Entente cordiale


(n) a friendly understanding or informal alliance between states or factions.

the understanding between Britain and France reached in 1904, forming the basis of Anglo-French cooperation in World War I.

Back in the mists of time of September 2011, way before Brexit was even a twinkle in Cameron’s eye, I wrote a blog piece called Respect. It centred about being accepted as a local in the Chamonix area while remaining essentially British. The final paragraph went like this:

 “I’ll never become French, but when I can exchange banter in the best British style with a local guide in French, (and when a French guide acknowledges you’re moving fast) that’s about as good as it can possibly get.”

I was wrong there. I need to become French in the current political climate in order to secure my future here in my home, the Chamonix valley. And it can get better. Fast-forward over 5 years from when I wrote those words, and I’ve just finished 3 days of working on the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy. This international event put together by this leading clothing and kit manufacturer allows over 400 participants to share experiences and earn new techniques from professional guides. These guides, 120 of them, hail from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities: French, British, Polish, Austrian, Canadian and American to name a few. It’s been running 5 years now, and this year was the biggest and the best.

An international guidng team giving themselves a big hand Photo Johannes Strobel
An international guidng team giving themselves a big hand
Photo Johannes Strobel

Why? Our location was in the centre of town rather than in front of the Midi lift. We had more engagement with the general public during the day in the form of a bouldering wall, a hang board comp, demos from various experts in navigation, crevasse rescue, a climbing tower and so on. At the end of the day there were more opportunities to get together for a beer with both the participants and other guides. Guiding is essentially a fairly solitary profession, and it’s quite rare to work alongside colleagues, let alone fellow professionals from different countries.

BMG Guides doing the morning coffee thing
BMG Guides doing the morning coffee thing

In addition this year, the guiding providers were all coordinated by Chamonix Experience. Originally set up by well-known Everest guide and Kiwi Russell Brice, the business was bought by Seb Rougegré and he has set about making the Academy an international event. Combining guides from the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix and the British Mountain Guides plus Arc’teryx sponsored guides from various countries, he’s done a great job. Coffee and croissants for the guides at the early morning briefing, and a 2 for 1 beers at La Terrasse during happy hour make for a winning combination.

Two for one beers. Always a winner with British Mountain Guides!
Two for one beers. Always a winner with British Mountain Guides!

Plus I got to work as a lead guide alongside Elodie from Cham Ex and my ex-neighbour Didier Chenevoy. British climbers won’t know Didier, but it’s him you have to thank for the re-equipping of the ultra classic Frison-Roche on the Brevent. So now you know. Plus the usual suspects of Vincent Lameyre from the CdG and Seb heading up the whole thing. We also had as an MC, my good friend and Quebecoise guide the irrepressible Isabelle Santoire from Montreal. All in all a very international team!

The irrepressible Isabelle Santoire. Photo: Franz Walter
The irrepressible Isabelle Santoire. Photo: Franz Walter

It’s little things like the banter at the early morning meetings over coffee, sorting out the inevitable little issues that occur at complex events like these, that mean another little step towards further integration into the local community.

Thanks to Arc’teryx, Seb from Cham Ex and everyone involved for making it such a special 3 days.