Fortunately, for our chosen carrier — I use the term ‘chosen’ in the loosest possible sense — we are not reviewing their services or their contribution to, what is shaping up to be, an epic trip for our party of boarders and skiers.
Poor old Easy Jet. Not oft spoken of highly, but in addition to their no-frills air travel, today they are blighted by frozen water tanks, rendering the loos without the ability to flush and passengers without refreshment. Well, except for alcohol—but at 7am in the morning? However, never let it be said Easy Jet have not made an effort in the uniform stakes: their choice of charcoal-grey to contrast, or rather offset, the orange should be commended. It could so easily have been black — ergo, much too harsh a contrast to digest that early in the day.
And so off we set, an hour later than scheduled. Not that I’m complaining, as it afforded Bristol’s local tailor his favourite caffeine fix: Starbucks Pike Place (filter) coffee, black. Thank you!
I’ll confess that I’d have rather woken at 03:30 this morning as planned, to have been able to conduct one’s morning ablutions in the sanctuary which is my bathroom and ponder at my leisure which pocket square would complement my travel attire best — but my alarm was mysteriously reset to 04:46. This meant that BLT had but 14 minutes to be suited — well, tweeded — and booted: L.L. Beans original hunting boots, if you’re wondering, assembled together with snowboard bag at the bottom of Totterdown’s ‘Montmartre’ steps to be picked-up by Robinson and Pang for what is likely to be this year’s only snowboarding trip.
So, aside the L. L. Beans and the A Suit That Fits tweed jacket, what does BLT’s alpine ensemble consist of? Green marino sweater, contrasting green gingham check shirt, carrot coloured chinos, and last but by no means least, this year’s accessory of choice, my chocolate-coloured beach watch. And while it’s yet to see a beach, the term ‘beach-watch’ is the name affectionately referred to by the bestower of this chirpy time piece, Gregory Van Praagh (thank you, Mr Van Praagh).
Chamonix, unlike other winter sports destinations, is not just a ski-resort but a town — the town where the winter Olympics were first hosted, no less — meaning that people live there year round. As such, this means that its inhabitants don’t just dress for the piste but dress for every occasion: hiking, climbing, drinking and dining (and there was some epic dining, but more of that later). In fact, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a wedding in the quaintest little chapel, the roof of which I was unable to resist riding off, the sub zero temperatures doing nothing to hinder the guests’ dressing in their finest wedding finery.
Our first encounter of French (well, English) hospitality was at Geneva Airport, where Chamonix All Year proprietor and all around nice guy Nick collected us for the drive across the border into France. We also inadvertently acquired James Stentiford (Lib Tech team rider and DC shoe agent) on the plane over, so our carriage was full with boarders and skiers all vying for the upper echelons of the decibel range. But safe and sound, we arrived at our delightful five-bedroom chalet, though not before a superb lunch of steak frite at Bar Monkey, coupled with an afternoon of drinking to get in the spirit.
What about our winter wonderland accommodation: the cabin was picturesque, set in its own plot of snow-covered land, floor to ceiling pine and an open-log fire. It also came with a plethora of mod-cons: retractable projector screen (to really get in the mood when watching apre-snowboard movies), a bathroom for each room, and two games rooms comprising a pool table, a dartboard, and an X-Box. We could not have asked for a more idyllic base for a week’s riding — well, with the exception of being closer to town.
Lift passes were provided courtesy of Compagnie du Mont-Blanc and this may have been my highlight of the trip: old rolling stock to take you by train up the mountain. Sadly, I didn’t make it to the summit, but I did enjoy watching the train track wind up the mountain from the Jacuzzi in the yard — did I mention the Jacuzzi!?
The benefit of having local knowledge in your party is that you learn about the local haunts and the shops that sell covetous skiwear, and underground bars, such as La Cave, which is literally underground. Then there are the hidden restaurants, accessed through these underground bars, and which serve the best French cuisine: l’escargots, foie gras, steak and magnums of Cote du Rhone.
With all that taken care of, what does that leave? Apres-ski! Bar none, the most comprehensive apres-ski was provided by new venture The Kitsch-Inn, opened in 2012 by husband and wife team Kate and Paul. The Kitsch-Inn ticks all boxes: live music, jugs of beer (including my favourite tipple, Aflegem), a 70s-print saucepan, the same as my mother once owned, filled with retro chocolate bars like Double Deckers and Curly Wurlys, and the piece de resistance, whacky shots served in miniature, edible ice cream cones topped with cream.
The Kitsch-Inn is not only good at apres-ski, it also offers a dining room (a kitsch-one, obviously) where you can enjoy a sit-down meal, throw a birthday party, or even tinker on the ivories. Our very own Jason Shankey obliged us a number or two, whilst we provided the (out-of-tune) singing!
In what would otherwise be a week of riding and drinking as hard as possible, in order to get it out of our systems for a year, it made a nice change to soak up some culture too. Indeed, we were introduced to so many extracurricular activities by our fantastic hosts at Chamonix All Year, and on the last day, I was left having to choose between heading up the mountain or go into town and take the old rolling stock up the mountain to one of Chamonix’s many dorms, where mountaineers seek refuge during an expedition. The one in question used to be a chateau, until it was donated to the people of Chamonix. Obviously this appealed to my renaissance sensibilities, but alas, it will have to wait another year, because up the mountain I went for one last blast!