A Petition to Ban Circuses using Animals in Chamonix

I am not normally political on my photography site, however I would like to call attention to a petition that has come out which is asking the town of Chamonix and Les Houches to ban circuses using animals from performing in the valley. Anyone who loves Chamonix either as a resident or tourist is welcome to sign it.

You can sign this petition (which is all in French) here – Stop aux Cirques avec Animaux .

The English Translation of the petition follows.



 Addressed to the Mayors of Chamonix and Les Houches and the cultural directors of each town.

BAN Circuses with ANIMALS in Chamonix and the valley (Haute Savoie – 74)


We would like via this petition to draw your attention to the conditions of life and the exploitation of animals in numerous circuses which come each year in our communities, notably Cirque Star, many Médrano circuses, Cirque Jean Richard etc.. 

Like us, animals are endowed with emotions, the feel fear and they feel pain. They form strong social bonds and as we do, they want to live free.

We firmly oppose their exploitation and suffering for our “entertainment”.

And so we ask that you put into place a ban on circuses with animals in our towns.

During the low season, the animals stay in their transport boxes, in stables or even in trucks or trailers. It is rare that a circus has the means or the willingness to invest in proper shelters when they will only be used a few months a year.

This imprisonment has devastating physical and psychological consequences.  An American study reveals that captive elephants spend around one quarter of their day in shaking their heads or moving from foot to foot compulsively, and bears pace the length and breadth of their cages.

Animals used in circuses are transported constantly from one show to another in an environment where their most elemental needs cannot be satisfied. For 90% of the time they are shut in trucks for “livestock” or in temporary enclosures and they can be beaten or punished with inhuman training methods. This has nothing to do with “entertainment”. 

Animals in the circus are deprived of all which is natural and important to them. Their mental state is broken and they are isolated, chained, alone, degraded and without purpose. Animals used in performances frequently end up with behaviours such as pacing, biting their bars, turning in circles and self-multilation. It is now recognised that this neurotic behaviour is caused by their captivity and an artificial way of living for them.

All animals living in circuses have specific needs. Some such as lions need a hot climate, others like the bear require a colder climate. All animals have a requirement for space, natural activities and social links as well as food and water in sufficient quantity. In circuses, they do not all have this. They are shut in transit cages or electric fences and only are allowed out for their performance.

Because animals do not naturally ride bicycles, stand on their heads, balance on giant balls or jump through burning hoops, the trainers use whips, tight collars, muzzles, stun guns, bull hooks and other painful tools to force them to perform their number. Physical punishment has long been the standard training method for circus animals.

Captive animals are known to crack under this pressure. There are dozens of cases of death and injuries to humans which can be attributed to animals kept in circuses or other captive environments.

In their place, would we prefer a free life, with the risks that it entails, but to be able to take pleasure in our liberty surrounded by our families – or to live a life of solitude in a cage, travelling many kilometres and kilometres in a truck, then make a few circles at the behest of a trainer, to always be subjected to their will and to do unnatural acts such as to be forced to sit down – which for an elephant can actually cause grave internal injuries.

Would it not be better to encourage conservation programs for these species in their countries of origin, and to show beautiful documentaries on their lives to our children and adults who want to discover these animals in their natural environment ? 

Here is an interview with the mayor of  La Ciotat, Monsieur Boré Patrick , who has just banned circuses with wild animals in his town:

Here are some videos showing the training and consequences of this life on animals, several of which were recorded in France :

In your role as mayor and according to article 211 of the Code Rural, you have the power to take measures necessary to preserve the safety of persons who could be in the presence of animals in your town and also to refuse to allow the installation of a circus which holds animals. 

A growing number of French towns such as La Ciotat recently,  Truchtersheim (67), la Ville de Thaon Les Vosges, Bagnolet, Montreuil, Ilkirch, Vernaisson and Chassieu as well as many foreign cities and countries have already restricted or banned the use of animals for amusement – such as Belgium, Iran, Catalonia in Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Mexico, the USA, Canada, Slovenia and India ….

Times have changed. It is no longer acceptable to treat animals like objects for our amusement. We hope that you will be in agreement with this position, and that you will become an example for other French towns in refusing to give out permits for circuses with wild animals in the public territory.

We are aware this decision is difficult to make, but it is a courageous one.

Here is a template for deliberating the banning of circuses with animals in your town : http://www.cirques-de-france.fr/sites/default/files/doc_a_tel/Delib_Conseil_municipal.pdf

The French, and permanent foreign residents who live in your communes, as well as the tourists who all love animals thank you in advance for taking this progressive decision.

