As an avid skier, I’ve always felt drawn to the Alps. In the winter of 2023, I was at last able to travel there and ski down those mythical mountains. This article tells the story of my trip, but I’ll also give some tips for those who, like me, want to explore the unique playground that is the French and Swiss Alps.
Having travelled and skied all over Canada, I’ve long had an eye on the Alps. In all the excursions organized by agencies or operators, however, I couldn’t find an itinerary that would allow me to do everything I wanted in five days. That’s why I came up with my own plan to go to the Alps with my girlfriend.
The trip planning began by identifying the mountains where we wanted to ski. On the French side, I absolutely wanted to visit Chamonix and ski the mythical Mont Blanc and its incredible ski terrain. An appealing aspect of skiing in Europe is that everything is nearby. We wanted to take advantage of the vacation to also explore Verbier, Switzerland.
The airports of Lyon, France, and Geneva, Switzerland, are within comparable distances of Chamonix. I chose Lyon for two main reasons. First, flights and car rentals are much cheaper than in Geneva—Switzerland has quite a high cost of living. The second is that Air Canada offers a direct night flight to Lyon, which maximizes skiing time. I love sleeping on a night flight and heading straight to the ski slopes when I wake up. Despite the shuttle services offered, I rented a car, which allowed us to have more flexibility and visit multiple places.
Day 1 — Chamrousse
For the first day, we went to visit Chamrousse Mountain on the outskirts of Grenoble. That day, it was very warm, and we had great spring skiing conditions. Chamrousse is known for its snow park, which was impeccably maintained. We had dinner in Grenoble with friends from Rossignol that evening; we had an appointment with them for a factory visit the next day.
For day two, we went to Rossignol for a short factory tour and to meet with the product managers who work on developing new products. Find out more about the tour right here.
After our visit, we headed to Chamonix with a stop in Annecy to visit and see the famous Lake Annecy. We had some croissants and coffee on the way and then headed to Chamonix and the Pointe Isabelle Hotel. Our base camp was in the heart of Chamonix and combined comfort, a good value and amenities for skiers. We were supposed to ski Chamonix the next day, but because a major snowstorm appeared on the radar for the next evening, we decided to go to Switzerland.
Day 3 — Verbier
Skiing in Switzerland is the kind of thing you dream about as a kid! That morning, we got up early, picked up some good coffee and tasty croissants at the L’Al’Pain Bakery, then headed to Verbier, Switzerland, which is 90 minutes from Chamonix. The village of Verbier is perched in the high mountains in a spectacular setting. A winding road led us to the foot of the gondola to start our day of skiing. A few weeks after the Freeride World Tour final, aka Xtreme Verbier, we were finally there. We were greeted by spring conditions, and the predicted blizzard kept us waiting. Still, the scenery was magical. The mountain was dotted with little chalets where you could stop for a bite to eat. In short, Switzerland was like the Switzerland in the movies! Cheese fondues, chocolate and Swiss chalets!
We were back in Chamonix just in time for the snowstorm. The police had set up roadblocks: winter tires, chains or snow socks are mandatory in snow areas.
Here’s a tip: fill up with gas in France. It costs a fortune in Switzerland!
Day 4 — Snowstorm over Chamonix
Nearly 50 centimetres of snow had already fallen, and there was zero visibility! With a wide range of options in the vast Mont-Blanc area, we chose Grands Montets. Since it was snowing so heavily that we couldn’t see very far in front of us, we skied cautiously in the immensity of the high mountains. But the skiing was still un-be-liev-able, and we took beautiful pictures. We went to après-ski with tired legs!
Day 5 — Skiing with a Guide from the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix
When you know little or nothing about a mountain, it always takes a few visits to familiarize yourself with the slopes. In the Alps, much like in Western Canada, there are few runs like what we ski in Quebec. When your travel time is limited and you want an optimal skiing experience, hiring a mountain guide makes sense. Founded more than 200 years ago, the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix is the world’s largest and oldest mountain guide association. We called on their services. Our guide for the day, Didier, knew every nook and cranny of the mountain. Back at Grands Montets, which is known for its marked but ungroomed, steep runs, we skied in fluffy powder. He took us to spots that were off the beaten path, but where we knew we could skin back as needed. We were treated to many face shots as we surfed remnants of the previous day’s storm. We could ski with confidence thanks to our guide, who gave us a true peak experience. We’ll never forget that day.
Our memorable stay ended with a stop at a grocery store to stock up on the local cheeses recommended by our guide. We left for Lyon with our heads full of memories and the little kid in me 100% satisfied with having fulfilled his dream.