By Joel Evans
Since moving to Chamonix in 2011 I have been searching for a way to maximize my time in the mountains and after almost 9 years I think I’ve finally cracked it.
I am writing this after completing a 1000m+ on a set of stairs. I have been using my imagination with regards to training as we are under a strict lockdown here in France with the recent pandemic of COVID-19. When I first learned that we could go no further than 1km from our homes I knew I had to find a way to keep my legs strong with no knowledge of when the restrictions would ease. 2.67m of height gain over 16 steps, find a good podcast and repeat 375 times and there’s your Vertical Kilometre!
Anyway, that’s enough about the virus, as I’m sure you have all heard enough about it already and are looking for something to take your minds off it. I would like to share with you my journey from ski-bum seasonaire to full-time mountain man!
I moved to Chamonix in 2011 as a wide-eyed snowboarder keen to ride as much as possible. My brother was a transfer driver and his work schedule looked great for fitting in lots of time up the mountain. I liked the idea of this job after working in a pub/bar during university. I knew the late work nights wouldn't tie in well with the early start for fresh tracks. After emailing every known transfer company in the valley, I was offered a job starting in December. After finding accommodation on a Chamonix Facebook group I packed my bags and headed out for my first winter season! My job in the airport transfer business allowed me to get up the hill at least 3 days a week. Don’t get me wrong, that’s more than enough, but over the years I developed a passion for the mountains and soon found ways to get more mountain time. I would opt for the late shift in the office so that I could get 1000m+ in with the dog on the skin track before work, or sneak a quick ski tour in before collapsing on the office chair sedentary for my 8-hour shift barely keeping my eyes open after an exhausting morning.
As my love of the mountains grew so did my ambitions. Drawn to the likes of ‘Fast & Light’ alpinism and ski-mountaineering I found myself spending long days in the mountains and tackling big alpine summits in single pushes from the car park, to summit and back. It was after the summer of 2017 where I climbed Mont Blanc, Matterhorn and Gran Paradiso all in this ‘single push’ style that it finally struck home that I should be working in the outdoors. The idea of making these mountains my office was a possibility.
Not being a climber and not wanting to turn my passion for skiing into a profession, I stumbled across the UIMLA International Mountain Leader scheme. This qualification allows the holder to guide on rolling terrain without travel on glaciers and without the use of ropes. This sounded perfect. To spend every day in the mountains without any of the stresses that come with the high alpine environment.
After looking further into the qualification I realized I had already completed all of the necessary pre-requisites so signed on to the first training course in Scotland. The training and qualification consists of 2 weeks of training courses and 2 weeks of assessments spread over a minimum of 18 months, with further learning and practice in-between. My first training course was in Scotland in November 2017 and I became a fully qualified UIMLA guide in January 2019.
Soon after finishing the course, I started working. It was still winter so my options were limited to snowshoeing. Now I’ll be honest with you, snowshoeing is not normally something I do for fun as I would much rather be on skis but being able to work outside and play in the snow with new and interesting people soon became more interesting and enjoyable than sitting in an office!
Winter 18/19 came and went and I achieved my ‘goal’ of climbing 100,000m on skis by mid-April. With all of my jobs since living in Chamonix, I rarely worked in May, which gave me time to enjoy my favorite month of the year. Spring in the Alps is a special time. Being able to ski cold powder at 4000m then go for an evening run or BBQ in the valley is as good as it gets.
As spring came and went I soon realized that my summer was looking pretty busy with hiking and running trips. It was time to put the skis away and focus on what I had been training for. That being said the skis had taken me on so many adventures this winter, from climbing 110,000m+, skiing some new and steep classics in the Mont Blanc Massif and skiing the Haute Route (Chamonix-Zermatt in 2 days).
During my first summer of guiding I met and led over 150 clients and hiked and ran through 3 countries, France, Italy, and Switzerland. I lapped the famous Tour du Mont Blanc half a dozen times and hiked and ran the 185km 12,000m+/- Haute Route twice. Finishing late September after walking around 2000km with 50,000m+ I was ready to slow down and enjoy the autumn.
However… Autumn is another quiet month in the Chamonix valley. The tourists leave, the work dries up and the mountains and trails are empty. Very much like the spring its time to reap the rewards of the training and accumulative endurance fitness that has built up over the past few months. It’s back to long alpine climbing days and weighted hill reps ready for another winter of Skiing and Snowshoe work… The cycle continues!
Follow Joel on Instagram @joelevans