In awaiting your response, and please accept our sincere greetings,

You can sign this petition (which is all in French) here – Stop aux Cirques avec Animaux .

Posted in Animals, Chamonix local issue

Documenting a Descent of the Vallée Blanche

An April Vallée Blanche

April 2016 brought to Chamonix some beautiful late season snow and some brilliant sunshine as well. All resulting in a nice set of  photos which I posted over on Flickr of a recent Vallée Blanche descent with a group of friends.

Vallée Blanche 2016

Click on the photo to see the entire set.

Descent of the mythic Vallée Blanche

This famous off piste ski descent starts from the Aiguille du Midi high above the town of Chamonix and ends either at the Montenvers train station at the end of the season, or continues all the way down into Chamonix via climbing out of the glacier near the Montenvers train station, and then skiing down via the Mottets route to end at the bottom of the Planards ski area in town centre in mid season if there is good snow.

The Effects of Global Warming

Each year the climb out of the glacier gets longer and longer as thanks to global warming we are losing this fabulous glacier at an alarming rate. When you climb out of the glacier if you are taking the train down, several signs along the way show the level of the glacier in previous years. It’s absolutely appalling how much volume and height the glacier has lost since I arrived here in 2001. Be prepared for this climb – it is more taxing now for some people than the skiing !

Why to take a Guide

The route is normally best done with a mountain guide for the average person who visits Chamonix.  There are many variations of the route to take down, but all of them entail going down the narrow ridge from the Midi ice cave (best done in crampons) and onto an open glacier where you will then be faced with the objective dangers of crevasses, weak snow bridges, falling seracs and avalanches. Skiers should wear special safety gear whether or not you go with a guide.  Not only should you bring the typical avalanche beacon, shovel and probe, but also you need to wear a harness and crevasse rescue gear including a rope (and have the training to use it!) and have winter mountain and glacier navigational skills and plenty of avalanche safety training if you are going without a guide.

It is indeed the high mountains, and it is not patrolled in any way – your safety is your responsibility. Not for the faint of heart !

As you can see from the photos, we spotted several avalanches and negotiated quite a few crevasses on our way down. The avalanche risk was level 3 on the day we did the descent and we followed a route that was not overly steep to mitigate the danger.

Of course, we also had some amazing fresh tracks in the snow in the early part of the descent – and stunning views of the Alps. Another reason to take a guide – the guides will know where to find fresh powder if it can be had at all !

And why to take a Photographer !

And feel free to contact me if you’d like me to document your Valley Blanche descent or other ski adventure in or near Chamonix ! I will focus on taking the photos so that you can focus on your skiing and soaking in all the amazing views – and you will be actually skiing in your photos instead of showing friends pictures of your feet, only the views with no people – or the world on the end of a selfie stick !

Posted in Event Coverage, Photography, Ski Touring

Remembering Barbara

When I was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of my favourite photography courses was the one taught by Barbara DeGenevieve.

Untitled 4

She taught many other classes after the 80s, but I took her “alternative processes” course, learning to print on various surfaces from negatives using all sorts of “forgotten” photographic processes. Her gift was not just in teaching about these interesting old ways to create photographs, but in opening people’s minds.

Her own work was edgy, feminist and challenging – something really needed at the time and something that definitely encouraged me to pursue my photography to wherever it led me.

She also opened many in the class to things beyond photography techniques of course, as any good teacher does. She was one of the first people in my life that I recall mentioning how much food and what she ate affected her (I was already vegetarian, but she was talking about things like eating energy foods like fruit for breakfast rather than toast and how it affected her mood and stopped her from having an energy crash. The sorts of things that the rest of the world would not pick up on as “trendy” and healthy eating for a few more years). I remember other things – like when we had our class critique at her house that she put tampons out in the bathroom toilet for anyone to use – the same way we all put toilet paper out. A small thing at the time but also shocking as then there was literally no one else doing this – and certainly one that made me suddenly realise how much “period shaming” affects women and I later started to do the same at my house. She was a proud and brave feminist and a wonderful photographer, teacher and person. This was after I had attended a year at the all women’s Barnard College, where you’d think this sort of thing was common place already (it wasn’t).

