Mount Blanc At Sunset And Sunrise

In Courmayeur, we saw Mt. Blanc from the Italian side.  Our hotel near Mageve, had a beautiful view of it from the French side.  We were in an area known as the “Pays du Mont Blanc”.  Translated, it means the country of Mt. Blanc.  It is a group of villages and resorts perched along valleys at the foot of the Domes de Miage, the Aiguille du Bionnassay and the east side of Mont Blanc.  It is on the bordering Haute Savoie and the Savoie regions/departments of France.  Megeve, St Gervais and Les Contamines are located in the “Pays du Mont Blanc”.

The area has wonderful views of the Mont Blanc Massif.  I don’t know if I will ever get used to panaromas like this.  I kept running out on the balcony to snap pictures as the light changed.  Quel beaute!  Quel joie!

Les Contamines

Late one night, a group of us decided to ski the next day.  When you make plans late at night for the next day, sometimes (shockingly) they aren’t well thought out.  As we would be a large group of all levels, we decided to go to Les Contamines. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a good choice and a great day.

We chose it because:

  • It is close to Geneva.
  • It is not crowded.  There are rarely any lift queues.
  • As it is at the back-end of a valley, it is less traveled.  It has a reputation for having a calm, laid back atmosphere.
  • It is a small, relatively unspoiled town.  There’s no trendy après-ski or clubs.  In fact, there isn’t much nightlife.  As a result, it is calmer.
  • Fewer people means snow stays untracked longer.  Who doesn’t love unskied powder?
  • It offers a wide variety of terrain for all levels.  We had a diverse group and there were pistes to suit everyone.
  • The prices are reasonable.
  • When the weather is clear, it has a wonderful view of Mt. Blanc.  Heck, when the weather is clear, it has wonderful views.  Period.  Contamines is known for its beautiful mountain panoramas.

Oh yeah.  It wouldn’t be a skiing post if I didn’t do something stupid.  This time it yielded a cool photo.  While I was lying with my face in the snow, I got my camera out and snapped a pic to show you the view from down there.

Mt. Blanc, The Tallest Mountain In The Alps

Him and Mt. Blanc/Mont Blanc/Monte Bianco

Mt. Blanc, Mont Blanc and Monte Bianco all refer to the same mountain.  It has so many names because of its strategic location.  It in France, viewable from Switzerland and forms part of the border with Italy.  The French and Italian names mean “white mountain.”  Other names for it include La Dame Blance and Il Bianco.

Aosta Valley – From behind the protective tape and snow fence on the slopes

It lies in the Alps between Italy’s Aosta Valley and the Haute-Savoie region of France .  The 11.6 km (7.1 mile) Mt. Blanc Tunnel has connected the two since it was built in 1965.

courtesy of EnlightenedTraveler.co.uk

The trip around the alps is long and so the tunnel was an instant success, becoming one of the major trans-alp transport routes.  It costs about $60 roundtrip for a car to use the tunnel.  That does not include the fine you will pay if you speed over 70 km/hr or do not leave sufficient distance between you and the car in front of you.  They are militant about this safe driving because in 1999 there was a fire in the tunnel that killed 39 people.  We felt a bit more at ease traveling through the tunnel knowing that when the tunnel reopened in 2002, it contained additional safety features.

courtesy of railsystem.net

Mt. Blanc’s height is 4,810 m (15, 782 feet) tall.  It has year-round snow.  Its Bossons glacier comprises the largest ice fall in Europe.  It made the news in 2007, when it grew 6 meters!

It is a center for alpine outdoor activities including: skiing, snowboarding, heliskiing, paragliding, snowshoeing, mountain climbing, trekking, hiking, mountain biking and everyone’s favorite pastime of warming themselves in cute cafes.  All of this activity is not without danger and Mt. Blanc averages 100 fatalities a year and many more severe injuries.  Recently, a Russian couple froze to death while attempting to climb Mt. Blanc, a body was found on a black run (he must have snuck in some night skiing), and an avalanche killed a man.  Looking at a video of a Mt. Blanc avalanche on YouTube, helped me to understand their power and danger.

Courmayeur Piste Map courtesy of winter-sports.com

The Aosta Valley, where we spent the weekend, is a paradise for off piste skiing.  Some of our group went off piste.  Having skied a whopping three times in the last fifteen years, I was happy to stick to the reds.

Please note that these pictures are from the Italian side.  Mt. Blanc’s peak is not visible as it is obscured by a lower part of the mountain when viewed from this angle.

La Saleve

When we first arrived, we took the cable car up to one of the mountains overlooking Geneva, La Saleve.  It is known as the  “Balcony of Geneva” even though it is technically just over the border in the Haute-Savoie region of France.  From there, you can see the Jura mountains, the PrealpsLake Annecy and the Mont Blanc.  Even on cloudy days, the top of Saleve can be sunny!

It wasn’t until later that we learned people will hike and even bike up it.  It also has a nice view of the city and decent trails. Once up there, there are many outdoor activities to take part in, rock climbinghikingmountain bikingparagliding (who jump off the carpeted area in the photo below), hang glidingmodel aircraftspeleology and skiing (at the Col de la Croisette).  We looked out at Geneva and found where we live.  I would love to camp up there and watch the sunset and sunrise over the city. Shedrub Choekhor Ling Tibetan Buddhism center is located on the Salève.  They have a normal building, but it was their yurt that attracted our attention.  Their building is only 200m from the Cable car station. This authentic Tibetan Temple was consecrated and opened by the Dali Lama in September 2011.   I read an article about a Russian arms dealer has property next door to the Buddhists.   The irony. The tower is visible from the city of Geneva.

Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein  was written on the banks of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman).  In it title character climbs up the Salève  after fleeing.  Salève is mentioned several times by name.  

  • “It was echoed from Saleve, the Juras, and the Alps of Savoy…”
  • “I thought of pursuing the devil; but it would have been in vain, for another flash discovered him to me hanging among the rocks of the nearly perpendicular ascent of Mont. Saleve, a hill that bounds Plainpalais on the south.”
  • “Who could arrest a creature capable of scaling the overhanging sides of Mont Saleve?”

Saleve itself isn’t in the alps, but what is known as the French Prealps.  Note the Alps in the background of the above photo.  The ride down in the cable car was our first cable car experience since moving to Geneva.  At the time, we had white knuckles, now, we’re old pros.   Another view of Saleve from the city.