It’s easy to get carried away in Europe’s mountain capital. Everything is super-scaled there, from mountains to egos and the party scene. Any similarities noticed between real people and the fictitious ones in this article are purely coincidental.
Getting to Chamonix
1. Don’t blindly grab an old alpine guidebook off your dad's shelf. The Alps have changed considerably in 40 years.
2. Don’t book a late Friday evening flight over from the UK, assuming you can book a transfer when you land at the airport in Geneva (you can’t, you have to book in advance), and end up benighted at the airport before you’ve even started.
3. Don’t forget to check when the lifts open. It’s also worth checking this if you think you know it all after multiple winter seasons and years of summer trips!
4. Don’t get caught using someone else’s lift pass, refuse to pay the fine, then lie about your identity when the police are called.
5. Don’t persuade your mate that you’re a good enough skier to jump straight on the Vallée Blanche as soon as you arrive, fall over all the way down Europe’s longest lift-serviced off-piste ski run, and then explain yourself by saying: “I AM a good skier, for the amount of time I have actually spent on skis.”
Don't blindly follow someone else's ski tracks. Photo: Sarah Stirling
6. Don’t blindly follow someone else’s ski tracks – in Chamonix these could have been made by anyone from a lost punter to someone who has fallen in a crevasse to a pro approaching a steep ski test-piece. For the same reason – don't show off and leave your mate behind.
7. Don’t walk around town in your harness long after you got off the mountain unless you want to look like a punter.
8. Don’t go out for a drink and end up on a bar crawl of Chamonix’s most famous hotspots like the MBC, Chambre Neuf and Elevation the night before you’re due to set off for whatever you’re in town for.
9. While you’re out on the town, don’t throw snowballs at gendarmes, throw your mate into a water fountain, or get thrown our of the discotechque for failing to realise that the vodka on the bar was just there for ‘show’.
10. Don't confuse a 10 euro note with a 50 euro note when tipping in Poco Loco or break your ankle on the curb when tipsy on day two of a two-month trip.
Forbes Arete. Light and fast is not the best mantra for newbies. Photo: Sarah Stirling
11. Or jump on the Luge d’Ete (summer toboggan run), fail to pay attention to the red ‘ralentissez’ flags and shoot off a corner to a sudden sore halt. Cue several days of perfect weather while you are unable to raise arm above shoulder height and get little sympathy.
12. Don’t assume you are going to practice your French unless you are very determined. Expect your attempts to be met with utter non-comprehension (if you speak poor to reasonable French) or replies in English (if you speak good to fluent French) until you have proven your ability to the satisfaction of your language sparring partner. This may take a while.
13. Don’t decide to ‘walk up to Cosmiques Arete' to save money on the lift, then end up benighted halfway up the Mer de Glace, having had an epic in a crevasse, wake up to find all your clothes are frozen, and attempt to blowtorch them out of the ice with your camping stove.
14. Don’t get on a route that's in really bad condition just because it's been on your screensaver for two years.
15. Don’t assume you can climb Mont Blanc on a pogo stick in a day-and-a-half having just arrived. It’s best to spend a few days acclimatising. In any case, there is a lifetime of climbing and experiences to be had in Chamonix, so do yourself a favour, and consider starting on something other than the most famous tick, just because it’s the most famous tick.
Cosmiques Arete. Get the lift up. You're not in Scotland now. Photo: Dan Fitzgerald
16. Don’t jump on a route that someone has recommended to you as ‘easy’ and ‘will take no time at all’.
17. Don’t in any way talk yourself up with any stranger on any alpine activity.
18. Don’t skip the boring chapters in Mark Twight’s Extreme Alpinism on gym sessions, optimised nutrition and Zen meditation, then jump to the conclusion that ‘everyone in Chamonix does routes in a day’ and head out with a tiny pack.
19. Don’t get benighted on your first big route because you underestimated it, then remember you only brought one duvet jacket between two in your tiny packs. You may end up having to stay up all night swapping the jacket and cuddling bottles of warm pee in an attempt to prevent hypothermia.
20. Don’t convince yourself that some other people on the glacier below mean you’ll probably just make it back for the last lift. After closing, the Midi station goes into arctic Bond-villain lair mode. Heavy doors seal off all the lovely warm tourist traps leaving a choice between the bogs – heated but already occupied and smelly – and the tunnel: cold, colder and colder. You may end up doing a walk of shame from the first lift down to the nearest boulangerie to cuddle an oven-fresh baguette.
Thanks to all those who contributed.
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