As far as photography goes, I was having a hard time with my life then and my work was just full of expressions of that inner turmoil. She helped challenge me about why I was making certain images and to consider if I was or was not exploiting myself as a subject. I remember also the teaching was shared by the MFA candidate teaching assistant Lewis Toby and it’s only now that I find he is still doing photography and is an underpaid adjunct professor at SAIC (that is par for the course now at universities). It’s too bad really that I didn’t take other classes with her after that first year, but I don’t recall others being offered. I think she was not on staff full time when I was at SAIC and was a visiting professor from U of I at Urbana.

In that photography class I also met a couple of friends who’s friendship has lasted over great distances and many years as well as various entanglements and emotional struggles. Friendships forged in difficulty are not soon forgotten and are part of what shapes your very being. It was an important time in my life, and it’s sad to see bits of it are falling away and dying – much like Chicago itself seems to be falling away and dying, losing it’s soul bit by bit to developers.

So, it was with great sadness that I read she had died of cancer in October last year – and only in her 60s. A life cut short far too soon. And strangely from a cancer that she herself had fought for greater awareness about. It’s also quite sad to me that despite being the chair of the photography department at SAIC by the time she died (she was not in that title when she was my instructor there in the mid 80s) that she still had never had a solo show. Now that she has passed – finally she was finally honoured with one. I am annoyed that I did not hear about this show from my alma mater SAIC until AFTER the show was over.

More reading –

Posted in Photography

Beautiful on the Inside

New Eye Candy

In the past couple of years I have been lucky enough to be asked to photograph some really beautiful properties in the French and Italian Alps. Some are commissions by private individuals for their own websites and others are photos requested by Airbnb and other companies doing rentals and sales of apartments, chalets etc. in this region.

I have created a selection of my favourite interior photography images from the past year – head on over and check them out by clicking on the below photo !


New portfolio of my interior and exterior architectural photography

Tech Talk

For those of you photographers out there who maintain your own websites, you may find the following observations useful.

I have started to move more of my portfolio over to my Alps Photo Smugmug site which I use to deliver images to my clients. The SmugMug site is already integrated with my current site by going to the menu item for customer downloads and the sites link back and forth to each other on the menus so there is no getting “lost” between them.

For a downside, I find that the Smugmug platform has very weak page building and blog support, with little variety possible from one Smugmug site to the next. So I won’t be changing to that as my main platform. I also like idea that some day I may want to change my theme and WordPress gives me so many options (and such good plugins for SEO and for translations of the same page into more than one language with Qtranslate etc.) which Smugmug totally misses out on (a multi-language site is something they absolutely price gouge you on and they are extremely USA-centric – I still am annoyed that they do not list sizes in centimetres for ordering photos).

However the Smugmug galleries for displaying your work in my opinion are so much more attractive than what is offered by WordPress plug-ins (very poor security and usually really wonky) or the “for photographers”  Photocrati theme I am using here on WordPress.

Smugmug also has great integration with several photo labs including one in the UK (they really really need to add one for continental Europe!!) so that you can sell directly from your site, and they have an option you can turn on or off to allow downloads of photos from your galleries, or ways to purchase photos that are superior to what Photocrati offers. You can also lock galleries to a password or hide them from anyone without the link to make client deliveries a snap.

There is also really great integration between Adobe Lightroom, which I love to use to catalog and work on my images – and Smugmug. I also have Photoshop but I find that 98% of what I do on a daily basis can be accomplished more quickly in Lightroom, and I love the non-destructive editing that lets me export my edited image to any size I need.

Whereas (listen up Photocrati) the integration between Photocrati and their own “slide show” galleries (NextGen galleries or legacy Photocrati Galleries and Albums – another confusing concept you must learn) and Lightroom is pretty bad – requiring a 3 step process. First I must upload photos from Lightroom using the NextGen Lightroom plugin. Then in WordPress, I have to “import” those NextGen gallery photos into the default Photocrati gallery. And albums and galleries are two different things which I can never keep straight. I don’t use NextGen directly because I couldn’t stand how NextGen originally looked, and though supposedly it looks better now, just reading the hundreds of online bug reports and people screaming about it not working when it’s upgraded gives me the heebie jeebies). Then you have to associate the Photocrati gallery to your WordPress post, which is not the same as adding media to your post.

The interface that Photocrati gives you is so mixed up now that they purchased NextGen too, that it’s usually difficult to tell if the settings you are trying to tweak are for their own legacy galleries or the NextGen product they purchased. But I’ve never gotten either of them to look beautiful on a page the way that the Smugmug galleries do.

And I can’t get Photocrati to acknowledge, much less fix, a bug that every time I upload photos from Lightroom into my NextGen gallery and then put those into the Photocrati galleries, it creates one duplicate image – and if I try to delete the duplicate, it duplicates a different one. Clearly there is a programming error but they don’t care.

