Fancy Chamonix? | In the snow

Description Chamonix like ‘contagious’ is probably not a great choice of words at the moment, but it is true that the valley has captivated its visitors for several centuries, as many return, winter and summer, and some do not leave all. simply never!

Is it the city of character that attracts visitors, or the mountains with their cascading glaciers, or the people who so easily share their passion with others?

The pandemic has of course made travel more difficult, but the good news is that Chamonix will still be there.

For those who do not yet know the destination, Chamonix Mont-Blanc is both a town and a 28 km long valley. At the bottom of the valley are many traditional villages and hamlets, each with its own personality and each claiming the majestic peaks and their eternal snows above.

People have been coming here far longer than most other ski destinations, and even long before downhill skiing was imagined. In 1741, the first official visitors to the Chamonix valley were two Englishmen, William Wyndham and Richard Pocock. Their heritage in the valley was the “Mer de Glace”, the name they gave to the impressive Montenvers glacier.

20 years later, another illustrious visitor said of the valley:

“These majestic glaciers, separated by great forests and crowned with granite rocks of astonishing height carved in the shape of enormous obelisks mixed with snow and ice, present one of the noblest and most singular spectacles that he has ever seen. is possible to imagine.

Little has changed in more than two and a half centuries.

Following the conquest of Mont Blanc in 1786, explorers, mountaineers, tourists, artists and scientists were inexorably drawn to Chamonix. Dry Scotsman James W Forbes, considered the forerunner of glaciology in the early 1800s, spent many years studying the movement of ice. He developed long-standing friendships with local guides, in addition to a passion for the Mer de Glace, and was rather laughable towards anyone who didn’t fall in love with Chamonix.

“Anyone who does not feel his step lighter and his breath freer on the Montanvert and the Alp Wengern, can be classified among the incapable and authorized to withdraw in peace to paddle his skiff on Lake Geneva or stroll in the lounges. from Baden. Baden, ”he said.

It was John Ruskin on the 19the artist and poet of the century who coined the expression “the mountains are the great cathedrals of the earth”. At the foot of Brévent, the Pierre Ruskin testifies to the hours he spent in tender contemplation of nature: “I have never seen the valley as beautiful as this evening! With its noble and tranquil slopes of a deep and deep green and gray, and, above, the rich orange of the Needles. I don’t know anywhere else where you see green and orange united by purple, as the sun leaves the pines and stays on the granite. The great waterfall across the valley was bounding with increasingly wild roars… and the wind brought me its roar across the fields. Sweet level fields! ”

Many more colorful quotes attest to the Briton’s love affair with Chamonix, but this one is a favorite. After having successfully climbed Mont Blanc in 1851, the impresario Albert Smith wrote in his diary:

“The peaks looked like islands emerging from a hazy ocean – an archipelago of gold; the sight was more than the realization of the most magnificent visions that opium or hashish could conjure up.

© alpine museum

Large hotels were created at the end of the 1800s under the names of Hôtel de Londres, Hôtel d’Angleterre, Hôtel Royal, Hôtel International… The small agricultural village became a cosmopolitan destination and the arrival of the train in 1901 confirmed the prosperity of the Belle Époque.

The passage in the 20e century is greeted by the arrival of the long wooden planks which will happily revolutionize the endless winter seasons in Chamonix. In 1898, at the age of 10, the Englishman Arnold Lunn tested his first pair of skis on the slopes of the valley.

Although he was not particularly enthusiastic at the time, he became a key player in the development of alpine skiing. In 1924, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, but due to Scandinavian opposition, alpine skiing was not on the agenda! Lunn then organized the first international competition, the Arlberg-Kandahar, in 1928, and the rest is history …

During the “Roaring Twenties” in Chamonix, three splendid hotel palaces, with magnificent gardens and ballrooms, attracted aristocrats and dignitaries from all over the world. One of these superb buildings, the “Majestic” is the Palais des Congrès de Chamonix, the second is proudly occupied by the Alpine Museum and the third, the Savoy Palace, recently reopened under the patronage of the Folie Douce hotels. The bygone era of the crazy parties has been revived, and the British are always here to have fun!

© museum

For more than 250 years, the British have kept a special place in their hearts for Chamonix. Many, like Victor Saunders, President of the Alpine Club, mountaineer, guide and author, have chosen to settle in the valley. The passion that the Chamonixes share for this extraordinary environment is what brings them together, whatever their nationality.

The challenge of 21st century is how to protect this heritage, how to continue to enjoy the Chamonix valley without compromising the lives of those who will become the future guardians of this temple of nature.

To quote the voice of reason of the English mountaineer and illustrator Edward Whymper, author of “Scrambles between the Alps”, loyal visitor to Chamonix from 1860 to 1911, who now lives in the Chamonix cemetery:

“Go up if you want, but remember that courage and strength are nothing without prudence … do nothing in a hurry, watch well with every step and from the beginning, think carefully about what may be the end. . “

If mountaineering is a metaphor for life, then the pioneering spirit of mountain lovers will undoubtedly be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

About George Dailey

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