When we arrived on the sunny side of Mount Blanc in the sleepy ski town of Courmayuer, Italy, our focus was on bagging towering peaks and going deep in some fresh euro pow. That all changed when we were handed a flyer for the “Lo Camentran” carnival. Also known as Mardi Gras, Italian style.
Courmayuer is a small village of roughly 3,000 Italian residents sitting at the base of Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc (15,781 ft). Often overshadowed by it’s incredibly popular neighbor Chamonix, France, this small Italian ski escape sits somewhat unrecognized as a mecca for freeride skiing and high alp exploration. Unlike most resorts surrounding Mont Blanc, one does not need a guide, rope, crampons, harness and ice axe for a majority of its terrain. From the top tram freeriders can enjoy over 1,600 meters of high alpine ramps, bowls, pillows, trees and glaciers. All you need is a good understanding of avalanche terrain and thighs made of steel.
We arrived in town a few days prior to the Mardi Gras carnival and with us came a large storm cell pumping out several feet of fresh snow with a snow density to rival that of our home brew in Alta, Utah. With zero local knowledge of the terrain and no predicted end to the storm we decided to stay within the boundaries of the resort. We trusted our instinct and headed to the steep trees dropping off the back side of the mountain (Val Veny). We then proceeded to ski several thousand feet of the deepest snow I would encounter all season. Pure astonishment and the feeling we just discovered something incredible kept us spinning laps for the entire day.
Typical of common ski folklore, the following day the clouds parted and the sky cracked blue. It was a classic bluebird pow day and we were hiking off the resorts highest peak. A very small tin can tram shuttles a few brave italians and experienced tourists to the highest peak at the resort. We are treated with a full 360 view of the surrounding glaciers and the most astounding view of Mont Blanc you will ever see (By far better than from the French side)! I watch as inexperienced families shuffle off onto massive faces with questionable avalanche control work. From here we dip off into the backcountry and ski an incredible 5,000 ft. back to the valley floor. I’m sure you’ve heard it before but I’ll say it again. No one skis of piste in Europe! We didn’t cross a track as we bounced our way through massive alpine glaciers and into steep blower pillow lines deep in the trees below. Just a few laps is all you can expect from runs this long before the sun sets or your legs collapse.
Thoroughly spent from long days logging massive vertical, we watch with tired eyes out our hotel window as the sleepy town of Courmayuer transformed into a colorful winter carnival. Italians from all over the country filled the streets in elaborate costumes mimicking dress of “le vieux et la vieille” (the old men and women) who kicked off the parade with a clash of cowbells. Local town people crafted intricate floats of modern and historic meaning as young groms threw cluster bombs of confetti and silly string. As the sun dipped behind the mountains and we filled our stomach with traditional food, it became clear our night would drag on well into the morning. 20 somethings in halloween style costumes took over the streets and slowly slipped into underground clubs. Our tired legs shuffled away any remaining energy we had and we fell flat faced onto our beds as the sun began to rise. Italians goes hard and we did our best to keep up.
Words: Leo Ahrens (@leoahrens)
Cinematography: Nate Cahoon (@natecahoon)
Editing: Nate Cahoon