesting information on your skiing….

– Maximum speed, maximum slope angle, distance you skied, vertical distance you skied…

– Plus, it can play your music whilst you ski..

– Keeps track of photos that you take on the slopes

– Tracks your progress on the mountain using the iPhone’s GPS (and allows you to play back your ski journey of the day with Google Maps)

– Enables you to share your ski tracks on Facebook

Ski Tracks: Ski computer

– You can name and view your data for the full day

Graphical display of speed and altitude

– or for each individual ski run…

Data details

All in all, I am most impressed by this app and would definitely recommend it to the gadget guru skier who wants some interesting stats on their skiing!

What’s missing? What would be nice would be some kind of automatic naming feature that recognised the names of each lift/run and names it accordingly…  Maybe the next version, heh?

Fun off-piste in powder in Les Houches!! [video]

This January, Chamonix has received more snow than any January since 1967.
Over two metres 10cms fell in just one night in Argentière a week or so back.

So, when yet another 40cms of snow fell yesterday at chalet level, and with visibility greatly reduced throughout the valley, Helen and I chose to ski our own backyard: to explore the off-piste possibilities in Les Houches.

In Chamonix, most people head up to Grands Montets when there are powder snow conditions – which unfortunately means it also gets tracked out very quickly.

Instead, we sometimes go searching for the interesting and excellent little routes and lines that can be had in Les Houches.

Les Houches is so under-rated for off-piste skiing, but it holds some superb hidden gems….

This is one of our favourite spots for off-piste here: down through the trees over by the Grand Bois button lift.
This year has seen SO much snow fallen that it is thigh-deep in places – and today was simply exceptional.

Bluebird day off-piste on Grands Montets

We are SO lucky to live here in Chamonix valley.
Every now and again, we get to experience conditions that are simply PERFECT for great ski days.

Take yesterday, for instance.
It was one of those bluebird days with not a cloud in the sky.  We headed up to Les Grands Montets, one of the five ski stations in Chamonix valley which is world-renowned for its acres and acres of off-piste terrain, and found it virtually empty.

It would have been simply rude not to have taken advantage of this by heading up to the very top.

Normally there is a long queue for the top station, but yesterday, we were lucky and scarcely waited.

Here’s a little local’s tip: The buvette at the top of the lift station at the very top of Grands Montets serves potentially the best Croûte Forestière in Chamonix valley.  Perhaps it is the altitude. Perhaps it is the method.  I don’t know.  But over the past few years, we have consistently enjoyed this simple Savoyard meal here.  Fresh bread, a heaping of creamy mushrooms, topped with a slice of ham and a handful of grated cheese, add a swig of white wine and a pouring of fresh cream and bake for a few minutes to melt the cheese and wine down to a gorgeous, creamy, sticky consistency.  Absolutely delicious at 3230 metres above sea level.

Sustainance applied, Helen, Tim (Helen’s nephew) and myself stumbled down the 30-odd metres of metal steps (ski boots and steps are rarely a gainly combination) to the snow, where leaving the pistes behind, we headed out onto the untracked Glacier d’Argentière for our descent.

Please note that we would not recommend this route to our guests or people who do not know the area without a guide. This is glaciated terrain, and just a few metres past the rope marking the piste, you ski on snow bridges over hidden crevasses. Last year, a guide died here when the snow bridge he was on collapsed, so it can be deadly terrain.

Helen and Tim on the Glacier d'Argentière

Okay. Warning aside, the Glacier d’Argentière is staggeringly beautiful.  We were virtually the sole people skiing the top half, skiing open patches of perfect powdery snow, carefully finding the route, avoiding those place we know there are crevasses, before dropping down amongst the towering seracs and icefalls.

Once we’d dropped onto the main body of the glacier, we were joined by a few other skiers taking the same route out.

Helen skiing the crowded glaciated terrain

Sadly, we only had time of one top bin, but we quickly skirted over to the Bochard lift to grab a last descent down the Lavancher bowl.  Again, awesome conditions with lovely soft snow….

