There is no avoiding changeable mountain conditions. Heli-skiers and climbers know what to expect: Epic itineraries routinely require rewrites for “weather days” and “down days.” These amendments are standard at traditional resorts and guide services; but when conditions don’t accommodate particular endeavors, adventure operator Eleven Experience (elevenexperience.com) favors improvisation. Can’t fish? They’ll take you mountain biking and facilitate a gourmet riverside lunch. Avalanche conditions aren’t favorable for skiing? Zip up the wetsuit for arctic surfing instead. This is possible because of their expert guides, who are all certified by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA). Required to have a vast, deep knowledge base of the locales where they lead, the guides can easily pivot as conditions change.
In the tiny village of Le Miroir, nestled near the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps, a few valleys over from Mont Blanc and Chamonix, find Chalet Pelerin—one of several world-class, off-the-beaten-path destination properties owned and operated by Eleven Experience. Prior to visiting the chalet, guests work with an Eleven Experience manager (a hospitality expert local to the region) to draft an itinerary with a range of outdoor activities, as well as time to unwind and relax in the Finnish steam room and sauna and take part in immersive cultural experiences. They also customize chef-prepared breakfasts, après, and dinners that are representative of traditional local cuisine.
A full buyout starts around $5,600/night, based on 10 guests and inclusive of most meals, house drinks, and the following plethora of guided activities.
E-MOUNTAIN BIKING & VIA CORDATA
Electric mountain bikes allow riders to take in the scenery and pedal up any hill without breaking a sweat. Snowy peaks define the skyline here, as well as the border between France and Italy. Ride among rocky cliff bands protruding from evergreen forests and turquoise-colored creeks swelling with meltwater. There’s nothing like following farm tracks down the valley in the summer, listening to birdsong and the steady beat of cowbells, and smelling the sweet edelweiss, yellow gentian, and alpine pansies.
The cliff band seen from below is a via cordata route, facilitating the activity best described as a combination of hiking, rock climbing, and mountaineering. After tying into a climbing rope, guides lead guests along a meandering route up the cliffside. The experience provides the thrilling exposure of rock climbing, but with an ease-of-movement more commonly experienced in mountaineering. After topping out, a blissful bike ride awaits either further up the mountain or back into town.
Via cordata provides an excellent introduction to roped movement through technical alpine terrain, which can be built upon near the Mont Blanc massif. Just north of the Italian resort town Courmayeur, the famed revolving cable car Skyway Monte Bianco stops at the top of Pointe Helbronner for access to a large ice field known as the Vallée Blanche.
At an elevation of more than 11,000 feet, the ice provides a welcome respite from the valley’s heat. But when the sun is out and reflecting off the glacier, it’s often warm enough to wear just a light shirt or windbreaker top. Guides lead a technical scramble onto a rocky vantage point straddling the border of France and Italy. Monte Bianco (as Western Europe’s tallest peak is known from the Italian side), Monte Rosa, and the Matterhorn can all be viewed in the distance.
Fort de la Platte (a castle converted to a Beaufort cheese cellar) is perched 6,500 feet above Bourg-Saint Maurice and provides the launch point for a memorable aerial glide. Guests and their pilots run down the slope in tandem, and then, “Un! Deux! Trois! JUMP!” Immediately, the ground gives way and they are airborne. Soon thereafter, a beeping ensues, slowly at first and then rapidly; stomachs lurch in response.
“We have located a thermal!” guides shout in heavily accented English. These pockets of warm air, often indicated by the presence of effortlessly soaring raptors, provide lift and enable paragliders to extend their flights coasting above all of the mountaintops—except for Mont Blanc, which still towers in the distance.
To truly understand the geography of a mountainous place, one must walk among its peaks, soar above its summits, and follow its rivers. Guests complete the survey on a whitewater rafting trip down the glacier-fed Isère, still rowdy near its source in Bourg-Saint Maurice.
From Geneva, guests can opt for direct helicopter transfer ($3,000 one-way for five guests) to the chalet, equipped with four master suites, a bunk room, an activity room with additional bunks, and a great room built around a centralized fireplace—each thoughtfully appointed. Photographic volumes cataloging the exploits of famous French Alpinists are stacked upon the tables. Tasteful antlers hang above the mantle and from the walls. A telescope on the balcony provides a close-up view of Mont Pourri, a 12,398-foot glaciated massif across the valley. An open bar, filled with dozens of spirits, is at the beck and call.
From the basement level, the indoor freshwater pool is accessed; a patio punctuated with fire pits and a tiled thermal bath connects to the Finnish sauna. Further exploration around the grounds reveals a garage chock-full of the latest and greatest: electric mountain bikes, climbing gear, fishing rods, and more. Next to it is an activity staging area, with cubby spaces personalized for each guest containing day packs, water bottles, snacks, and sunscreen.
Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a customary three-course meal, prepared to the preferences of the guests, are served in the great room. A trip to Chalet Pelerin would not be complete without dinner at the Alpage—Eleven Experience’s authentic, restored farmhouse, located just a few minutes up the valley. With no electricity, it’s lit by candles; the chef prepares hearty meals over a wood-burning fire.