So for me, it’s just impossible to do easy updates to my portfolio – stored as Photocrati slideshows –  from Lightroom, and it looks dated to boot. Also the database in WordPress is constantly mismanaged by the Photocrati software, resulting in dozens of copies of the same photo to litter up your WordPress database (I have had to go in to manually tweak the database on multiple occasions when setting up my portfolios).  As an added bonus – the photos you upload to WordPress via Photocrati will never show up in the Media Library so you can’t re-use them as “featured photos” to make the newer WordPress post styles work easily – it’s just a “lose-lose” proposition.

I started out using Smugmug with it’s clean interface, beautiful presentation pages and excellent integration to Lightroom – to deliver wedding photos to my clients. But then I realised the photo galleries there looked better than my portfolio of wedding photos on my Photocrati site.

Expect an eventual update of all my portfolio images to Smugmug at some stage (at the moment it’s a lot of work that I don’t have time to finish just now).

I love that Smugmug makes updating my online portfolio a such an easy process indeed. Using Lightroom settings you can tell LR what types of changes to a photo should trigger a notice to “republish” your images to the publishing services when you have tweaked one, and it lists all those photos as requiring a refreshed upload to Smugmug.

Press the “publish” button from Lightroom and  it neatly replaces the old copy with the newer changes – no database messes.

On Photocrati because they have no linked plug-in from the Photocrati slideshows to Lightroom and you have to “pass” through NextGen as an intermediary, this simply is too tedious to bother with any longer.

And then we have customer satisfaction issues with NextGen. Using the WordPress ratings as a guide, I have avoided updating to the latest NextGen (which may or may not have actually better looking slide shows to try) – simply because 1. NextGen has as many one star ratings as five star – have the users seem to have very large problems with their releases and 2. The NextGen customer support says the same repetitive things on internet forums – never resolving problems and always blaming the users – this kind of defensive customer-blaming support is exactly the kind of software one should RUN from. They do not seem to fix any bugs much less acknowledge them.

PS – In case you wonder since I live in France – Yes, I did try out a couple of French sites for portfolio and delivery to clients – one called Jingoo. Many French photographers do use it, especially event photographers it seems and some wedding shooters. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. It seems to have been designed on Linux or something geeky so it has a lot of choices to make to actually get to the stage of uploading photos and it’s a bit confusing but once you go through it, you can manage. It was free to host photos, which was actually amazingly great so I did try it for many months. The galleries are also attractive and apparently they are working on improving the photographer dashboard interface to not look like a 1990s x-windows interface. It does easily integrate to your main site as a way to do photo delivery to customers.

But – there is no direct integration to Lightroom from Jingoo so that is a kluge. But then there was the one downside which totally turned me off and which in the end I could not ignore.

On Jingoo – whatever order you upload your photos in to a gallery online – that is the order they stay in ! (??? Really ??? A grade school programmer could fix that ! ) When I enquired about this lack of most basic feature – which was basically a show stopper for me – I got some extremely lame and defensive excuse about how impossible it would be to program a fix (do not say that if you yourself are not a programmer. I am also a programmer and I know that is a lie someone told you from the r&d department).

So  – had it not been for that problem, I actually was going to use them as they have a fully French interface with English translations and many other things were great such as working with European photo labs for delivery of prints and photo books.  I had kluged a way to publish shots from Lightroom to a hard drive folder which then became my Jingoo upload gallery (though further updates or re-ordering were impossible on Jingoo).

Because when I deliver photos into galleries, I do not always upload them in the exact order I took the photos. Often for weddings I deliver a smaller set of photos first (obvious stand-out shots or important moments), followed by more of them at a later date and sometimes I will do this over a period of a few weeks. Sometimes after editing at night or if I was tired, I will decide to tweak a photo after I’ve uploaded it and see it in daylight. I want that photo replaced (not replicated) on the site – and I do not want to be limited by showing them to a client only in “the order you upload them”.  I want to be able to order the photos in the way that I want to once they are on the site so that they look nice and usually in time order for my wedding clients as an example. I think even Facebook can do this !

I also tried another site that was French-developed called Zenfolio. It’s really beautiful and similar to Smugmug. It ticked so many boxes. But it is ridiculously expensive to get any features you want to use to deliver to end clients – you can’t even justify the prices they charge – it’s highway robbery. I also felt their SEO possibilities were very limited (as are Smugmug’s but since it’s attached to my WordPress site I don’t need to worry about that). And once again I had the defensive response to my complaint (after direct mail asking for my feedback) about lack of ability to control my own SEO.

