Every year for the winter holidays, I travel home to Germany and take a traditional Lookabaugh family ski trip. It’s always amazing being with family in the Alps for the holidays, and the majestic mountain views, the quaint but exciting villages and the seemingly touchable stars really do make for a real life winter wonderland.
Normally we’ll stay relatively in our comfort zone in Austria, Switzerland or Germany; we’ll stay in a hotel we’ve most likely been to before and we’ll ski for four days and leave. This year was different, however. This time our travels took us to the most beautiful, but also the most challenging ski resort we’ve seen: Chamonix, France.
The journey itself from Germany to Chamonix is treacherous! Whoever decided that guardrails were unnecessary was insane. Looking over the ledge at a rocky 200 meter drop while maneuvering the winding, icy, snow-covered roads was not my idea of a good time. Ready for a break, we stopped in Zweisimmen, Switzerland for a short day of skiing and a long-desired tour of the village of Gstaad.
My family and I have been dying to visit Gstaad since Dan Aykroyd’s reference in the pawn shop scene of Trading Places. This scene has become a staple movie quote in our house, and we had to see what all the fuss is about.
We were not disappointed.
Horse drawn carriages, towering Christmas lights and snow covered cobblestone streets, not to mention the incredibly expensive and elaborate shops, made the wait well worth it. After a night of marveling at the town’s beauty and extravagance, the morning meant time to hit the winding mountain roads once again.
Once in Chamonix, we settled in, unpacked and rested up for our first full day of skiing in the morning. Looking up at Mont Blanc — Europe’s highest peak — we felt ready to go. What we didn’t know was that Chamonix holds a reputation among extreme skiers for being the best place to test your skills — and your fears — on their dangerous and steep descents.
With five different ski areas across the mountain on both sides, Chamonix provides numerous options for skiers of all levels. Many areas of the mountain prove friendly to various levels, while others can be daunting for even the most experienced of skiers. With a tunnel to Italy, moderate skiing awaits those who may be unprepared to tackle Grands Montets and the world famous Aiguille Du Midi.
Grande Montets, at a towering 3,295 meters, requires two separate gondolas to reach the top of the slope. Once at the top, the terrain is so uneven and steep skiers must descend a staircase to reach a skiable area. Both the on and off piste skiing on Grande Montets proves challenging, but those who venture down to the glacier risk unforeseen crevasses and avalanches. As for my family and I — we stayed on the trail.
Aiguille Du Midi makes Grands Montets seem like a bunny slope. At 3,842 meters, Aiguille Du Midi is a strictly “ski at your own risk” area. No trails exist on the mountain, and a guide is highly recommended. Many rescues have been made to those who ignored these recommendations and unknowingly fell through snow covered crevasses. Unfortunately, few of these rescue attempts have been unsuccessful. Needless to say, I didn’t test my luck.
The beautiful village of Chamonix surpassed my expectations! Not only were the views of the mountains overwhelming, but the city’s structure itself was impressionable. The combination of massive squares and quiet alley ways made for an almost maze-like experience. The archetecture of the buildings was typical of an alpine town, but the modern decor was sometimes surprising.
Crepe stands on every corner, hot chocolate and hot wine cups in everyone’s hands and fondue pots in the windows of every cafe gave me the impression that food was a major attraction of Chamonix. I could not have been more right. The famous French raclette, a staple of the town, proved to be both delicious and fun to eat! Also, pictured below, Tartiflette adds a new spin on the ever popular cheesy potato concoction, Au Gratin.
Driving home on the winding alpine streets, with my sore legs and my protruding stomach, I came to the conclusion that Chamonix has become my new favorite ski resort. The spectacular views and challenging skiing combined with the quaint town and delicious food left an impression that will definitely stick.
Contact Tara Lookabaugh at [email protected]