Chapter 49: The Squad Goes to Chamonix
A week of skiing and apres in the French Alps
Hello from London, and welcome to Backpackin'! If you want to follow this weird trip around the world, add your email below:
Bonjour my friends. Just wrapped up a fun week shredding fresh pow pow in Chamonix with 150 of my closest friends. Isn't business school fun?
This was my first time skiing the alps, so I wanted to share a few thoughts on the differences between Europe and US skiing. First of all, Chamonix has ~four separate skiable mountains that you can reach by bus or train from the city, while most US ski resorts have a central base point near town with multiple lifts. In total, the four mountains around Chamonix have about as many runs in total as you would find at a Keystone, Breck, Steamboat, etc.
They also don't really mark anything on the runs. You'll have a map at the top of the lifts, distance markers on the groomed runs, and the occasional signs with directions, but that's it. The red poles that mark rocks in ungroomed parts, the massive warning signs that surround tougher runs, and the ski patrol members that you'll often see in Colorado don't exist here. Half of the lifts don't even have workers, because you just scan your ticket on a kiosk to get on a lift.
Basically, if you die, you die. Natural selection at its finest.
Also, Chamonix is a bit further down the mountains from the ski areas, so you can't really walk to the slopes.
Anyways, I didn't die (assuming this gets published), so now let me tell you about it.
Saturday, January 7th
Rise and shine, Crox and I were up at 8 AM to head to the airport. We grabbed our bags, called an Uber, and headed out at 9. We were flying on Europe's premier budget airline, EasyJet, and I was surprised by how efficient their baggage-checking service went. We made it from the entrance all the way through security in like 30 minutes. After a two-hour flight, we landed in Geneva around 3.
Geneva sits just inside the western edge of the Alps, creating a beautiful approach as our flight touched down. I had received an email from AlpyBus (the shuttle that we used for our transit) saying that I would be on a 4:00 bus, while Crox was on a 5:00 bus.
Crox's luggage never came out of the chute, so he went looking for that while I made my way to the exit. Of course, when I got to the AlpyBus desk, they told me that there wasn't room on the 4:00 bus and, I would have to ride the 5:00 one. (AlpyBus is pretty terrible, as you will soon see).
Crox finally found his crate in the special luggage section, and we walked back to the Alpybus desk at 4:45. Our driver didn't walk in until 5:15, and he seemed high on... life (or some other substance). We finally left around 5:30 on a shuttle bus with 15 other passengers.
10 minutes into the drive, Crox texted me, "There's a 20% chance we die on this ride."
A few things that happened:
Our driver didn't seem to really know where he was going, he almost backed into traffic at one of the earlier drop off spots, and he tried to drop off a British family, who had taken this shuttle 5 years in a row, on the side of the highway half a mile from their intended destination. All in all, we arrived 45 minutes late, and one of our classmates named Will, who was on the bus after us, checked in before we got there.
But nevertheless, we arrived.
We dropped our stuff off, I took a quick shower, and we headed to the restaurant for dinner. We had an interesting mix on this Chamonix trip. ~2/3 of the attendees were second-year students, as the majority of my fellow first-years were fighting for their lives in banking/consulting interviews this week (while others were deleting beers in Thailand, Mexico, and Tanzania. Shout out Brody, Matthew, Ben, Larry, and especially Toni. He's living in a tree house right now in Africa.)
Business school is a bit like undergrad in that friend groups really take form in September and October, and those groups hold steady over the course of school. It's not that business school is super cliquey, but you just find your closer friends pretty early.
However, for the first years at least, there weren't any fully-formed groups on this ski trip. There were probably 50 of us from different "groups" there, which ended up being a good thing, getting to hang out with different folks on the slopes for a week.
I'm also about to name a ridiculous number of people over the course of this, and no one not in my class will have any idea who half of them are. Oh well.