WordPress makes this so easy to get to with plug-ins – why in the world do you think you can defend taking control of someone else’s website SEO and giving them no say in how it is presented to a search engine Zenfolio? It’s just not good business. Sites that try to make things “simple” for people are all well and good but if you don’t give more advanced users a way to get in there and tweak things to their liking you will not capture the big market. To be fair, I have no idea what Smugmug does for SEO but I don’t care as I use my main WordPress site for this.

Anyhow – enough tech talk about the hows and whys of where I have decided to start moving my portfolio images and how I chose my client delivery platform !

I do hope you enjoy the new nicely presented portfolio of my interior and exterior photography of chalets, houses, apartments, B&Bs, hotels and more ! For once I can say I truly enjoyed putting it together 😉

Thank you Smugmug for your easy to integrate platform. Please get a Continental European photo lab on board – one that uses centimetres- and don’t imagine that everyone in the world speaks English or that you should charge triple or double price for being able to have your site in more than one language when WordPress offers this as a FREE plug-in.

Posted in Photo Tech Tip, Photography

Back to School Weekend Photo Workshop

Checking settings for night photography

Students checking camera settings

Chamonix Photo Workshop

At the end of September I ran a weekend photo workshop for students from the Le Rosey school in Rolle Switzerland. It combined a lovely autumn weekend mountain hike and Chamonix sight-seeing with learning about and practicing lots of photography techniques.

We used the Chamonix lift system to get up into the high mountains quickly. For the morning and afternoon, we did a hike above the Chamonix valley led by valley local (and Idris ski maker) Tom Greenall – who is a fully qualified UIMLA (IML) hiking guide.

During the hike, I spoke about and demonstrated lots of different ways to use your camera settings to get the kind of image you want to see, and I answered plenty of questions along the way. We had a lunch break on the trail in glacial boulders near a running stream. In the afternoon, we hiked back towards our mountain refuge for a break, downloading photos and ate a nice home cooked dinner. The refuge had both electricity and showers, making it an ideal choice for our workshop.

After dinner we had a review of the day’s shots with everyone getting a chance to see what the other students captured and to discuss how the settings we chose worked (or didn’t – and why).

Thanks to clear skies, we spent a couple of hours trying out some night photography techniques with tripods. This was surely one of the more stunning evenings of the autumn season. The views of the mountains at night were incredible and the lack of a moon made the stars shine brighter. Low clouds filling the valley far below made some beautiful glowing effects in the night landscapes.

The following day anyone who wanted to get some sunrise images woke up early and captured a few shots before breakfast. Then we headed up the Aiguille du Midi to the top station to learn about settings for snow photography.  We were lucky to see and photograph some wing suit BASE jumpers taking off from the high station. And in some of the other platforms we found alpinists completing high mountain routes.  And of course there was always the landscape beauty of the Swiss, French and Italian Alps to photograph – all of which are all visible from this incredible top station at 3810m altitude.

We descended down to Chamonix for lunch at a lovely café while downloading photos, and had a final review of images after lunch, before the group headed into town centre to take in the sites and visit the shops.

Everyone learned a lot more about their cameras and photography techniques and worked hard to try out the new settings and ideas I was throwing at them. The students were great and really ready to take on board new suggestions and then got stuck into it, playing and experimenting with the ideas that I introduced.

We had just a brilliant time together learning and sharing our ideas about photography and looking for “that perfect moment” to capture (or create).


Check out some beautiful images taken by Le Rosey students in the Chamonix photo workshop in this gallery !

The slides showing in this post are a gallery of some of the images that I took of our adventure together.

Booking your Chamonix Weekend Photo Workshop

If you are interested in booking a photo workshop for your family, club, group or your students, please contact me  with any of your specific needs for a quote.



Posted in Photography, workshop

Alpine Expedition Photography – DofE

Well, the year of 2014 has indeed been the rainiest in the Alps (in recorded history, according to recent news articles) – but on one of the few sunny days, I was lucky enough to have scheduled a full day’s photo shoot in the great alpine outdoors. I was hired by Alison Culshaw’s company – Gold Expeditions which works with Duke of Edinburgh Award candidates wanting to achieve their Gold level, to do some documentary expedition photography of their trek in the Alps.

