The European alps have the Haute Route; an intimidating pass through the Alps of France and Switzerland. It’s a 180 kilometre ski tour that takes seven days, from Chamonix to Zermatt. It was first done in 1911 by an English alpine club and has become the route to which every other route compares itself. It’s one of the most famous ski tours in the world.
And for good reason. Overnighting in the mountains, in cabins, huts, and tiny villages, all the while enjoying kill-for cheeses, incredible wines, and the occasional blast of Euro-pop. Of course it all happens in french and swiss-german which adds another certain je ne sais quois.
How do I know all this? I don’t. I didn’t do a single shred of research to write this, nor have I done the Haute Route. I saw it once from a chairlift in Switzerland, but that’s it. These are all the things I imagine it to be. By reputation. A wonderful stroll through the alps, some skiing, some drinking, some relishing the european way of life.
But I’m sure you have to work for it too. I’m sure there is some serious mountain terrain up there. You may need crampons and ropes to cross glaciers, you may need a guide and avy gear, I don’t know. I know Chamonix has the reputation as a do-or-die kind of ski zone.
It’s always true that when you work hard for something the rewards are magnified. So I would guess it’s a potentially life-changing journey. Maybe not the latest and greatest, most fashionable place to go skiing (getting tired of Iceland and Greenland stories yet?), but a classic for sure. It’s something I aspire to do in my lifetime. The Haute Route.
But until that day, I’ll settle for what some locals call, the Faux Route. A budget trip in comparison, but gruelling just the same. There’s no fine french wine, no need for crampons and no stanky cheeses. There are no overnight huts, no need for avy gear and no sanctioned route. But there are a few cans of Pilsner available. And 12-15 flasks. You’ll get some blisters, risk being busted for trespassing and probably get a couple core shots to your skis.
There are one or two restaurants and a few questionably decent turns on the way but there is also lots of up, and even more traversing. Which is why some other locals refer to it as The Traverse. 35 kilometres from point to point.
Most of all, the Faux Route is about the camaraderie. It’s about being open to a seriously physical ass-whupping. It’s about setting out on an expedition in a place where we rarely expedition. It’s about the spirit of Ontario backcountry skiers; we’re a silly, desperate bunch, but if there’s a skiff of snow on that hill, we’re skinning to the top to ski it.
And the Faux Route is the coming together of those that are willing to earn their turns. We all suffer, laugh and trek together from sunup to sundown. And then, we celebrate.
I won’t be doing the Haute Route in 2015. Money, time and family commitments are my excuse this year. But you can bet I’ll be skinning up the escarpment one early morning with a bunch of like-minded individuals and a six pack in my backpack.