We eat dinner with Jack Howerton (third roommate, also named Jack), Jeremy (a Swiss/British 2nd-year student, our psuedo-rugby coach, and the GOAT of sexual innuendos and general play-on-word humor), Preston, Taylor, Kristina, and Rachael before showering and getting ready to go out. The hotel had two separate buildings, and I went to the other lodge to Juan Cruz's room. Juan Cruz (who will be referred to as "JC" moving forward, also a verified 🐶) pretty much hasn't been in the US since Thanksgiving, having spent the entirety of the World Cup in Qatar cheering on Argentina before flying back to NYC for finals, before flying back to Qatar for the championship, before going to Berlin for a couple of weeks.
JC is also known as "the queen" for his excessive time spent taking candle-scented baths and fixing his hair, and he calls me "big baby" because I wore a toga for Halloween, and he said I look like a "big baby."
He was rooming with another guy named Tyler, and they probably had like 30 people piled in their room for the pregame. We stayed there until like 11:00 before heading to a club (La Folie Douce) about 10 minutes away. There was a super nice cocktail bar upstairs and a nightclub downstairs.
We grabbed a round of drinks upstairs, and I ran into one of my favorite second-year drinking buddies, PJ (the origins of our friendship are pretty weird). After like an hour, we took the party downstairs. It was bumpin', as they say.
JC and I stayed at the club til the lights came on, ran into a group of Italians outside, bounced around town with them attempting to collectively communicate in Spanish (I think I accidentally called a girl Colombian while trying to say I went to "Columbia," and she was massively offended), and then we hung out in his room til like 4 as I continued to hone my Spanish skills, después demasiados cervezas.
Sunday, January 8th
I had planned to wake up at 8, grab breakfast, and pick up my skis to make the 9:30 ski bus. As you could probably expect from the preceding several paragraphs, that prediction proved to be false.
HOWEVER, pretty much no one woke up at 8, so I was not alone! I instead woke up at 10, barely made breakfast, and got my stuff together around 11:30. We had 6 days to hit the slopes though, so there was no need to be on the first bus everyday.
It was a 15-minute walk to my rental place, and JC had gone ahead to Le Tour (one of the mountains) with Michael and Brendan. I met Ned, Clementine, Maggie, Tori, Natacha, and Tyler in the lobby and we walked to the bus together. We actually reached the top of the gondola as JC and crew were skiing down, so we all linked up.
Visibility was basically nonexistent thanks to some fresh snow coming in (a good thing, however, as the Alps had been pretty dry so far this season), and we lost all of the girls except for Clementine by our 3rd run.
The problem with super hazy conditions is that you have to wear your goggles to keep the snow out of your eyes, but your hazy goggles prevent you from reading the terrain well, which means surprise moguls and ice patches will 100% cause you to wipe out. And everyone single one of us had at least one impressive wipe out on the day. Idk if Michael had a wipe out, but he did try to do the thing where you ski off the side of a run for a second and then jump back onto the run, except there wasn't a jump, and he ended up having to board down the terrain park.
After skiing for a few hours, we grabbed beers and snacks at the restaurant on the slope. Natacha had been there for like 3 hours reading a book or something. In her French accent, she said, "These conditions are not for me."
We hit a few more runs, then headed back to turn our stuff in before après. For those who don't know, après is just French for "after," and "after" is just English for alcohol.
We went to Bighorn Bistro around 5 for food and drinks, and some more of my classmates had rolled in. Former roommate Michelle made an appearance, along with Ana and Amanda, two other girls from my cluster. Amanda was mad at me because when Michelle and I were bunkmates in London, I had her tell their girls group text that "I miss Jen," with no mention of anyone else.
It wasn't a slight to anyone else, but Jen was the first girl in our class that I (unsuccessfully) hit on, and she also gave me snacks every week in strategy class. That's a special bond.
Amanda, you're cool too. Just bring snacks to operations class next week.
