MY MOUNTAIN: JACOB WESTER ON CHAMONIX, FRANCE

The Swedish freeskiing legend turned big mountain adventurer has traded the parks and pipes of Breckenridge for the high alpine peaks of Chamonix

Words Matt Clark

How many years have you been skiing?

I turn 30 next week so… I’ve been skiing for 25 years! Unless you count cross-country skiing, which I started when I was two.

Why base yourself in Chamonix?

I had this preconception that it would be too gnarly; I’d see photos and think: that’s a lot of rock. It didn’t look like you could even ski down the mountains. So I didn’t really have any interest in going there. Then I got invited on a trip to help out Daniel [Ronnback, photographer] on a shoot, and I soon learned there’s a lot more to it! There’s so much cool easily accessible terrain for building jumps. Put a little time in and you’ll have jump spots for days, because any jump spot you hike for will be too flat or boring for steep skiers and freeriders. I like the vibe of the town too, because it’s like a real town, not a ski resort per se – many locals don’t even ski.

Jacob Wester

Jacob Wester by Sofia Sjoeberg

Tell us about your first skiing experience here

My very first time it was an overcast day on Grand Montets on a weekend after a 10cm storm, and it got tracked out in 30 minutes. But the day after that we got a big dump, then the sun came out and we skied the Grand Envers, which is the steepest variation of the Vallée Blanche, a 2km vertical run on a glacier. It was snorkel deep the whole way, with just me and our local guide Tof Henry. We skied that whole run without stopping. After that I was like:

“S### I’m moving here!”

How many days in total have you skied in Chamonix?

I’m coming up on my fourth real season here, so pretty much non-stop from New Year’s Eve to April for three years, except one year when I broke my leg and was out for two months. So 300 days, maybe? I tend to ski every day, no matter the conditions just because I hate going to the gym!

Tell us about your best ever day skiing in Chamonix

That’s a tough call as there are so many different versions of ‘best days’ here. I’ve had storm days where we’ve skied the 200m-vert triple chair in Flégère, riding up to our necks in snow and we haven’t even seen other tracks. But another version of a best day would be skiing something that’s so scary you almost black out until you get to the bottom. That’s what makes it good – it’s a mental challenge. If I had to pick one day, I’d say it was when I skied the Glacier Rond, which is a classic on the west face of the Aiguille du Midi, with my little sister. She did a season in Cham and we had a good storm, went up there and skied 2800m vert from the top of the Midi to town in thigh-deep blower pow.

 

 

Favourite funny crash story from Chamonix?

In Chamonix you don’t really do funny crashes – you do life threatening crashes and try to avoid them all together. But, there was this one time last season when I tried a triple cork on a jump I built, and landed on my head. Thankfully I was fine because it was so soft, but I’d never done a triple off anything and just wanted to know what it felt like!

Have you ever been banned or chased by patrol?

No, that doesn’t happen here. Instead they’re cheering you on when you’re skiing something ridiculous. They’re so loose it’s funny; everything’s allowed. Though my film guy got told off once when we flew a drone around the Midi top station.

Which is your favourite ski lift and why?

It’s gotta be the Aiguille du Midi and the cable car to the top. It takes you from town to 3800m in 20 minutes, and there’s not a single marked run. You just step out and hey – you’re on your own. Which is pretty cool, and pretty rare.

Tell us something we don’t know about Chamonix

I would say never underestimate how much snow actually falls on the mountain. You can have barely a dusting in town some days, and it’ll say 3cm in the forecast, but go up and have a look anyway because it can be knee deep in places. It’s funny. I’ve never seen it like that anywhere else.

What is the best thing to eat in Chamonix?

For me, whatever my girlfriend and I cook in our apartment because there are zero vegan restaurants in Chamonix! I’ve been dabbling in being vegan for a few years and sometimes I’ll give in to dairy, but it seems to be getting easier now being full blown vegan.

Which is your favourite après-ski bar?

Definitely the Moö bar. It’s right in town – you go in there at 5pm and you’ll rub shoulders with Glen Plake or Seth Morrison, and all these other stars, but no-one’s really a star, they’re just locals, and everyone’s so chilled. It’s really cool.

Yellow Beaked cough birdBest local superstition?

Maybe that the yellow-beaked chough birds are the souls of people who’ve died on the mountain. When they’re flying around it’s like “Oh hey Andreas, hey JP…”. We feed them, even though you’re not supposed to.

Is there anywhere we should avoid?

Loads of places, it’s probably better to ask where you SHOULD go! But you should definitely avoid asking the lady in Switzerland, on the other side of the mountain, what time the train back to Chamonix leaves, because she gets that question every day and she hates it!


If you liked this try these:

How to Ski Corbet’s Couloir

Eight tips everyone considering skiing the Haute Route should read

Five tips that make skiing steeps (a little bit) easier

 

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