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IT'S A FAMILY AFFAIR - Simon & Miriam Wilson, Chamonix
Thursday February 28, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

Dad, Simon Wilson, and his 17year-old daughter Miriam go with the Ski Club of Great Britain's families half-term off-piste holiday.


Simon: I have been skiing now for nearly fifty years - which divides pretty neatly in half between the early on-piste years and, more recently, as many off-piste ones as family finances have allowed.

One of the life changing moments on that journey was a Ski Club of Great Britain off-piste week in Chamonix nearly 20 years ago with legendary mountain guide, Roland Steiger.

So when the chance came up to come back here with Miriam I jumped at it.

Miriam's a great piste skier already - and I can't wait to see how she takes to both the off-piste skiing and a chalet full of like-minded strangers, something we haven't done before with the family.


Miriam: Despite a brief panic in the morning when the first flights departing from Southampton Airport are cancelled due to fog, our journey to Chambéry Airport is relatively smooth and easy.

From there, we drive for about an hour and a half to reach Les Houches - a village close to Chamonix.

Once we arrive at the chalet we are immediately greeted by our lovely hosts; Marcus and Audrey, cake is already set out in the living room and we make ourselves a cup of tea.

The atmosphere in the chalet is very warm and welcoming and I am starting to feel at home.

In the afternoon and evening we introduce ourselves to the other members of the group and sit down all together for the first of many delicious dinners.

Freshtracks in ChamonixFreshtracks in Chamonix


Simon: We are 13 in the chalet - five parents, seven teenagers plus experienced Ski Club Leader Gerry Aitken, whose role it is to keep us all in line and - at least roughly - on time throughout the week.

The cost of the trip includes skiing each day with experienced mountain guides Hannah Burrows-Smith and Kathy Murphy who turn up on the dot at eight-thirty in the morning for a briefing.

Perhaps inevitably there's a period of faffing around while we drive into town to pick up ski passes and to hire boots and skis so we don't actually get onto the slopes above Vallorcine until 1130.

When we do, the group is divided in two - keeping families together - and off we go.

The powder which fell a few days earlier is all tracked out, but Kathy finds our group some excellent off-piste snow and despite the slightly shorter day everyone is happy and tired when the skiing ends at around 4pm.

Freshtracks in ChamonixFreshtracks in Chamonix


Miriam: Dragging myself out of the warmth of my bed was difficult this morning but after a filling breakfast (and some coffee) I feel ready for a long day skiing.

Today, at the Grands Montets area, we ski almost every type of terrain imaginable from narrow, steep couloirs with various obstacles to crash into, to wide open bowls with soft snow, perfect for wide fluid turns that make us look like we know what we're doing (or at least I hope so).

After a relaxed picnic in the sun, we complete a few more runs and get ready for a long off-piste descent down to Argentière, where we treat ourselves to a drink at a café.

Freshtracks in ChamonixFreshtracks in Chamonix


Simon: It's Italy today - and a long ambition fulfilled; to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel and ski on the ‘other' side of Mont Blanc.

Courmayeur doesn't disappoint.

In the morning we stick mostly to red and black pistes and the areas beside them and then stop for a tasty Italian lunch on a sunny terrace.

But in the afternoon, we really hit the off-piste and find some near virgin powder on huge slope beneath the top station and especially in the trees lower down.

The tree skiing is superb and a couple of tips from Kathy really help Miriam and me with our technique.

Freshtracks in ChamonixFreshtracks in Chamonix


Miriam: Today, we head back to Le Tour and Vallorcine (where we skied on the first day) and to warm up we do a few piste runs and compete in a timed slalom race, where us teenagers beat the adults.

Afterwards, we head off-piste as usual and the highlight of the day is when we complete a short walk with our skis on our back, and cross over the France-Switzerland border on foot.

Here, in the sun, we eat our lunch and relax for a bit.

At the end of the day, we take a lovely off-piste run back down through the trees and take a well-deserved coffee and tea break at the café in the small railway station.

Freshtracks in ChamonixFreshtracks in Chamonix


Simon: Skiing the Vallee Blanche is one of the great rites of passage for any off-piste skier, and there has been anticipation all week in the group about whether and when we might get our chance.

With the weather continuing fine and clear, the guides decide to take us up on the Italian side of Mont Blanc to avoid the crowds and the infamous arête on the Aiguille du Midi.

From the modern new Italian top station at nearly 3500 metres, there's a brief walk along a rickety metal walkway down to the glacier.

It's a genuinely awe-inspiring experience as we are virtually alone as a group on the huge main glacier beneath the summit of Europe's highest peak in perfect conditions with barely a breath of wind.

Miriam follows Kathy down one of the early descents.

The snow on the glacier is crusty but firm and she skis it beautifully - proud dad time..

Miriam: ...further down, the terrain changes and there are more crevasses and some imposing ice cliffs.

After a brief picnic lunch, we continue skiing down and head into some very narrow ice gulleys, which are slightly nerve-wracking but very beautiful.

Once we reach the end of the glacier it is an exhausting but rewarding 30 minute walk back over to the ski area, carrying our skis on our back.

Although tiring, the day was absolutely amazing and definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

Back at the chalet, everyone is very tired yet we still manage to play a round of Articulate! and some card games.

Freshtracks in ChamonixFreshtracks in Chamonix


Miriam: On our final day, we head back to the Grands Montets (where we skied earlier in the week), and although the sun was still out, it was far more windy, especially at the top.

Regardless, we ski many off-piste runs and also do a timed transceiver training exercise where we have to find the buried transceiver using our own transceivers and probes.

Back at the chalet, we play UNO together and receive our ski ratings from Gerry - one for on-piste, one for off-piste.

Overall, the trip was a fantastic experience and as well as greatly improving my off-piste skiing technique, I made some new friends and had a lot of fun.

Freshtracks in ChamonixFreshtracks in Chamonix


Simon: What a week it has been. We've had virtually cloudless blue skies throughout and still found some excellent off-piste snow, thanks to the guides.

It would have been lovely to have had some fresh powder too, but with so many teenagers in the group the collective view is that we would take sun and varied snow over whiteout conditions and powder any day.

Skiing is never going to be a cheap pastime - and off-piste skiing adds to the expense as the expertise of professional guides is essential and can't be compromised.

But the Ski Club helps keep the costs down with twin rooms in a comfortable but far from luxurious chalet and the unpaid assistance of a highly experienced ski hand like Gerry to drive our van to the slopes and generally keep order.

Miriam is the oldest of our four girls - I suspect I am going to be back on this trip several times with her sisters in the years to come.

Freshtracks in ChamonixFreshtracks in Chamonix

See here for further information about the Freshtracks holidays run by the Ski Club of Great Britain.

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