Alright, let's through some more names in the mix. I sat down near the band with Maddie (CBS's premier athlete that hates when I call her CBS's premier athlete), Jenn, Ava, and Ava's fiancé, Mark. Mark had to be heli-lifted from a slope in Switzerland (or was it Italy? idk they all share the same mountains) after accidentally skiing to the edge of a cliff. The video of the helicopter dropping him off was hysterical, but it also highlighted the reality of Euro-skiing: if you die, you die. Mark is also my #1 favorite CBS +1. Sorry to the field, step your game up.
I went back to the hotel to touch up a newsletter, met the crew for dinner in the hotel, anddd I think that was it for Sunday? Idk I'm touching this up a week after the fact.
Monday, January 9th
So we did actually get up early to ski today. With a fresh layer of powder upon us, we hit Grands Montets, arguably the top mountain in the area. Or at least with a name like "Grands Montets," it sounds like the top mountain in the area. Ski crew of the day was JC, Jack, Crox, Tyler, Rocio and Ani.
We took a cool train to the mountain this time, which was way better than the busses.
Ani, another Argentinian, had just arrived yesterday. Ani had also never skied before. Ani also believed she would pick it up easily, and JC and I had offered to teach her how to ski. What we did not know, going into this, was that after taking the gondola up to the mountain, the only run down was a steep blue. Which isn't great if you've never skied!
What ensued next was me putting my teaching cap on and trying to explain the physics of "pizza/french fry" on a 45-degree slope with mediocre visibility. Like, you really couldn't see much.
Ani was pretty frustrated on the way down (I would be too if I got thrown into the major leagues the first time I strapped on some skis), but we were fortunate to find a bunny slope at the bottom of the run. The training area proved to be a much better spot to get some practice runs in, and I went through it a couple of times with her before linking up with the other guys to shred some major pow pow ❄️⛷🤙🏼
The boys found a sick powder run under the lift, and we hit it several times.
We also wanted to try a way-too-powdery run, which didn't work out as expected.
Halfway through the day, we hit the restaurant on the mountain for some beers (JC really wanted a beer tower, but we decided to pass on that), before going back up for a couple of hours. By our last run, the chairlift up was a battle against the elements, with us taking a blizzard to the dome for 10 minutes. On our last run down, we grabbed Ani from the bunny slope (she had figured out skiing and proceeded to crush the run down to the gondola) and we headed back to the hotel to change.
I went to the après for like an hour before heading back to the hotel. Crox, Jack, and I went to bed at like 8 PM to wake up at 1 for the national championship game, while everyone else went out. JC texted me at like 11 to come out (I was asleep) before calling me at like 1:15 AM (I was awake) to meet him back at the club.
I declined and found out the next morning that the club was closed when he got back. Around 1, two second years, Max (French guy) and Nico (Italian guy) busted up in our room, and I heard one of them bounce on other Jack's bed. Some mumbled arguing, grunting, and heavy breathing ensued as they asked Jack, "What are you doing come to the bar?!" to which Jack replied, "We're going to watch the football game get out of my room!" to which they replied, "WATCH THE FOOTBALL GAME? YOU'RE IN EUROPEEEE! COME GET DRUNK!" (honestly, a fair reply).
Suddenly, Jack came around the corner, carrying Nico by his sweater like a mother dog carrying a puppy by the scruff of its neck, as Nico kept saying, "No no no don't stretch the sweater anything but the sweater," before Jack literally threw him out of our room. Then he looked at Max, and Max said, "I'll just leave please don't pick me up."
It's worth noting that Jack is a massive dude who played football at UPenn for a bit.
At 1:30 we successfully streamed the Natty (illegally, sue me) on my laptop (we had tried to connect to the TV through wifi, and we asked the lady at the front desk for the TV wifi info, but she just replied, "zee technician will be here tomorreww." Super helpful, truly). So we just set the laptop on a shelf. Michael, Brendan, Bridget, and Ani came over to watch, and Max and Nico showed up around 2, much calmer this time.
I passed out at halftime because the Dawgs were whooping that TCU ass. Not even a game, hardly a scrimmage, really.
