L'Esprit de Chamonix

Universal Expression
  |  Gorp.com

That evening, as Anne and I again roamed the Mardi Gras streets of Chamonix, we concluded that the only thing missing from the area was decent snow. Not for long. This was one of those rare trips that seemed embraced by good fortune. As we slept the clouds rolled in and snow started to fall. It was still pounding down in the morning, and when we reached the summit of an uncrowded area called La Flighre we found 18 inches of untracked powder awaiting our boards. We dove in.

The French do not use the term "snowboard." It's far too American-sounding. In its place they substitute the word "surf." And instead of a "snowboarder," in France you are a "surfer." Only it isn't pronounced that way — the French express it in the smooth, cool poetry of their language: ser-fair. I fell in love with the word. It felt so much more distinguished to be a ser-fair than a plain old snowboarder. And during my glorious day in La Flighre I felt like a surfer.

The snow was too deep to touch bottom — a fresh wave of powder washed over me with every toeside turn. The visibility was verging on nil, and even though we stuck to safe, crevasse-free terrain, I often found myself inexplicably in midair. A mogul? A catwalk? It mattered not: The landing was always soft. My crashes were the kind that produced bathtub-size divots. Snow soon oozed its way through every seam, but the wetness only made me ride harder. It was the type of conditions where you couldn't bear to take a break. On the slopes a half-dozen languages were spoken, but whoops of joy on a powder day, as I'd always suspected, proved to be a universal expression.

Our third day ended the same way all our days in Chamonix ended: with dinner. A good dinner in France is a near-religious experience. The Gustavia served good dinners. We sat at a small round table each evening in the Gustavia's pastel restaurant and for three hours were paraded with an array of dishes that provoked gustatory transcendence: butter-bathed escargots; wine-laced fondue; honey-glazed duck; mushroom-smothered salmon; mint-marinated lamb. There was wine, of course, preceded by apiritifs and followed by liqueurs. And dessert: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. The grand finale was the arrival of the plateau des fromages, a silver platter stacked with a dozen wondrously gooey French cheeses. We devoured every morsel. Each night, it seemed, I had to loosen my belt another notch.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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