It’s 10pm and I am driving through town in pitch black. Mountains surround the town, but I can't see any. Jumping out of the bus I’m hit with a rush of cold and clean air. I feel at home. I woke up the next morning to an unforgettable sight. The most magical mountain range surrounds this gorgeous French town which is curved with cobblestone streets, magnificent spiralling steelworks. Naturally, the unnecessarily narrow roads littered with some of the worlds worst drivers.
This is Chamonix, France.
The home of big mountain skiing. The home of alpinism and mountaineering at its purest. People gather from across the world to push their limits. To ride the big lines and to have the glory of being able to tick off some of the boldest skiing available in Europe, if not the world.
There is something different about Chamonix. It’s certainly not your regular party ski town, and it certainly doesn’t push the ‘Après-ski’ (getting hella smashed on the mountains during skiing) like Europe is known for. This is the first impression I had in Chamonix. The mountains here will take your breath away, without a doubt. I’ve been lucky enough to live in the Canadian Rockies and the sheer size of those mountains impressed me. Until I landed in Chamonix. The mountains here are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The highest peak is over 3km higher than town.... 3km. Seriously think about how far that is and put it vertically next to you. They are so large that entirely different weather systems can be felt on each side. It is truly a spectacle worth seeing.
I did notice something apart from the grand spectacle of the valley, apart from the rich French heritage, and apart from the language barrier. I noticed that these mountains, they didn’t have the calming effect I’ve seen and felt elsewhere.
I found it was easy to notice that usually people who surround themselves with this type of lifestyle in these kind of locations, they are the more relaxed and laid back. Stress doesn’t touch these people. They roll with the punches. But in Chamonix, I met some of the most uptight people I have ever met, people that hold grudges and don’t have the ability to just, let. it. go.
I’ve spent a long time wondering, why is it different in this regard? I understand this is a generalisation, but it was so apparent. How can you let such pathetic and minuscule issues control your life? It wasn’t just one person who gave me this strange insight, but many people of whom I interacted with. People would tell me “I just really dislike snowboarders”, like who really gives a fuck how you enjoy the mountains, why can’t you just be stoked that we're all here trying to have a good time? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. There was an aura of pretension, where foreign holiday-goers talked so much shit it hurt to listen, chatting as if they were as good as the local legends who ski the gnarliest and toughest lines on offer.
Maybe I have a more critical outlook on this, and I’m sure people who stay a week or two probably wouldn’t catch on to some of these things. But for a seasoned snow-bum I found it startling apparent. I think it’s made me realise where I want to be and how I want to be as a person. That is not to say that my time in Cham (as a temporary local like myself calls it hehehe) was negative, it was merely just a different experience to my previous time living in the snowy mountain ranges of Canada and Australia.
I spent a few months living in Chamonix, enjoying and indulging what France and its mountains had to offer. This series of photos range from riding around the mountains on my snowboard, to the buildings of Chamonix and some of its neighbouring towns and to spending time with the amazing people I lived with.
If you would like to see more of Jean-René's work you can find it here.
Jean-René Vauzelle studied commercial photography at RMIT, which threw his passion for taking pictures right on its head. Ever since, he's been trying to figure out where he wants to go and that mostly ends up with him on top of a snow-capped mountain.