Tuesday, January 10th
I woke up, saw that the Dawgs won by like 200, texted Maddie that she owed me $100 (we had bet $100 straight up on the game, stupid bet by her. We settled on beers and crepes over the course of the week), and headed down for breakfast.
Tuesday was, by far, the best powder all week. I went to Brevet (closest mountain to the town) with JC, we shredded for like 3 hours, then we headed to the very top of the mountain to the "Panorama" restaurant. The view up here was actually insane.
A bunch of the girls + Tyler were grabbing lunch up here, so we ate with Hannah, Ellie, Katherine, Tyler, Jenn, Maddie, Kat, and Collette, and we debated skiing all the way down on one of the back runs. However, Ned and Emma arrived just before we left, and the said the run was pretty tough and if you lose a ski you're probably toast. So we just took the gondola down and continued skiing from there.
JC and I skied a super powdery part, he almost hit a rock, I turned to avoid the rock, and I lost a ski in the process. I then spent 20 minutes digging around looking for said ski like an old guy with a metal detector on a beach. It's actually insane how hard it is to find a ski in the snow.
We skied til 4 with Maddie, Collette, Hannah, Kat, and Katherine, before grabbing après at the nightclub/bar spot from night one. They had a patio bar with fires which was fantastic.
And this set in motion was would become a really, really long Tuesday. High altitude + skiing all day + free-flowing adult beverages is pretty dangerous, and we had a group reservation for unlimited wine and fondue at 7:30 that night.
So after après we headed to the hotel to change, then we headed to the restaurant for dinner. I sat by Amanda, Ellie, and JC. Amanda and I gossiped about random stuff, Ellie tried to set me up with Hannah by saying, "Hannah, did you know that Jack played footballlll (American football, of course) in college?" And PJ invited me over to the second-year's table to talk about how I broke Linkedin, and then we did this really dumb but kinda funny drinking game where you stretch your mouth around a wine glass, pick it up, and swallow the drink in one gulp.
aha yeah college! 🤙🏼
I bopped around tables and hung out with Michelle and Maeve (my mom) and then we all headed out to a bar or club or something.
And it's a bit fuzzy after that lol. I sent this picture in our cluster groupchat telling them that Michelle and I are dating, which was a surprise to everyone, including Michelle (and myself the next morning).
And eight minutes later I was back with Brendan and JC.
And yeah that's about it. Humbled and honored to announce that I made it home safely. I think.
Wednesday, January 11th
Holy cow I have some combination of the plague and Covid and AIDS and tuberculosis and typhoid fever and malaria and everything else. I feel like I got hit by a semi-truck of pathogens. 25 years of poor decisions nailing my body like a five kill-streak predator missile on Rust in Modern Warfare 2. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
I was supposed to take a train to Italy with the crew, but after suffering through breakfast, I crawled back into bed and prayed for an exorcism of whatever demons were plaguing me. And no, Mom, this wasn't just a hangover. Maddie also had the plague, and Brendan was so plagued-up that he had to leave Italy early and come back and sleep. I think there was something funky in the fondue.
I literally slept all day, woke up and got coffee and crepes at like 4, then chilled til dinner. However, after 6 hours of napping, my immune system had extinguished the plague, and I managed to make the dinner reservation with Ani, Rocio, and Jenn.
Jenn let me know that the night before, I had told her that she was "too old for business school" despite her literally being like 2 years older than me (which means she's literally the average age of someone in business school). My apologies. I'm actually too young for business school. Probably.
Dinner was some family-style Japanese (I think?) restaurant, topped off with a 10/10 Oreo milkshake. (The amount of dairy consumed on this trip was out of control).
Thursday, January 12th
Crox got a tiny coffee for breakfast again.
And then we headed back to Brevet for a few runs.
We had a huge crew today: Me, JC, Jack, Crox, Michael, Brendan, Maddie, Hannah, Ellie, Jenn, Collette, Kat, and honestly idk who else. There were like 15 of us. Brevet had a ton of powder, and we spent most of the skiing off-piste (I thought it was off pace until Googling the term 30 seconds ago) because we're all incredibly advanced, elite skiers who wanted to hit bowls and stuff.
