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Piste Artiste
Fulfilling Dreams in Champery, Switzerland

Ohhh, to ski in Switzerland. I have dreamed of it my whole life — from initially seeing the photos of my parents' trips to the Swiss Alps (they are both British, emigrated to the US one year prior to my birth) to the films and later TV shows on the country with the rolling green hills and jagged peaks. The Matterhorn, the Eiger, Zermatt; these were places imprinted on my mind as the "Alps." I have learned to love the French Alps and I have skied a few times in Italy, but for some reason I had never come to ski in Switzerland.

Now I am here in Champery, right on the boarder with France. We are so close, you can see the Mont Blanc a few ridges away and we ski into Avoriaz, France, for lunch and the cheaper cuisine. The Porte de Soleil (door of the sun), where we are skiing, consists of seven Swiss and eight French resorts all interconnected and skiable under one "Porte de Soleil" ski pass.

"The chalets come with stereos — unless you play them so loud you blow the amp..."

We are living in Champery, home base for the Piste Artiste guide and chalet service. The world famous skier, Andy MacMillan, is not only our guide but also our host as one of the PA owners. When I say "we" I am referring to our crew here shooting for Teton Gravity Research's (TGR) next ski film. Gordy Peifer and I are the skiers, Vance Shaw is our ripping cinematographer and Scott Markewitz is our photographer.

The Piste Artiste folks have invited us here to stay in their 12-bed chalet (just a little bigger than Gary Bigham's pad; see last week's tale). The place is complete with chalet girl/chef, TV, VCR, stereo and is situated only a stone's throw from the tram. The chalets come with stereos — unless you play them so loud you blow the amp — needless to say we were forced to sing, play Euro VH1, or pull the car up next to the chalet and crank the CD player when desirous of tunes.

Ski Posse
The Posse
The chalets also come equipped with is an endless supply of wine, which is absolutely necessary considering the amount of cheese with which the European meals are prepared. The only way the Euro diet gets away with so much dairy (cheese, cream sauces, etc.) is by ensuring the populace an adequate supply of wine. Otherwise the entire French and Italian speaking contingents would have died off eons ago of atherosclerosis.

I only saw the sun twice in 11 days in Champery, and thus that was all I saw the surrounding peaks as well. Even though I was there on a film trip and sun helps a lot with shooting, I was just as happy skiing over a meter of fresh in the trees and in the blinding whiteout of the upper mountain. I skied some of the deepest pow I have skied in two years. To ski that kind of snow with great friends and a long time local and famous ripper like Andy MacMillan in the alps was an incredible experience.

Stay tuned for tales from Verbier, the largest ski area in the world.

Dave Swanwick, MountainZone.com Correspondent


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