View from Lavancher towards Brévent

View towards the Aiguilles Rouges

We arrived back down at the Pendant lift just before it closed.  Just as the liftie was pushing the seats up on chairlift.

All in all, one spectacular memorable day!

Helen and Tim

 

Christmas Dinner 2011

As we had guests from Singapore and the United States this year, we celebrated our main Christmas Dinner on the 24th – Christmas Eve – like the French do. As usual, it was a seven course gala affair and a lot of fun…

 

The Lees' and Bretts' at Christmas

 

  • Pan-fried Foie Gras on toasted brioche, with miniature Amaretto jellies and a selection of homemade chutneys
  • Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Cucumber Brunoise and Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
  • Tiger Prawns flambéed in Pastis with its herbed butter sauce
  • Homemade Rosé and Raspberry Sorbet refresher
  • Freerange Roast Turkey – served with Chestnut stuffing, Goose-fat roasted potatoes, Parmasan parsnips, Carrots sautéed in Honey and Ginger, Green beans wrapped in bacon, with Bread and Cranberry sauces and Gravy…
  • Cognac-laced Christmas Pudding served with homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream
  • Blue Stilon cheese served with Port
  • Coffee and homemade chocolate truffles

I personally love the look we get when people realise we are serving Mustard Ice Cream.  It is classic.

The idea of Mustard Ice Cream sounds very bizarre I know, but the flavour combination of the Red Cabbage soup with the ice cream is simply delicious.  Also, as it uses wholegrain mustard, the ice cream is not as strongly flavoured as you might imagine, but has a more subtle kick to it…  As savoury ice creams go, I think it is a winner!

I also love the richness of colour of the Rosé and Raspberry sorbet… which just coincidentally matched the red Christmas underplates brilliantly! No planning there… No, really! 😉

Homemade Rosé and Raspberry Sorbet

Everything was spot on.  Timings were good.  The free-range turkey was lovely – wonderfully flavoursome and moist.  I hate dried Turkey breast meat that many places serve, instead, this was simply gorgeous.  We actually cook the Turkey upside down to help maintain the moisture in the breast, and then turn it near the end to brown the meat.

We do not normally get to photograph our food as we are typically too busy concentrating on cooking and serving it – so we are very grateful to Yih San for all the photos that he took.  I feel they really capture the mood, vibrancy and colours!

 

Christmas Turkey dinner

I also love Helen’s table decorations.  It is all the multitude of little things that go to make up a truly wonderful experience…

 

The day the mountain skied our garden

No longer content to be simply ski in, ski out…  Maison Jaune is setting a new standard – ski through!!

Yes, dear readers…  The lovely skiing folk in Les Houches decided en-masse to ski our back garden.

Take a look at this little video…

Basically, the pisteurs have not bashed any snow into the tunnel by the house – consequently, rather than taking skis off and walking it, everyone has been skiing across the road and down through our garden.

It is the first day open in Les Houches – and just about every other ski station in the valley was closed due to TOO MUCH snow falling overnight!!

Anyway, what a fantastic first day !!  Especially if you like off-piste, as there was an abundance of thigh-deep fresh powder…

The forecast is for more snow in the coming days… What a brilliant start to the ski season!

 

The Truth about Chamonix

A lot of people have a number of misconceptions about Chamonix as a ski resort. They perceive that it is only for expert skiers.

Chamonix valley comprises of six amazing ski areas: Les Houches, Grands Montets, Brévent, Flégère, La Tour, and the Vallée Blanche.  Only Brévent and Flégère are inter-linked.  However, what this means is that each ski station has its own individual character and attributes.   Each ski station is most suitable for different levels of skier and as they have different aspects, it means there is a wide variety of snow conditions prevalent in the Chamonix valley, and if there is extreme weather, it is highly unlikely the whole resort will be closed – which means you are unlikely to miss a days skiing.