They had chosen to complete most of the Tour du Mont Blanc walking tour. To achieve the award, they are required to camp during the tour, rather than using the refuges. They were responsible for plotting their own course through the week, and could not have outside assistance when hiking the route. They were monitored by their assessors at several points along their route and had check ins each evening.

Click on the arrows of any photo to see the rest of the set here, or click on the photo itself to head over to my Flickr page.

Gold Expeditions - Duke of Edinburgh Award

I met the students while they were planning their routes a week earlier to do introductions and make sure everyone was OK with being photographed.  Later in the week, I then caught up with them on their trek just as they crossed into the Italian Alps – as this was the best weather day, and which turned out to be the last day of their trek around Mont Blanc. The morning started out a bit cloudy on the hike down from the refuge, but soon cleared up as they ascended into the Courmayeur ski area (a beautiful rolling alpage in summer time) and to the Maison Veille refuge for lunch in the grass.

To reach them from Chamonix was very easy – I got up early and headed through the Tunnel du Mont Blanc, dropping off my car at the Dolonnes sports centre car park in Courmayeur, and met up with Alison. We drove up the road leading to Val Vény, just to the barrier at Lac Combal (Lago di Combal) where cars are not allowed any further, and she dropped me off, and then went off to assess a different group of students.

I am familiar with these trails and do a lot of hiking and trail running myself, so I was able to power hike the hills and run the flat bits (OK, more like jogged, as I had my camera gear on my back) to reach the Elisabetta hut a short while later, where I met up with a groups of students as they were packing up to head out for their hike from the Elisabetta hut to Courmayeur via the Tour du Mont Blanc walking route.

The views were stunning – and we got some great group photos with a fun bunch of students from The Albyn School in Aberdeen Scotland. I shot mostly documentary style photos of their day, along with a few fun shots of them leaping about with Mont Blanc in the background (one of which has been used on the Gold Expedition Facebook page as their header) – celebrating their last day of the expedition and completion of the hard work and dedication necessary to achieve the Gold level award.

To place the photos on a map, in case you are interested in doing the Tour du Mont Blanc yourself – the section of the hike where I intersected them to photograph the student’s expedition went from the Refugio Elisabetta (located just below the Col de la Seigne, which marks the French/Italian border) and along the valley floor past views of several glaciers in the Mont Blanc massif and the flat Lac Combal. Where the valley 4×4 road becomes tarmac, the walking trail then heads up a single track path using a short but steep climb and traverses above the Val Vény at around 2100m of altitude and then reaches the Maison Veille refuge in the heart of the Courmayeur ski area (alpine pastures in summer). The refuge serves up a great lunch in both summer and winter.

This whole climb and the traverse is set against a beautiful backdrop of the Italian side of the Mont Blanc range, the Miage glacier and Col de Miage – and several herds of dairy cows. Once in the ski area, they did allow themselves the luxury of taking the large cable car lift back down into Courmayeur town centre, where a final course debrief and a pizza dinner awaited all the award candidates.

Assignments like this for a day of photography are exactly why I love my job !

Posted in Event Coverage, Photography

Protest against high air pollution levels in Chamonix and the Arve Valley


When people think of Chamonix France, many people think of extreme skiing, big mountains, adventure, powder, couloirs, fabulous hiking, mountain running. What they may be surprised to learn is that Chamonix and the lower Arve valley have some of the worst air quality in all of France. We spend around 40+ (and going higher yearly it seems) days living well above the allowable (by EU standards) air pollution levels.

The local governments are supportive of trying to stop this pollution with a variety of measures, but the state and federal government are not supporting the local populations. Of course money is involved – Chamonix and the Arve valley is a giant trucking route for international transport of goods through the Mont Blanc tunnel. Recommendations from many studies show that limiting the number of trucks and eliminating the most polluting diesel engines should help reduce this pollution. But the state politicians refuse to take action. Add to this the fact that due to high electricity rates many more residents have to rely on wood fires for heat, and the fact that upgrading an inefficient open fireplace to a modern high efficiency burner is very costly (€2000-€8000 depending on choices) most of the population cannot afford to become more energy efficient. We can also add to this mix an influx of wealthy ex-pats who seem to prefer driving gas guzzling higher polluting 4x4s to smaller cars, biking or public transit and this has lead to an unhealthy soup we now breathe in far too many days a year.

Standing at the top of any ski area in the region, one can view a brown haze suffocating the valleys below. The type of pollutants involved are linked to higher rates of cancer, respiratory problems and sinus problems. It has gotten so bad in the past 2-3 years that now several weeks a year the children of the valley cannot go outside to play at recess because the air is too polluted to breathe. This in an area previously renowned as an extreme sports capital.

