Monthly Archives: February 2015

Skiing in France, Chamonix, Verbier and Courmayeur

  1. We do most of our skiing in Sun Valley, but once a year we try and explore a new area with our ski group. This year we ventured to France with Chamonix being our home base. We flew into Geneva and had a transfer to Chamonix. The hotel we chose was Le Morgane, http://www.morgane-hotel-chamonix. Le Morgane is a boutique hotel one block off the main shopping and pedestrian street. The hotel offered great service, no matter what you needed the staff was there to drive you to a restaurant, make reservations and guide you to ski shops for rentals. The spa offered excellent massages and other services. They have a small pool, hot tub and steam room, since the hot tub was not working they offered the use of their sister hotel facilities.
    The rooms are small so I suggest a junior suite for the comfort of space. The difference in price was worth the extra room.
    Upon our arrival and once we got organized we went to a great ski shop to rent our skies. “Concept-pro shop” is just a couple blocks away and they offered a broad selection of skies to choose from to match your personal level of skiing. Back at the hotel we met our guides for the week.
    The entire experience on the mountain is controlled by the quality of your guide.  Our guide was one of the very best we have ever had, Octavio Defazio was amazing with every detail, Octavio brought another guide, Carrado, to be with us since we were 9 people. They were both experienced ski and rock climbing guides that have been in these mountains for years.
    It was Valentine’s Day so we booked a great restaurant for the evening. Maison Carrier is housed in what appears to be an old farm house with big open fires roasting all types of meats. We shared great dinners for our first night in France and walked back to the hotel.
    The next morning after a nice breakfast in the hotel we prepared to ski an area about half an hour drive to the other side of the mountains, through an 8 mile tunnel to Courmayeur, Italy. We hired a car and driver to take all of us to Courmayeur; Raf Dhoomun, Raf had a nice clean van and was there for us for the week as we traveled from one area to the next. The area in Courmayeur is vast and it had been snowing so we had great powder skiing in and out of the trees when we chose to go off piste or stay on the groomed runs.
    Our guides made arrangements for us to have a great lunch at a small restaurant on the mountain, Chiecco, http://www.chiecco,com, with the owner Anna attending to our table. She brought us large wooden trays with local cheeses and dried meats to start. One of the special things about skiing in Europe is the opportunity to share great lunches mid day on food that you would never see in an American ski resort. After a full day on the mountain we headed back to the hotel. Just a heads up the toll for our van was 44 Euro each way to travel through the tunnel.
    Dinner that night was at a new restaurant called “La Telecabine”, a short walk from the hotel. They had beautiful fondue and of course as we found out every restaurant serves their version of steak tartar and fries. One interesting ingredient found in their version was the addition of ketchup and as the week went by we found that this is common recipe addition.
    The next morning we returned to Courmayeur, there was no new snow but the runs were groomed and the mountain is so vast that there was still plenty of tree and powder skiing. Our morning was capped off when we arrived at Petit Mont Blanc Restaurant with the smell of roasting pig in the air. They served roast sucking pigs with crisp skin that has been salted to perfection. Matched with a lot of cold beer and a couple of bottles of wine. Than back on our skies for another 2 hours.
    After a nap, nice massage we were ready for another dinner at Albert 1er a Michelin star restaurant at the Hameau Albert Hotel, a Relais Chateaux property.
  2. Day 3 we stayed closer to home and skied Grands Montets in the sunshine, the run from the top was about 3200m down. The lunch on the deck in the sun was called Argentero, nice pasta and beautiful salads of fresh shaved veggies. We skied until 3:30 and then had the long well groomed run down to the parking lot. We went easy for dinner with simple pizza at Café Valerio where the chef had won an award for the best pizza in Italy. The part of the restaurant in which we were seated was next door to the original, so the server had to run back and forth between the two places which slowed down the service.
  3.  Day 4 was an hour 20 minute drive to Verbier, a vast ski area located in Switzerland. We skied the 4 valleys In the morning we skied off piste from Gentiane’s pass toward Tortin. The sun was shining so you could see all the development in the valley below. We worked our way through the forest to the deck of a restaurant called Chez Danny for lunch. The sun was so bright they offered us straw hats to keep the sun off. The road twists and turns it way back to Chamonix with our trusty driver Raf in charge. We stayed in the hotel and dined in their 1 Michelin star restaurant called ‘Bistrot”. I had one of the best risotto dishes with shaved black truffles on top. Everyone had different dishes with a huge rib eye steak and black peppercorn sauce being shared by all. Deserts were worth the wait and then to top it off they presented a huge cheese cart.
    Glad we just had to go upstairs to hit the bed.
  4.  Day 5 was what we had all been reading about, the famous Vallee Blanche descent. We boarded the tram up the mountain at 8:30 not sure what was on the other side.IMG_4928 Our guides carried our skies down to the starting point while we waited and watched all the other people load their skies onto packs, rope up and start the climb down. When Octavio returned and we roped up in 2 groups of 4 he explained that we would all wind our way down a very steep narrow trail holding a guide rope. Where we put on our skies and started down an 18Km descent off piste over glaciers. It is an out of this world experience, but not sure one we would do again. It was very mix terrain, a little powder, packed bumps through narrow canyons and  wide open trails. We stopped half way down at a spot called “Requin Hut” on a rock out crop where they bring in the supplies by helicopter each day. After our bowl of soup and bread and cheese we continued down as far as possible to a steep staircase, 400 steps to be exact, where we climbed out to catch the Train de Montenvers back to the town of Chamonix.
    After a much needed nap we gathered for a fun dinner at a huge restaurant called ” Cap Horn” The tables had large candle holders with lovely white cloths and low lighting. The food had a real Japanese flair, the piece of sole I ordered was prepared to perfection.
  5. Day 6 our group was getting smaller, 4 of the gang departed, so we stayed in France and skied Brevent/Flegere, this part of the mountain faces Mont Blanc. It was a warm sunny day and the snow was getting thin so we skied on groomed runs and had an easy lunch on the mountain at la Bergerie at the top of the tram. That evening we just went to a small local pizza/pasta place called Napoli. One of the best pizzas we had. They only had about 30 seats on the main floor so be sure to make reservations but it is very good.
  6.  Day 7 the snow was moving in and the clouds made the visibility tough after such a great week. We just skied a half day on Vallorcine/Le Tour then headed back into town and had a delightful lunch at La Flambe. this was a true French restaurant with a décor of old ski photos and gear. The best French onion soup ever with a piece of toast and large chunk of cheese on the side. The snow was falling so we headed back to the hotel to pack and prepare to leave in the morning. We walked a couple doors down from the hotel to “Boccalatte” where we shared fondue and watched many of the other guests sharing raclette using large machines to melt the raclette cheese the proper way.Thank you to Octavio for making this ski trip one of the best ever. He is an amazing guide with great patience for our older group. He kept a watchful eye out to make sure we were all safe at all times.
    Octavio DeFazio
    +33 (0) 679732416

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