From the top of Index lift at La Flégère, looking directly across at the Vallée Blanche, with Grands Montets on the left in the background

It is indeed true that Chamonix has some of the best off-piste skiing in Europe.  Grands Montets has wide open bowls that provide an amazing opportunity of off-piste skiers.  Flégère also provides acres of possibility, and even La Tour has amazing potential for both people learning off-piste as it has lovely off-piste routes that never take you too far from the ski pistes, as well as some incredible bowls that are amazing in powder conditions.

Only La Grave near Grenoble (where there are no ski pistes at all and just one ski lift!) rivals Chamonix for a similar level of opportunity for the off-piste skier.

This is not to mention the world famous Vallée Blanche – 24 kilometres of off-piste descent on the glacier past giant seracs towering above, over snow bridges that span crevasses up to eighty metres deep.  The scenery is outstanding, and the experience will surely be one of your most memorable ski descents ever!  Ski guide obligatory for safety!

Then there is Les Houches.  This is the family end of Chamonix valley with lots of rolling blues and reds.  It has lots of tree-lined skiing,  and so it is the best place in the valley to ski in case of poor visibility or strong winds.  Having two nursery areas, it is perfect for beginners just learning, and because of the variety of runs, it provides the most opportunity for mixed ability groups.   Les Houches is also home to the World Championship ski run, the Kandahar.  This black run is not technically that difficult and most intermediate skiers can ski at least part of it – there are also opportunities to avoid the most difficult sections, which means you too can get to experience part of what skiing a World cup downhill is like.

The Kandahar World Cup Downhill

The Kandahar World Cup Downhill

Les Houches is also one of the quieter ski stations in France and never has the same queues that I have experienced in the Trois Vallées, Tignes or La Plagne.  Because these are the most popular resorts, they are also the most crowded – especially during peak periods.   Les Houches also boasts some of the best mountain restaurants:  The delightful “Vielles Luges” is a 300 year old converted farmhouse with superb food and wonderful hosts.  “La Tanière” is also an authentic farmhouse run by an Argentinian overlooking the Saint Gervais valley with a superb reputation for mountain food.

Normally quiet - not normally THIS quiet

Normally quiet - not normally THIS quiet

The more we ski Les Houches, the more off-piste we find.  They tend to be short sections, but hold some interesting technical challenges for advanced off-piste skiers – never too far from the pistes, but some really fun descents through trees, down some steep slopes cutting into the forest and back out to join the pistes.

We also like to take our guests through the Mont Blanc tunnel so they can experience Courmayeur.  Only 25 minutes door to door from the chalet, Courmayeur is also included on the 6 day Chamonix ski pass.  This gives our guests the opportunity to
sample Italian skiing too.   Courmayeur can have different weather and snow conditions to Chamonix, so we use this to ensure our guests experience the best conditions.  Courmayeur tends to have wider runs which are extremely well groomed and are not as technically challenging as Chamonix.  It also boasts some wonderful Italian restaurants.

Chamonix provides a truly authentic skiing experience because it is not a purpose-build resort.  No concrete jungle like Flaine or Val Thorens or Courcheval here!  The town of Chamonix and village of Les Houches date back hundreds of years, and are full of life any time of year.  Chamonix’s reputation as the best ski area for off-piste was immortalised in the cult ski movie, the “Blizzard of Aahhhs”.  In fact, if you are lucky, today you can even get to bump into its star skier, Glen Plake still sporting his
infamous bad boy mohican, who now lives in Chamonix full time.

Other brilliant ski movies that feature Chamonix, include the “Edge of Never” – the story of 15 year old Kye Petersen skiing the same route that killed his father, and “Steep” – potentially the best ski documentary yet made examining the history of extreme skiing.

Anyway, in case you’ve never seen the Blizzard of Aahhh’s… well, you are missing a crucial part of your skiing education…  Here is a little clip….

Complimentary peak performance coaching for skiers…

As part of our ongoing mission to continually improve the value of staying at Maison Jaune, for this Winter we are proud to launch a new service: complimentary peak performance coaching for all our guests.

A HUGE part of skiing performance is your mental game.

