Chamonix: a year on…warts and all

IMG_8812It’s been nearly a year since I packed up my Peugeot 107 and drove off into the Alpine sunset and having had a few people asking me about how it’s been and assuming I’m ‘living the dream…’ I thought I’d write about it for anyone interested.

Getting the Balance right:

It’s not been easy – but trying to find work and being able to continue writing has been really hard – as well as the constant feeling you are not making the most of it if you’re not “shredding the pow” or running 30 km every other day…..

Financially, writing/journalism doesn’t earn much anymore- gone are the golden days where you could make a living out of it ( unless i’m missing a trick here?) but that’s not to say its other rewards haven’t been immense. So it was always going to be about getting the balance right and this takes time. I’m hoping with the new season,  I’ve almost managed to achieve this and things will fall into place.

And so the last year has been a massive juggling act- from working at a transfer company, managing the cleaning of properties, working for an outdoor sports PR company in Chambery etc and trying to do the odd article, whilst getting involved with all Chamonix has to offer. Bizzarely, I actually feel i’ve ended up wroking much harder than I did in the UK…. but for various reasons I’m significantly out of pocket. You may say- “give up the travel/feature writing and get a proper job”- I have tried- but I’m not very good at not being my own boss. Also, when you move somewhere new you tend to cling to the things from the past that are important to you. It’s what I trained to do and I can’t really think of much else I want to do- call it a vocation?

So, I just couldn’t give it up, I wouldn’t feel like me anymore. So instead I’ve thrown  myself into it, and hence I’ve been on some amazing trips, met loads of interesting people- magazine editors, sports people, guides etc. However, I will be scaling it down next season as I really can’t afford to do it right now…and something surprising  came up:

Chamonix Radio

My saving grace came totally unexpectedly. I assumed moving to Chamonix would be the end of my radio career but in-fact it’s been given it a new lease of life.

I noticed via the wonders of ‘Face-ache’ (Facebook) – that there was an English speaking radio station not far down the road in Verbier. So I sent them my CV on the off chance of some freelance work – and amazingly Mountain Radio was set up by someone  I used to work with at Kmfm – Conor Lennon- and he took me under his wing and gave me a few months presenting – stuff I could do from my kitchen table- recording links etc etc. So- not hardcore BBC news- but I don’t really care about that anymore- it’s just great to be back on the airwaves and I care far more about reporting relevant information about a place I live- than stories so far removed from me I can’t really act as “an expert” , but rather churn out agency copy…..or rip it out of the local newspaper!

Mountain radio is expanding- now they are due to open in Chamonix, Crans Montana and maybe even Zermett -and ironically- another English speaking station is about launch in Chamonix too- who would have thought!

Since writing this blog- both radio jobs have fallen through… see my next blog for an explanation why.

Sport sport sport

Sports wise it’s been interesting and unexpected. Climbing will always be my first love. I don’t feel I have to force myself to go train –  because it’s fun… but with other stuff I’ve tried- primarily road biking…. it’s been harder- probably because I simply don’t feel very good at it.

However, I’ve done a little of all the things I’d moved to Chamonix for – maybe apart from snow plodding up Mont Blanc- but I’ve learnt that’s not massively a big deal. A bit of mountaineering, the Mont Blanc marathon and other trail runs, my mountain biking has really improved…. To say nothing of my skiing, off piste, ski touring…I love it all… And I’ve bought my ski pass for the next season…. So I’m definitely going back.

But Chamonix wouldn’t be Chamonix if it wasn’t full of the most ambitious, super fit and extreme athletes. I once thought I was fit- I now feel very average. Maybe it’s a good kick up the bum for me…. But also, I do like to go out and socialise… so perhaps I only have myself to blame for my ‘perceived  loss of fitness.


This has meant however just not so much time for climbing…. And now I’ve been back in London for a few weeks and enjoying the excellent walls we have here I realise how much I miss it. It was nearly two years ago I climbed my first 7a’s and I suspect my head and body aren’t quite there right now. I’d normally I on several climbing trips a year with friends. I’m currently on my first one this year… and have only done little climbing in Chamonix. Its actually much harder to meet people to climb with in Chamonix- I suppose inevitable when you move to a new place- but there aren’t so many clubs you can join and you often have to pay up front for the year if you do want to join somewhere…. That’s why I set up a Chamonix Facebook climbing group to get people together…


I’ve made some great friends – young and old. I feel very blessed. There are people from all over the world in Chamonix- its really international, rather than French. I also generally feel a little older than the average person that comes out for a ski season, but being there in the summer too allows you to meet the long term, year round residents who are more my age and mentality.


Well the phrase “ ski and a shag” has been banded around- I cant possibly comment on that….. but I don’t think ‘Mr Right’ is in Cham- I’m told the best thing is to bring a man out with you….. I’ve heard having a guide as a boyfriend also has its difficulties; Never around, and if you want to climb or do alpine stuff with them…well, you probably cant as its their job and the last thing they want to do after work…or- you may not be hardcore enough….

Learning French

I still have not moved on from rusty GCSE French – I regret this- but its very easy to not speak a work of it in Chamonix- and also, my priority had to be earning money  – and without the extra money- I cant pay for lessons- and I simply don’t know many French people -!!! Get a French boyfriend I’m told- I’m working on it….


Bureaucracy : Don’t expect to find information on the internet or be able to do anything online- you have to go to the mayor’s office to do anything and they will probably just laugh at you or look at you blankly if you cant really speak French. Fair enough I suppose….

Here are the things I’ve had issues with

-Getting onto the tax system- becoming an auto-entrepreneur

-Getting a Carte Vitale – (medical card,so you can claim some of your medical expenses back), takes ages , you have to get a French translation of your birth certificate and send it off to a mutuelle. I sent mine off ages ago and apparently they still have no record me.

-Getting my phone unlocked- T mobile just wont seem to do it. Hence massive phone bills, despite having a french simm (Free) ready to go into my iphone for the last few months.

-Getting information about how to get the ski pass which is cheaper for locals- apparently I can’t yet as I’ve not had a tax return-( the  gen du pays pass ) and am not a property owner. Here is a website which explains this:  Gens du Pays

-Getting money back on  French lessons- need to wait a year – tax return issue again.

If moving to France these are all things I’d really recommend you look into – as its caught me out and cost me.

I’ve recently found a website that explains all the issues. Here it is: Communiquer

In reflection however it’s been a great year, a massive learning curve and I’ve done loads. It’s also meant I appreciate many things about the UK more- cheaper food, better supermarkets, less bureaucracy, easy to get things done online etc -and what a great city London is!  So I’m trying not to beat myself up about the lack of climbing, lack of money, lack of language skills – I’m there for the long haul after all- if not Chamonix- then certainly the Alps.

I have however treated myself to two weeks in Kalymnos during the North Face climbing festival… So I’m hoping to get my climbing mojo back soon….

One response to “Chamonix: a year on…warts and all

  1. Thanks very much for your advice. It will be interesting to see what Brexit brings. Best wishes Helen

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