Returning to Chamonix is like visiting an old friend who you know so well, you can finish their sentence. In French. It’s a busy, touristy, Brit-filled place and must have more cheese per square metre than anywhere else on earth.
This time of year, the streets vibrate under the impact of ski boots and the sound of clattering skis is only just audible above the clink of beer glasses hitting the bars, waiting for refills.
For skiers and boarders, Chamonix is a Mecca of gnarliness. The easiest pistes in the resort would be intermediate anywhere else and the hardest, well, they’re off the scale, certainly off my scale anyway. For the brave and well-equipped, the mountains offer a massive playground, for the foolhardy and ill-equipped, they can be an icy tomb.
After a very stressful year, we were mentally exhausted. Even booking a ski trip was too difficult, so we opted to return to the town dubbed the home of alpinism and our honeymoon destination 18 years ago. Where else do you go when you need comfort than to see an old friend?
Everything was wonderfully familiar, so much so that we felt like locals, speaking French to everyone, whether they were French or not, then shrugging in that Gallic way when they replied in loud English that they didn’t understand. How we laughed! We had some fabulous conversations in French with people from all over the world. The solo skier, born in Brazil, but living in Geneva, over for the weekend, the two Spaniards who asked us which bus to catch, then got on the wrong one, and the two French lads, off to do something brave, we agreed they had ‘les couilles d’acier’ (balls of steel). I even got to practice my French vernacular after a rather spectacular face plant ‘putain de merde!’ (f#cking sh!t). I don’t think anyone heard…
But the best exchange of all was with the waiter at our regular patisserie. I’d taken my sketch book to try and draw the impressive mountains dominating the Chamonix skyline. It was just a sketch, with my left (non-dominant) hand, an inspiration from the 64 Million Artists January Challenge I took part in, but the waiter was so complimentary, and our conversation so animated, I felt like I was a local, at home with my friends.
The snow will be gone from the lower levels soon, but we’ll be back in the summer to see our old friend, run the rocky trails, climb the crags, walk around the town, eat our own body weight in cheese, drink beer at the micro brasserie, sketch a bit and speak more French, though not swear as much.