When will the Prefecture of the Haute Savoie take heed and action to protect our air and mountains and health (and in so-doing also protect our tourist trade that so many here rely on for making their living) instead of protecting the trucking industry lobbyists and private owners that control the ATMB and their own tax share of the very high fees per truck that crosses the Tunnel du Mont Blanc (upwards of €400 per truck with 1500-1800 trucks per day heading through the tunnel).

Groups such as the ARSMB and Inspire are working to pressure state politicians to take action. If you care about reducing air pollution in this pristine area, please sign this petition that Inspire has created, calling upon the state to implement a Plan for the Protection of the Atmosphere. This plan was written up in 2012 and passed by the Haute Savoie prefecture to placate the EU and avoid high fines EU for surpassing allowed air pollution levels – but now the state refuses to actually implement the measures called for in the plan.

Posted in Event Coverage, Photography

Parisian Summer

I spent the summer of 2013 working in Paris – a place I only visited previously. I was a city girl in my 20s and then moved to the Alps. Sometimes I do miss the city “feel and smell” (urine mostly in the case of the Métro, ha ha). But though Paris is gorgeous I can still feel the call of the mountains while I am there, and was happy each weekend I headed back to the Alps.

However, my French has improved tremendously working now on a completely French team and well … where else can you go home for lunch and watch a documentary on Jacques Brel and feel you could go out that night and find the club in the film (probably still intact) ?

I have still managed some shooting in the Alps – many interiors and hiking photos on the weekends I have been back. And I have been using Paris to brush up on my old street shooting skills from the Chicago days.

There are some Paris summer photos now posted on Flickr.


Posted in Photography

Mission WOW Women of Winter Ski Touring Weekend

Scott Mission WOW

Women of Winter Ski Touring Weekend in Italy

I had a fun weekend as the photographer for the Scott Sports sponsored Mission WOW Women of Winter introduction to ski touring and the back country event in the Val Ferret Italy on March 23rd and 24th. I worked the still camera, and Rachel of Seven Twenty Productions did the videos … the result of which you can find here on You Tube.

25 women joined in for the event, which aims to introduce women to ski touring and develop back country safety skills in a fun safe environment, accompanied by 3 IFMGA/UIAGM female mountain guides (Ulrika Asp, Caroline George and Isabelle Santoire ) and one ISIA ski instructor (Pia Palm).

The ski touring weekend attracted a range of ages, with most women falling somewhere in their 20s. Jo Guest from Mission WOW organised the event, and Scott Sports was happy to offer extensive sponsorship. The purpose of Mission WOW is to introduce women to activities they may not otherwise do on their own, promote more women to participate in sports, and create a great women-friendly environment for networking, friend making and skill building. They also run summer Women on Wheels and Women in Water WOW events.

The weekend started  at Ravanel Sports in Les Praz with ski and boot-fitting for women who wanted to try out the latest Scott Sports ski touring set up. Some women who were boarders were given split boards to try out for touring. Other women brought their own personal ski touring gear.

The guides and instructors came along to give advice and meet everyone. Scott provided skis from their Mountain and Freeride ranges (Crus’Air, Powd’Air and Pure models for example) fitted with Dynafit touring bindings, and climbing skins from Colltex. Ravanel provided ski touring boots to match the Dynafit bindings for those who needed them. The Ravanel ski techs made sure to set up the ski bindings’ release setting properly for the technical ability of each skier. The women who signed up included English, Swedish and French speaking women and the guides were all either bi or tri-lingual to give instruction in English, Swedish or French.

The next morning, we met up at the Montenvers car park in Chamonix. A Scott Sports car brought along the skis and boots from Ravanel, and the guides and instructor made sure everyone had the correct equipment before setting out, including avalanche safety gear (transciever, shovel and probe),  lending transceivers where required.

We car-pooled to go under Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in western Europe via the Tunnel du Mont Blanc and into Italy. From the car park at Entreves, we hopped a bus which shuttled us boldly up some steep switch back turns to Planpincieux and into the beautiful Val Ferret which is part of the town of Courmayeur Italy.


This small village at 1400m altitude is the start of cross-country track in a long wide hanging valley, and was also the start of our ski tour. A good general description of the many routes, hikes, climbs, snow shoe trails and ski tours you can find in that area, as well as a topo map is on Camp to Camp website.