It affects how you ski on a day to day basis.
It affects how you ski particular slopes.

Your inner game controls how you respond to falls, ice, moguls, steeps, carving, speed…
and that in turn affects how you enjoy skiing and the quality of the emotions you feel when you ski.

For most people this is haphazard.   You have good days and you have not so good days…

What if you were to discover how to make EVERY day a good day!
What if you were to discover how to ski your best every run!

Sounds pretty amazing, right?

As you may know, Leighton is both a life coach and author of the book, “Skiing without Fear” – which combines neurolinguistic programming techniques (NLP) and visualisation with skiing.  It’s aim is to enable you to step up your inner game and take control of your state whenever you ski.

This is key to being able to tap into your ability to perform at peak levels and truly ski at your best.

This Winter, we are offering a complimentary peak performance course to our guests.  Coupled to our ski orientation, Leighton will accompany you on the slopes and work on your inner game.   He will teach you some fantastic jedi-mind tricks to build your confidence ready for skiing, together with some powerful tools to enable you to control your current state of mind, so that you can perform at your peak whenever you wish.

Powerful stuff.

More details here: Peak performance NLP coaching for skiers

 

Powder off piste in Flégère.  Game on!

Powder off piste in Flégère. Game on!

New menu preparations going well…

One of the nicest things about running a Chamonix chalet is that in October and November, we get to try a whole load of new recipes when we design the menus for the coming Winter Ski season.  We are always after delicious, reliable recipes that are tasty, visually attractive and interesting.

Yesterday, we discovered a superb new starter.

Simple.
Elegant.
Delicious.

Helen found a great recipe that just simply works…
I present “Pan-fried Scallops served with  Spicy Chorizo and Rocket”.

Pan-fried scallops with spicy chorizo and rocket

Pan-fried scallops with spicy chorizo and rocket

This is wunderbar!  Succulent, tender scallops lightly caramelised in the juices of the fried Spanish chorizo.  Perfectly matched by the pepperiness of the rocket and a sweet balsamic reduction to give it that extra dimension….  Yummy!

Snow is falling…. Winter’s calling…

First off….   We have some opening dates for the season….

Yes… Grands Montets will be opening from the 3rd December, this year…
We are getting really excited about the possibility of some early skiing – only FIVE weeks to go!!

Brévent, La Flégère and La Tour are all set to open on the Saturday 17th December….

….and we are still waiting to hear about Les Houches.  Traditionally, it likes to give Grands Montets a run for its money in the early opening stakes… All we need is the snow!!

The other aspect which may affect the opening date for Les Houches is that the Compagnie du Mont Blanc will become the majority share holider (73%)  in the ownership of the Les Houches ski area at a cost of 4 million euros, on the 25th October.  After many years of petty (and not so petty) arguments between the two families that controlled the ski area, it is finally sorted and we can relax knowing the future of the best kept secret of the Chamonix valley is safe.  I am hoping they continue the tradition of opening Les Houches as early as possible though.

Grands Montets earlier today

After yesterdays heavy rainfall in the lower altitudes, it is already looking great for an early start to the season for higher up the mountain…

This was the view from Grands Montets mid-station earlier today…

As you can see there is already a nice covering of snow on the tracks… with five weeks to go!!

What else is NEW this year?

There will be a new boarder cross park being created in La Tour which will be open to everyone.

At Grands Montet, in the freestyle park, they are installing HD cameras to record all the action…

At Brevent, they are installing a giant airbag so wanna-be hot-doggers can practise their aerial moves and land safely on an air mattress – under the supervision of park instructors.

For the gastronophiles, there are new restaurants at the La Tour area and La Flégère area…

The pisteurs have already erected the safety fence on the lower section of the Kandahar world championship run, and they’ve been around and inspected the snow cannons down the piste des Aillouds outside the chalet….

All very exciting….  we CAN’T WAIT!!!

One thing I DO love about right now though… is the colours of Autumn as we go into Winter….

 

The Amazing Colours of Autumn