IT’S THE GUIDES
Mt Blanc is a giant rock. And this trip is essentially you walking around it. Doesn’t sound too FIVE star does it? Well, as rocks go it’s pretty spectacular. And you get to go through three countries where they speak a bunch of non-English languages that I’m sure I was supposed to learn in high school and use TWO currencies … (Really Switzerland? With the Franc … Get over yourself). Although there are other trips and other providers that will guide you around this rock, the Active trip is better because the people that work for Active are awesome at what they do. We worked with Lynette in NZ to book the trip and although we never met, we are pretty much best friends now. I can think of no better indication of a good business than return customers. Of the twelve people in our group, ALL of them were return Active customers. Why? The Guides.
For this trip, we had three French guides from Companie des guides de Chamonix and one Kiwi from Active. The French guides were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and fun. I would recommend all of them without hesitation, especially Jean-Marie our driver (see below). But Kiwi Nick from Active was the Difference Maker. He is so incredibly nice that you know he has a wonderful girlfriend back in New Zealand. And they do all these wonderful couple activities that are super cool. Like paddle boarding. And you can’t wait to hang out with them because they’re awesome. And they booze, of course, because couples that DON’T booze should not be trusted #lifelesson. And you may say, ‘Well Neil that’s not appropriate saying that about a guide’s personal life’ ... but whatever. Lynette is not going to take it out of this review because we are best friends. Nick handles all his guide responsibilities extremely well but it feels like he is a part of the group. He’s experiencing and sharing this trip along with you rather than just showing you Mt Blanc. Rarely will a guided trip like this go EXACTLY to plan. Weather, injuries, construction, conflicting personalities among the group, etc. are just some of the problems the guides need to be prepared to deal with quickly. Thankfully we had few of these issues, but Nick was always attentive to our enjoyment. I’m still not sure how he put up with me. I know how horrible I am. I live me every day.
Beyond the guides, the trip is strong.
ACTIVITIES: Although you are hiking in a relatively compact area the hikes are varied and challenging enough to make that post-hike beer taste awful nice. The kayaking day was beautiful but marred by our decision to use a double kayak. Or as they should be known, “Murder Boats”, because after about 5 minutes in a double kayak you want to bludgeon each other to death. Get the single. The last day we did the rafting option because the rope course was rained out. Not only did we not die, we ended up having a lot of fun cruising on glacial water through downtown Chamonix. On the free day in Courmayeur, I did the via ferrates up Mont Chetif, which was fun. The hike to the top was the toughest hiking of the trip. I would recommend planning your off day before the trip rather than on the fly. The via ferrates does sell out.
MEALS: There was cheese LITERALLY everywhere. If you don’t like cheese like me, just keep quiet about it. Those French obsess over cheese like there is alcohol in it. The lunch spots were transcendent. That’s when you could feel truly present in the Alps. Whatever crap you had waiting back home, like say … Ellen in HR who is pretty much just the worst (don’t worry, she’ll never read this. I bet she drowns kittens on vacation. She. Is. The. Worst.), all that stuff melts away. The dinners were local and delightful.
HOTELS: The accommodations are essentially ski lodges. We had hot showers, warm beds and beers. A few places had pools & hot tubs. They were all close to our hikes which cut down on van time, which I’m sure disappointed my trip mates because they probably enjoyed my daily dissertations on the importance of hair metal in American culture #Cinderella.
Overall, these Active folks know what they are doing and you will have fun on this trip. Maybe I’ll get to meet you on one of their other trips I’m sure we’ll be signing up for in the future … Patagonia hmmm? I’ll be the one talking about David Lee Roth.
Jean-Marie (Driver): I think they based the “Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign on this guy. If he is a part of your group, sit next to him during meals and buy him wine. Get him to talk, his life is amazing. We had a guy on our trip that did 28 marathons, 33 triathlons, was a licensed pilot, spoke French, played hockey … ON ICE and that dude wanted to hear more from Jean-Marie. I shouldn’t even be allowed to read his biography (and there was a rumor he was going to write one)! He’s THAT interesting. One of the day off options should be, “Go drinking with Jean Marie”. I’d do the trip all over again if they added that. It was an injustice that he carried my bags. At least my bag was light #manpacking
Neil Crossan – California, United States Tour du Mont Blanc,