The ski tour follows near the cross country trail and goes gradually 200m uphill over around 10km of distance until it reaches the small town of Lavachey. From Lavachey the trail goes steeply through the woods for another 200m to reach the Walter Bonatti hut at 2025m altitude. We did take a break along the way for some thick hot chocolate and great Italian coffee

Everyone reached the hut at their own pace, some guides taking the faster tourers, and others staying back with the slower groups. No one felt rushed. After a short break at the hut for lunch, it was time for the kick turn clinic back on the hill behind the hut.

Kick turns are the way that ski tourers get up steep hillsides, turning the skis quickly and efficiently around sharp corners when the hill is too steep to allow a “5 point” style gradual turn around a corner as one can do in flatter terrain. The first step of a kick turn involves nearly a ballet move, as your upper foot is brought quickly around in the opposite direction to your lower foot to rest above your current track. Then you move your poles uphill and shift the weight onto the upper foot, potentially kick the back foot out to release the toe (the heel of your foot is not attached to the ski when in touring mode) and turn the lower ski around your upper leg’s boot cuff to bring it into a parallel track. And off you go. These turns are known as “conversions” in French. Once the technique is firmly mastered, you do not need to even break stride to complete a conversion turn.

The day was completed with a lovely four course hot meal at the Bonatti hut (the salad included fresh pomegranate and apple !), as well as hot showers ! Climbing skins were hung up to dry and boot liners were pulled out to allow for drying overnight. The Bonatti hut is a rather cush example of a mountain hut compared to many – the beds and pillows are nice, with a decent amount of personal space (despite sleeping dormitory style) and most of us got a good sleep.

The weather forecast was not ideal to do a long ski tour on Sunday so the guides proposed doing many technical workshops or a smaller tour as a choice. So everyone was spared a super early alpine start as would have been required for a longer tour, meeting at 9am after a leisurely breakfast and many cups of tea and coffee. After a pep talk from Jo on positive thinking and learning something from every day you have, even challenging days, everyone split into groups.

Some chose to stay with one guide and learn more mountain skills such as crevasse rescue and other mountain safety techniques and others went on a short ski tour with the other three guides, up to the Tête Entre Deux Sauts above the Bonatti hut. The ski back down to the hut was challenging for most everyone, as the day was an entire white out with little way to tell how the hill was falling away from you. The snow was fresh, deep and heavy rather than light and powdery. But everyone had fun and the guides were sure everyone stayed in a sight line due to the fog. Once back at the hut, everyone did a transceiver search  workshop. The women learned to use their transceivers to find buried avalanche victims, and the proper technique to probe for someone buried under the snow and then dig them out.

At the hut we ate sack lunches (the hut packed lunches for those who did not carry their own) and put skis and packs back on to head through the woods and down the hill.  The snow became heavier still in the woods, and after a break for some play and group shots at Lavachey we headed in “skate ski” mode down the trail back the 10km towards Planpincieux. Some women had developed blisters during the ski tour, but more importantly everyone developed their back country mountain skills and their friendships.

Once back in Chamonix, we all headed to the MBC to enjoy a round of beers, nachos and the raffle that gave away some grab bag goodies from Swatch, Colltex and Scott. As a grand prize, Scott gave away a pair of freeride skis. Rather than simply picking a number out of the pot, the winner was decided via several rounds of very animated “rock, paper, scissors” ! A fun weekend for all.
Scott Mission WOW Women of Winter

Posted in Event Coverage, Photography, Ski Touring

Idris Skis Wins Award at ISPO

ISPO is an outdoor industry trade show (and is the biggest single trade event for the outdoor sports industry) held in Europe in Munich each January.

Each year they award a selected number of products with their ISPO Awards. And Idris Skis has won in 2013 at ISPO for their ski called the Lynx.

I would love to think my photos and a little video I put together (under much duress from my underpowered MacBook) had something to do with this  — they were used on the ISPO application process — but of course it is the skis who won the award due to the hard work and innovative ideas from Tom at Idris Skis.

I just love seeing Idris listed there in the off-piste category along side of industry giants – Vökl, Black Diamond and Rossignol !  And here are the details (along with a couple of my photos of course !!)

Their latest ski – the Lynx – has won for Eco Awareness and Off Piste Innovation – it is made with a wood and flax core, and bio-resin – the most eco-friendly ski available on the market today.

I skied on it just last week-end and was well impressed with the Lynx’s balance and nimble turning off-piste and even ability to carve while on piste, and plan to get a pair myself for next season !

More of my shots for Idris can be found on the Manufacturing Process page of their website.


Posted in Photography