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Interview with Chamonix Legend Gary Bigham | FRANCE | 12/11/2008, by HotChocolate
A few years back, I was lucky enough to spend several months in Chamonix, France. Homesick for the States, I found myself naturally drawn to the Canadian owned Brewpub- the MBC. Before long, I was introduced to the legendary Gary Bigham- an American expat who has more character than farts on a skillet. For a living (but mostly it's just fun), Gary hosts skiing travelers each week in his adorable Argentiere chalet. By day he guides them across the "off-piste" slopes of Mount Blanc (aka backcountry). By night, he prepares gourmet meals and tells tall tales. If you're lucky, you might see him sing and play guitar at the MBC.
Recently I had the chance to ask Gary a few questions. He's a natural entertainer- here's what he had to say:
STB: I've heard you say that powder skiing is overrated... Could you elaborate on such a confusing statement?
Gary: Of course it's fun to ski powder, but I just love it when things get skied off and it stays cold and the north wind starts blowing up the Grand Montets filling in certain depressions or whole faces with that perfect like 2 to 4 inch deep windblown. That's my favorite snow, it's fast, and perfect easy carving. And the best part is listening to the snowboarders moan, "man when it's going to snow again? this sucks". I sometimes go by Plakes "48 hour" rule, meaning no fat skis 48 hours after a dump. Old school skinny skis are fun.
STB: When I was in Chamonix, I took some heat from pure alpinists for having free heels. What are your thoughts on the increasing popularity of telemark skiing?
Gary: So it's increasing in popularity ay? Well that's nice, it's just not the best way to get down a big mountain like the Grand Montets. It's 7,000 vertical feet, with snow conditions changing all the way down, and skiing around crevasses with tele gear ain't advisable, just ask any "Crevasshole". Actually I'm just too lazy to tele I guess, though I will tele once or twice a winter whether I need to or not. I love it on spring snow, or when skiing with kids.
STB: What exactly is Vitamin Ski Holidays?
Gary: Well it's my little chalet biz in the valley of Chamonix, though it's probably easier to explain through some quotes from our guest book.
"Truly a one of a kind experience, sunset over the Grand Montets while sipping wine on the patio, and listening to fine music was unforgettable. You're a renaissance man of the new millennium and a great part of the spirit of skiing. Keep spreading the love of the mountains."
"Vitamin Ski", one of a kind! Faceshots at day and mouthwatering grub at night. Nothin could be finer. Old ski bums never die, they go to vitamin ski in the sky!" Brian O'Neill
"Hot Music, incredible slide show. snow storm of the year, powder up to our necks and sleeping like a baby,,Is that all we experienced? No! Super velvet skiing following Gary all over the mountain with no one else around. It doesn't get any better!" Doug Coombs, winter 2005
"WOW. That was incredible. My boyhood hero. hanging out with us on our last night (and his beautiful wife)! For a virgin to Europe & Chamonix, I feel as if it were a dream to get plugged into so many unique/landmark people. Gary, Guri, CouCou,-thank you, See you next year." Dr Charlie Sullman 2006
"Stay at Vitamin Ski or don't come to chamonix at all. Be fuct in 95 Gary, you rule." Seth Morrison
"Gary, a pleasure as always." Glen Plake
"As always it has been FABULOUS! So great to meet and eat with the Glitterati that swarm this place, thank you for everything". Patrick Larkin
Yah my famous guest book, anyway 'Vitamin Ski" is a week long catered ski holiday, The price includes breakfast, dinner, some skiing together, and sex when in season.... 2 people per room, max 5 people per week.
And to help with the weak dollar it's down from 600 euros per week to 350 euros per person per week.
STB: That's quite the guestbook! You've created a wonderful niche career that supports your mountain lifestyle. Any advice for young skiers who feel pressured to work for Corporate America?
Gary: Well shit if you're even considering it that must mean you've spent a fortune on some kind of education, so forget about it, get that job, pay back you're folks, make lots of money, and take a "Vitamin Ski" holiday. If you do end up ski buming, do it in Europe, just so you don't end up calling everybody "DUDE".
STB: What are some of the differences between ski culture in America and Europe?
Gary: Other than "DUDE"? Lets see, ski towns in Europe sure make it easier for all the kids to be skiing. In Chamonix a year long lift ticket costs 70 euros for local kids. Which may be the reason they don't grow up calling everyone "DUDE". It's just hard to compare, I mean I can just get on a lift now and ski down to Italy for lunch, yah the Helbruner is running all winter! And when you want to go visit your money you can just go ski into Switzerland.
STB: Thanks Gary!
If you would like to book a vacation with Vitamin Ski Holidays, you can email Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org. Europe is having a record breaking year for snowfall! And with the dollar regaining some value, timing couldn't be better...