Chamonix: Visiting a Legendary Ski Bum
Turns and Tall Tales with Gary Bigham
Gary moved to Chamonix, France, over 20 years ago and now owns a cool old chalet in Montroc, just up the road from Argentiere, at the head of the Chamonix valley. Along with other entrepreneurial ventures (his band Gary Bigham and The Crevasse Holes and a lucrative slideshow/comedy show), he now runs a "chalet" (cabin) business called Vitamin Ski Holidays out of his home.
The chalet has two single beds in each of the two rooms, an outdoor shower (there is a bath inside, but the outdoor shower rules), and he serves breakfast and dinner. Gary cooks the best food in France, but he doesn't allow anyone including pro skiers to talk about skiing at the dinner table. The only exception to this rule is on fondue night, when no one is permitted to speak of anything but skiing. These dinners are prefaced by Gary's grand monologues, when he recites the tallest of tall tales from his days of ripping better than anyone else in the world ever has.
Gary and I believed the upper tram would climb above the clouds and it would be clear at the top, but Vance and Gordy didn't think it was worth the additional $5 US dollars to go for it. Gary really wanted to go, and I trusted his intuition that it would be good, so we headed to the top and Gordy and Vance stayed on the front-side gondolas, known by many as the "white eggs" skiing by braille.
After Gary and I reached the top and climbed the additional 100 vertical feet up the hazardous metal steps to the viewing station, it was almost full bluebird. My faith in the longtime local's intuition had paid off. All of the peaks were shrouded in misty clouds and the sun was shining through the Aguilles throwing off an ethereal glow, like a renaissance religious painting.
Gary shot a few photos (I unfortunately did not bring my camera), and then we jumped the railing and set the first tracks down the glacier. Gary was claiming it was his best run of the year. For me it was an epic moment to be with a legend on his hometurf and to see him smile.
When you get to Chamonix (as all ski bums should at some point in their lives) be sure to look for Gary Bigham's slideshow at the Hotel Touring or his band at the Chambre Neuf. If you meet him and he likes you, he might just let you rent a room in his chalet and cook you the best food in France. If you are really lucky he will share with you some of his local and worldly wisdom.
Dave Swanwick, MountainZone.com Correspondent