Eurfirst Trip to the French Alps
Last edited February 26, 2006
If you are not totally intimidated by heights and do not suffer from altitude sickness, you will have one of the most memorable days of your life if you cross the long expanse of glacier flowing down the side of Mount Blanc to a station across the border in Italy. If you do fear heights, you will still be delighted by the beauty and easy access to the mountains you can find in the resort towns in the French Alps
One of the benefits of long-term human habitation near these mountains is that there are extensive systems for travel through them that are not possible in other parts of the world. And at most resort cities, hikers are using the same network for summer travel as skiers use for winter excursions. This puts many more people into the mountains during the summer.
Though we visited other places in the French Alps, our main destination was Chamonix, the famous city that hosted the 1924 Winter Olympics. Situated at the base of Mt. Blanc, its fills a small river valley with hotels, campgrounds and great restaurants. It is a busy resort year round for those who come to ski its slope, ride the powerful convection currents created by summer heating or simply enjoy the majestic beauty of the region.
If you come in the winter you will find almost almost 100 miles of trails to ski as well as some of the best places to get off trail on your snowboard or skis. In the summer, these trails fill with hikers who are spared by strain of a steep ascent by using the telepheriques (small cars moving along a cable) to many great trail heads. In the winter, there is a two lane luge run for those who aren't ready to hit the slopes, which you reach after a short lift ride to the top. After the snows melt, you can still enjoy the facility by riding quick wheeled luges down the concrete banks of the course for only a few dollars per run. Chamonix is a thrill seekers paradise because in addition to opportunities to rock and ice climb, snowshoe and dog sled in the winter, summer daredevils are often jumping off the canyon walls to be held in air by convection currents. On our first summer afternoon in Chamonix we spotted at least 45 "parachutes" suspended take off. For about $120, an experienced guide will give you a tandem fligth off the side of a cliff (telepherique ride to the point where you jump is included.); dramamine and prozac are extra.
If you're looking for a soggier way to enjoy the area, the locals have made a sport of repelling down or diving down waterfalls into water that just a few weeks before was part of a glacier. Gear includes a helmet, harness and wetsuit but you need to provide your own lunacy to take on the sport. As dangerous as it sounds, there are some canyoning adventures that are even done in the dark with flashlights, indicating that experienced guides know the terrain pretty well. There are books on the topic but is sounds like these adventures are best experienced for the first time with a knowledgeable guide. Bring about $75 to cover the cost of the adventure and lots of Advil to deal with possible bruises and dings.
Where to Stay
There are many reasonably priced motels and campgrounds close to the city center. You'll find places to pitch a tent or can rent a mobile home for a few nights for less than the cost of a hotel.