France Chamonix 2001.01.06 - 01.13

Ski Week

Wes planned a ski week in Chamonix with Tim (living in London). Chamonix locals advised us to arrive the 2nd week of January just after the holiday crowds return home. We agreed on the dates and booked the hotel (Au Bon Coin) in advance. Tim had spare ski clothes for Wes. Reaching Chamonix was only remaining logistic.

Masami wanted to remain in Portugal. While Wes braved cold weather and steep slopes, Masami visited Sintra, Óbidos, Nazaré, and Coimbra.

Getting to Chamonix
As January 6th approached, we needed to decide whether to extend our stay in Madrid or move to Lisbon before going our separate ways. Consulting our Lonely Planet guide, we found, "Since France, and Paris in particular, has a huge population of Portuguese immigrants, frequent flights at reasonable prices link the two countries." Flying from Lisbon to Lyon, Geneva, or in the worst case, Paris made sense.

Looking for January 6th flights to France in Lisbon on January 4th was expected to be simple. Wrong. The large Portuguese population in France visits family in Portugal over the holidays. When they return, between January 2nd and January 15th, every flight from Lisbon to Lyon, Geneva, Paris, Marseille, and Nice are full. The closest available seat to Chamonix was Zürich - 6 hours by train. Bummer. When I reached Zürich, Tim was still in London. Yet Tim reached Chamonix (via Geneva) first.

Initial Days of Difficulty
Tim physically prepared to ski. I was gasping for breath after 10 minutes on the slopes. "It's the elevation," Tim generously reasoned. Yeah, the elevation and my neglected physique. Days 1 and 2 had their share of trouble. Skiing down a steep unmarked patch, Tim broke a binding and ski. Broken ski in hand, we took turns descending a long stretch on one ski to the base. The following day, skiing through the trees with occasional 2 meter drops, Tim twisted his knee. Maybe being out of shape had it's advantages - I had to ski slowly and rest often. There's no better injury prevention.

The Rest of the Week
2 days of skiing advanced and expert slopes challenged every muscle in my body. Tim's knee was sore. Day 3 was a much needed rest day. By the morning of day 4, we felt recovered. The weather cleared, and the top of Aiguille du Midi at 3842 meters (12,605 feet) was visible. We hired a guide and took a gondola to the top. The descent from Aiguille du Midi isn't terribly difficult, but it has hazards best avoided by following a guide who knows the mountain. The most common hazards are glacier crevasses. Ski into one and don't expect to be found until the ice flows to the base several hundred years later. The second most common worries are cliffs. While skiing, avalanches, while also life threatening, seem a distant concern. A guide is a good investment. The remaining days we skied Les Grands Montets. Tim found untracked powder that he loves. I had packed powder that I like. None of the terrain was too difficult.

Return to Lisbon
Chamonix is a world class ski resort continually hosting a wide international crowd. But over the years, my enthusiasm for skiing has waned. While skiing the slopes, soaking in a hot bath, or eating dinner, I thought of Masami in Portugal. How could I miss her so much when we've been together constantly for 7½ months? But I did. It's difficult to believe that our first 6 years of married life we were apart more often than together. I traveled for work, sometimes being away from home a month at a time. In California, Masami lived near campus during the week, and we only saw each other on weekends when I was in town. A week in Chamonix away from Masami felt like a week too much. I returned to Lisbon via Zürich in longing anticipation. Home is where the heart lies. This world travel experience is proving so.

I returned home - to Lisbon.

Some Key Costs
6 day ski rental FRF 820.00
6 day ski lift pass
  (passport sized photo required)
FRF 999.00
Ski guide for 1 day FRF 1550.00

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