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100 years of Winter Olympic historical past: why Chamonix continues to be king of the slopes | Snowboarding holidays



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On a cold winter’s day, precisely 100 years in the past, 4 neatly dressed males boarded a prepare in Edinburgh. Willie Jackson and his son Laurence have been each farmers, dapper Thomas Murray bred sheep and cattle, and portly Robin Welsh was a member of Edinburgh metropolis council. At 54, he was somewhat older than his friends. They’d deliberated for months about whether or not to make their journey, however in the long run went for it, and what an journey it turned out to be.

Map for Chamonix

They chugged to London, then on to Paris, earlier than taking the 13-hour prepare to Chamonix. Because the prepare wound its approach via the snowy Alps, they alleviated the boredom by taking part in numerous video games of bridge. Within the guard’s van have been their curling stones.

Unable to farm within the winter, the boys had spent hours curling on the frozen lochs of Higher Clydesdale. They grew to become so good, they determined to enter the primary ever Winter Olympics (held from 25 January to five February 1924).

The large 1924 ice rink sadly not exists. {Photograph}: Auguste Couttet

A century on, Chamonix is as a lot of a draw as ever. Inhaling lungfuls of alpine air and grinning with delight as I head down the much-loved runs of Balme and Les Grands Montets, it’s exhausting to think about that in 1924 downhill snowboarding was barely a factor, and never even represented on the Olympics.

Chamonix has greater than sufficient runs to fulfill leisurely skiers like me, however adventurers head up above the resort’s common slopes. The unique Aiguille du Midi elevate carried the Olympic bobsleighs up the mountain (Nice Britain took silver behind the Swiss); immediately its environment friendly substitute carries vacationers and hardcore skiers from the city centre to three,840 metres.

Nonetheless in a put up après-ski stupor I pressured myself onto the primary elevate simply after 8am, the one passenger with out skis, ropes and different terrifying wanting high-altitude equipment. Squeezed into the cable automotive, I chatted to Brit Annie-Jo Gregory. Snowboarding the Vallée Blanche is a ceremony of passage for off-piste fanatics however she was going additional with a buddy, climbing even greater together with her skis strapped to her again earlier than setting off downhill.

“It’s kind two enjoyable,” she grinned because the cabin swung barely alarmingly over the city. Recognizing my clean expression, she stated: “It’s scary, exhausting work and pushes you. The enjoyable comes afterwards once you relive it over a beer.”

The air was noticeably thinner on the summit. I gripped the handrail and wished her luck. As she headed off alongside a slender ridge in direction of the glacier, I caught to kind one enjoyable, taking selfies with Mont Blanc within the background and squinting down at Chamonix as if from an plane window.

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie, aged 11, competed on the video games. {Photograph}: Auguste Couttet/Musée Olympique Lausanne

I may simply make out the place the large 36,000 sq. metre Olympic ice rink would have as soon as been. Norwegian Sonja Henie was an 11-year-old skater again then. She charmed the crowds together with her infectious smile however spun out of the competitors. Undeterred, she later grew to become an Olympic champion, earlier than shifting to Hollywood and turning into a film star.

Hidden away within the forest above the city are the remnants of the bobsleigh observe, however the one fully intact construction left from the video games is the Mont aux Bossons ski bounce, seen from Chamonix’s ring highway. It’s price a go to to think about the roar of the roaring-20s crowd because the athletes soared via the air.

Jonathan Samuels on the 1924 ski bounce, which today lacks snow. {Photograph}: Jonathan Samuels

Bespectacled, moustached and sporting a well-worn woolly hat, Henri-François Morand, president of the ski leaping part of the Membership des Sports activities de Chamonix, proudly exhibits me some skis and boots from a century in the past. He retains them within the committee’s HQ, a wood shed on the backside of the bounce. He has the air of somebody who has lived a life and half within the mountains and past.

His ski leaping prime could also be behind him however Morand talks with satisfaction of the children he’s coaching immediately.

“Isn’t it harmful?” I ask.


“If you happen to fall, you simply slide down,” he replies with a twinkle in his eye. “I inform them, bear in mind to breathe and we will provide you with some wine once you come to a cease!”

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The bounce has not a speck of snow on it and Morand is satisfied it’s due to local weather change. He tells me about the potential of a man-made floor being put in. “Perhaps leaping may be on the summer time Olympics,” he says, solely half joking.

The bobsleigh competitors in 1924. {Photograph}: Assortment Denis Cardoso

A brief drive from the centre is Les Houches, a extra relaxed a part of “glam Cham”. Treelined and fewer crowded, it additionally has the very best number of mountain eating places. After a morning of exhausting snowboarding I slid to a cease and ate pasta and salad at La Fre Mi, gazing over the valley.


A buzzy place to remain is the Rocky Pop, which with double rooms from £76 (breakfast is additional) is nice worth in contrast with choices close to the centre. The vibe is hostel meets funky lodge and is ideal for households, with points of interest for youngsters together with Star Wars robots in reception.

Vallée Blanche. {Photograph}: Chamonix Vacationer Workplace

A few miles up the valley is one other pretty place to remain: lodge Heliopic (doubles from £150, breakfast additional), which has a pool and is extra central.

After a day on the slopes I referred to as in to the native museum, Maison de la Mémoire et du Patrimoine. Till 15 March, there’s a fascinating exhibition devoted to the Olympics, that includes grainy black and white footage. Watching the heroics and heartache of long-gone younger athletes is surprisingly shifting.


Afterwards it was me who struck gold, stumbling throughout the energetic out of doors Le Okay bar for a bière pression adopted by dinner at unfussy Italian restaurant Casa Valerio.

Vallée de Chamonix. {Photograph}: Celia Margerard

Below the powder blue sky the city twinkles within the daylight, reasonably because it did on the opening day of the video games in 1924. However earlier that January about 1.7 metres of snow fell in a single 24-hour interval, and tons of of Chamonix residents with shovels joined the military to clear the stadium and the ice rink, eradicating snow with hand-pulled sledges simply in time.

And the 4 Scottish curlers? Effectively, they ended the video games triumphant, thrashing the house nation to win Gold.


With the understatement and modesty you may anticipate from a Scottish farmer, Thomas Murray despatched a telegram house, studying merely: PLAYED TODAY. GREAT BRITAIN 46, FRANCE 4. CHAMPIONSHIP WON.

The journey was supplied by the Chamonix Vacationer Workplace. For journey to Chamonix take the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris. Switch to Gare de Lyon from the place it takes about six hours to achieve Chamonix with as much as two adjustments (Bellegarde-Sur-Valserine and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains)

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