JC lost his phone in the snow but somehow found it (he found a phone quicker than I had found a ski), and then we took the gondola over to Flegere for some new runs.
After grabbing lunch in Flegere, the girls headed back while the boys continued to shred. We were deep in some powder when we found a sick jump, so naturally, being dudes, we all decided to jump it, even though none of us were qualified to jump it. Michael had the best wipe out:
While I had the least athletic one. And then I had a massive problem. After wiping out and losing one ski, I unclipped my other one to move out of JC's way (he didn't even hit the jump, how soft). The issue was that we were in deep snow, I couldn't get firm enough footing to restrap my skis, and I was just crawling around like an idiot for 30 minutes in search of solid footing.
Have you ever walked around in 3 ft deep snow? It's ******* exhausting. I just wanted to die. Snow sucks.
Finally I crawled back to the trail, laid there for 5 minutes, dealt with the embarrassment of every skier asking "are you alright?" (Yes, I was alright. I'm just an idiot), and skied, legs cramping, back to the boys.
And you know what? Shout out to the boys for waiting for me. They shouldn't have, I was dealing with the consequences of my own actions. But they waited anyway.
We hit two more runs then headed back.
I took a nap for a few hours, grabbed dinner, then headed to JC's to pregame. CBS had reserved the club that we went to the first night from 10-1, and we had an open bar. We headed over at 11 and took advantage of our ski-club fees.
Ned, a guy in my class who is an AVP of the winter sports club, was dealing with two British dudes who were claiming to be CBS students (they weren't) in order to sneak into our party. He called me over for back up, and I promptly trolled the piss out of them.
They said they were in the ESG cohort (we don't have "cohorts" and ESG isn't even a real thing, to me anyway), I started questioning him, he got real aggressive and bowed up at me, I told him a 3-word phrase that ends with "yourself" (let's see if you can figure this one out), and rejoined all my friends in the fun party that this dork desperately wanted to gain entry to.
At two we hit another club, everyone was out til like 4:30, and there was a 0% chance we made it to the slopes tomorrow.
Friday, January 13th
As predicted, we did not make the slopes. I took my gear back to the ski store around 11 and grabbed lunch nearby, and then Brendan and I headed to the spa to link up with JC and Michael. We ran into Maddie, Yael, Collette, Jenn, and Ani as well, and the crew had a nice relaxing day chilling in the hot tub, laying in weird pools that play underwater music, rubbing salt all over our bodies post-sauna, and doing all sorts of other weird spa stuff that seems like it's good for you but probably isn't. But it seems like it is.
I also read a book. A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain. Photo credz Maddie Bauer 🤌🏼
Ned and JC and I started a cult too. Entry fee in $500 for those interested.
After dinner I grabbed crepes with the crew (have you ever had a crepe filled with pecans, caramelized apple, and ice cream? Oh my God it was good), and then watched Eurovision with Jack, Jake, and Jeremy, The Will Ferrell movie, not the actual competition. Obviously.
Saturday, January 14th
Adios, Chamonix. Jack and Jake bounced at 5:30 AM, and I grabbed breakfast with JC at 7. I hopped in my shuttle at 8:45, and it was a real mess getting to the airport because we had 15 people booked for a 13-person shuttle (we just didn't get two of the people, idk) and the driver chilled in a parking lot for like 30 minutes ripping cigs.
I caught my flight back to London and checked into my Airbnb, a real posh spot in Soho.
So yeah, that's it for the ski trip. My plan this week is quite simple: hang out with my mates Murray and Shannon tonight, record a podcast with Iman and Cyrus from RationalVC tomorrow, and then chill hard and try to be productive for the week. Headed back to NYC Thursday.
Next travel blog will be Japan in March. I'm going to sumo wrestle and perhaps purchase a 6-ft tall plush Pikachu doll.
Catch you guys later.
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