The French mountains — four more faces

Four stories of extraordinary people living in an even more extraordinary environment

By Faces of the French Mountains
Published 3 Apr 2019, 18:07 BST

Last year, seven inspiring individuals shared their stories about what it's like to live in the French mountains, to wake up every day and see the iconic peaks towering above them. From the pro snowboarder cum architect to the inventor, every story was unique, revealing a wholly different side to the ski resorts we know so well.

But there are so many people whose tales are still untold. So this year we've sought out four more pioneering personalities who also call these mountains home. A ski maker, cheese maker, artist and professional stuntman — these are the stories of extraordinary people living in an even more extraordinary environment.

Find out more
Find additional stories via #FacesOfTheFrenchMountains on Facebook and track picture updates from via the @FrenchMountains page.

The Ski Maker
Cyril Cote, Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc

Wood is a noble material. It makes me feel close to nature. That feeling, that sense of awe, is the same feeling I get when I'm in my workshop and I can look out at Mont Blanc while I work. I'm so proud that I can craft handmade wooden skis at the foot of such a revered and important mountain.

I first skied when I was three years old and woodwork has been one of my lifelong interests, so it was only natural for my two passions to eventually come together. My grandfather inspired my love of woodwork, he was a carpenter and I used to watch him work.

When I met Mr Tardy it was like I was a small boy again back in my grandfather's workshop. He wanted to see someone carry on his work, and after nine months of watching and learning under his careful eye, I finally mastered his meticulous and beautiful craft. It wasn't easy, but I wanted to get it right — to carry on the legacy he worked so hard to build.

These days, my favourite wood to make skis with is ash because it's flexible and resistant. I try to make my products as environmentally friendly as possible. It gives me great satisfaction to know that they still have a strong connection with the mountains.

The real power of the mountains is in the way they can make you feel so small. I venture out and feel completely isolated facing the glacier. It feels like a secret garden. And just when I think I've decided on my favourite element, I find something fresh that gives me a new perspective. When I go out, I stop, I admire, I breathe, and then I'm good for another couple of hours of work.

My ideal day in Saint Gervais would be a day filled from start to finish with skiing. I'd take the DMC cable car to Mount Joly and then ski down to St Nicolas to drink a vin chaud (mulled wine). From there, I'd take a short break at the thermal bath, before ending the day with a decent by torchlight. That's the perfect day.

Saint Gervais is a handsome 19th-century spa town nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc at an altitude of 4,000ft.

The Cheese Maker
Samantha Rolland, Pralognan la Vanoise

You don't learn to become a farmer. You either are a farmer, or you just act like one. My husband is a born and bred Savoyard farmer. I simply act like one. It's a tough job, but I feel connected to the earth here, a feeling you can't get in an office.

We live according to the rhythm of the seasons with our animals. Summer and winter here are completely different and I love to watch each unfold. You really have to respect the seasons in the mountains — you're completely at their mercy.

I met my husband when I was picking grapes as a student in the Swiss Lavaux region. I noticed a strong handsome grape picker named Pierrick, and we were married a year later. Not only did I have a new husband, but also a new home. I've now been here for more than 20 years.

My friends say I'm like a gust of wind, always on the move, never still. But I found my roots in the mountains. As a farmer, Pierrick has always been anchored to the earth and I've anchored myself here too.

When I started making Beaufort cheese 20 years ago there was only one other woman doing it. The first year, all the farmers and cheese retailers came to spy on me and my cheeses. They secretly took samples of it in the cheese cellars because they didn't believe I knew what I was doing.

Over the past 20 years, they've come to realise that I really can make cheese. My life is a little crazy these days. I get up to make yoghurt at 4am every day, before getting my kids ready for school and preparing the shop for business. I wouldn't have it any other way though. Our routine changes according to the seasons, which I love. My favourite time is when one season gives way to another. One cycle finishes and another one starts — we have a complete rebirth every few months.

Pralognan la Vanoise sits at the foot of one of the Alps' greatest glacial icecaps. Friendly locals and a relaxed atmosphere make it ideal for families.

The Artist
Kiki Hudry, Le Grand Bornand

The mountain style is influenced by haute couture, which I've always had a weakness for. The mountains are constantly evolving, and that reflects my own sense of style and how I express myself. I admire how local brands reinvent classic looks and use simple, noble materials.

Vintage has made a comeback this year. The cuts and styles marry with new materials to create a mountain style that's glamorous and chic. There are brands here that have been in the area for hundreds of years. Designers use the same knowledge and same machines that they always have, and I adore that.

There's one thing I value above everything else — empathy. When I clean my windows or decorate my hotel, it's for others. It's for the people I'll welcome. I feel a responsibility to give back to the mountains that have shaped who I am today. I want people to experience the magic and warmth of this place.

A few years ago we completely redesigned the hotel. It transformed from a country store to Grand Bornand's first all-in-one concept hotel, store and spa. It had been my dream for a very long time to open our house up to others, and I was so happy to see it realised.

The coucher de soleil (sunset) is something that has to be seen to be believed. On Saturday evenings, the last descent is an hour later than usual and you can enjoy the sunset while skiing down to the valley, watching as the sun dips behind the peak of the mountains. I think Grand Bornand is one of the best places to see the sunset — it's simply unforgettable.

I take my inspiration from the chalets, the pines, the mountains. They're beautiful and authentic and sharpen my creativity. I feel good here. It's my place. I'm 60 now and I don't have any regrets whatsoever. People often think that someone like me should live somewhere else, that I should pursue my passions elsewhere or live in a big city, but it's not for me. I wouldn't have been complete, like I am here at Grand-Bornand.

Owing its name to the river that runs through it, Le Grand Bornand has all the modern amenities of a world-class ski resort. It's divided into two villages, one at 3,200ft, the other four miles further up.

The Stuntman
Guerlain Chicherit, Tignes

One of the best ways to clear my head in the summer is to grab my friends and spend a couple of hours on our motocross bikes, exploring some of the most difficult trails around the mountain. The mountains are a constant motivator. Just when I think I'm completely out of energy or creativity, they seem to inspire and reinvigorate me. It's like a friend who is always watching, always encouraging me to go one step further.

While I was preparing for my World Freeski Championship my conditioning training included jumping into the freezing Tignes lake. Most people thought it was absolutely crazy, but after that I won my first World Freeski title.

During the World Freeskiing Championship in 2001 in Tignes, I did one of my most dangerous runs and tumbled for over 80 metres off a cliff. After that I couldn't ski for six months, so I had to look for other ways to fulfil my need for adrenalin. I managed to do that when I flipped a car 360 degrees in the air — one of my favourite stunts. It proved to me that the mountains are always there to get me back on my feet.

The mountains have given me so much, and as a native of Tignes it makes me really happy to contribute to the growth of the area. I enjoy giving people a chance to experience the mountains like I have my entire life. I feel so lucky to have been able to live in such an amazing place, and now I get to share that with my family as well.

One of the best-known, and most dependable resorts, Tignes boasts almost 200 miles of pisted runs to suit all abilities.

Find out more
Find additional stories via #FacesOfTheFrenchMountains on Facebook and track picture updates from via the @FrenchMountains page.


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