Photo Epic: Peter Kaiser Explores Chamonix's Off Season Mountain Mecca in 'Sightseer'

Jan 30, 2022
by Nathan Hughes  




The calling of the mountains is real, nowhere more so than Chamonix. Here, Europe's largest specimen stares you down at 4809m, drawing you in with sprawling, crevassed glaciers that, at one point, made it all the way to the valley floor. No wonder alpine pioneers, Paccard and Ballmat, were first tempted to the mighty summit from this small town back in 1786.

Mont Blanc is by no means the only peak venting this palpable invitation of exploration, the whole valley is alive with possible adventures for all kinds of outdoorsmen. Of course wheels will always have their limitations and maybe that keeps us mountain bikers out of trouble; away from the most remote, most exposed corners of the spectacularly treacherous terrain. The climbers, the speedflyers and the wing-suiters can divvy those up between themselves. Godspeed to those guys, they've earned their spot at the top of the big mountain food chain.

Still there's plenty for the humble mountain biker to devour in these climes. When autumn comes around in Chamonix, the pace slows for most, but a gold rush begins for those who ride. The hikers weaken their grip on the best spots in the valley just as the leaves turn and the sun skims low over the ridge-lines. Photo moments abound. Enter the sightseer, who has riding skills of the future and photography skills of the past... film that is.



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The 28th of October and the first snow is well overdue above town. Some years it strikes as early as September and it's game over for high altitude offerings, but 2021 was a beauty.

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bigquotesNathan and I threw the idea of shooting in Chamonix back and forth all summer long, until I finally found time to pay him a visit and made it happen. In the end it was the last possible opportunity because just three days later the snow hit. I’ve never been to Chamonix before so I was keen to check out this beautiful place so many people told me about.Peter Kaiser

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Chamonix is anything but your typical ski resort, steeped in more Alpine history than just about anywhere in the World. Peter and Michel Paccard soak in the view.

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Peter was quick to bring some slopestyle touches to the Chamonix woods. You could probably count the number of trail barspins ever done in this valley on one hand.

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bigquotesI expected to ride a lot of hiking trails, but there's a more to this valley... and Nathan tells me we barely scratched the surface.Peter Kaiser


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Effortless style and ease from Peter all the way down this short, but sweet forest trail before the dark crept in.

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Even the simplest of sections given the treatment.

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The Midi withdraws for the night behind the cloud and we hope for clear skies in the morning.

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Lifts with crowds or no lifts with no crowds... Autumn in the mountains has its pros and cons. The pros always win out with just a bit of extra effort. The height metres ticked away as we sweated in a cold wind towards Col de Balme.

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Le Tour, at the top end of the valley meets Switzerland and with the very limited time we had it was here that I was most keen to show Peter.

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Dam. Emosson Dam.

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bigquotesThe long missions up to the spots were rewarded with the most beautiful views I’ve seen in a while. We only had a two day window for everything we wanted to do so it ended up being quite packed. Getting to the spots wasn't so easy, figuring out exactly what to shoot, then trying to be at the right location at the right time for the light to be good was the other challenge. The two-man team effort was all worth it for getting these photos.Peter Kaiser

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MTB epicness above Vallorcine. Be sure to come and check the newly re-opened legitimate downhill track in the woods below next summer. There's a gondola.

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Peter has the last word before sundown and our mission in the dark back to civilisation.

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The last day of autumn. The following day the weather turned and the snow moved in with a vengeance for lost time.

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'I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.' - John Muir.

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So much more to see, but the clock ran out on us. Next season can't come soon enough.

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bigquotesI was well amazed by Chamonix so back at home I instantly developed the few analog frames I shot myself. Just crazy landscapes, so much atmosphere, what a place it is.Peter Kaiser

Film Photography by Peter Kaiser
Film Photography by Peter Kaiser


Film Photography by Peter Kaiser
Film Photography by Peter Kaiser

Film Photography by Peter Kaiser
Film Photography by Peter Kaiser

Film Photography by Peter Kaiser
Film Photography by Peter Kaiser

Film Photography by Peter Kaiser
Film Photography by Peter Kaiser


Author Info:
nathanhughes avatar

Member since Jul 19, 2007
313 articles

50 Comments
  • 53 0
 Those pictures are so beautiful! Thanks for sharing!
  • 13 0
 The pictures are stunningly beautiful
  • 10 0
 Looks like a (good) session
  • 7 0
 wow great photos! aiguille du midi is an incredible place. out of this world, a must see!!!
  • 9 1
 Amazing. Possibly my favorite photo story on pinkbike ever.
  • 1 0
 Agreed, there are so many amazing photo stories in and around the Chamonix valley that are just incredible.
  • 6 0
 Peter Kaiser deliveres as usual... behind and in front of the lens! Sick pics and sick riding!!!
  • 5 0
 Let's not forget the main photographer Nathan Hughes and his usual outstanding work.
  • 1 0
 @h82crash: Yes! Pics in this article are from Nathan you're right!
  • 5 0
 Amazing images and landscape. Chamonix is a special place.
  • 1 0
 Magical pictures!! I've done the Valle Blanche ski tour from the top of Aguile du midi a few times and it's one of the most beautiful rides you can do with 3000 m vertical in one go, infinite powder (if you're lucky) and views to remember for life. Need to try this out in the summer too.

However, you might want to change the text saying this is the highest mountain in Europe. Its not.
  • 1 0
 I do not see any trails dropping from the lift? What exactly did you ride? I've never been there but just looking at satellite images I cannot imagine trail dropping right from that list \ gondola
  • 2 0
 @valrock: He skied.
It's a Cham classic to take the teleferic to Aiguille de midi and ski all the way down the Velle Blanche on the mer de glace glacier.
A few people die in crevasses there every year.
  • 2 0
 @valrock: You are right, it's kind of hidden. You actually walk out of a sort of tunnel from the mountain which transfers to a tunnel made of ice until you stand at a steep ridge. You have to first walk down the ridge with crampons and ropes before attaching your skis at a small platform next to the huge vertical drop leading down towards the Chamonix valley. Then you ski in the direction of Italy and follow the glacier around the mountain to reach the valley again. Google Valle Blanche.
  • 3 0
 Looks like a Session. A very fine session of photography, that is. I right clicked 'set image as desktop background' multiple times.
  • 1 0
 I have been to that area and the Valais area of Switzerland on the other side (Verbier, Gryon...) a few times.

These pictures do the area justice, its amazing and it makes you feel like everything you do is Epic with those backdrops.

Emosson Dam is one of my top places to visit in the world, the view from the other side is just as amazing.

If you ever get a chance to explore it on foot or with your bike dont think twice go!

Quick tip. If you plan to venture towards Swiss side, stock up in France with food and petrol. You will feel like a poor man no matter what when you enter Switzerland Big Grin
  • 2 1
 Do you live in Whistler...... We live in Chamonix and would like to house swap this summer during school holidays (Jul-Aug). We are a family of 6. Minimum of 3 bedrooms with easy access to lifts. If you have a dawgie, we can "walkies" that too! As I dont use facebook etc...... mail me at james @ rainbird associates .co. uk (no spaces!!)

PS for the park rats amongst you, there is always Les Gets & Morzine 1 hr away (by car) so you can get your jump fix. Not too much of that round here, we're more natural techie trails. And if you really want to kick the arse out of it, Finale Ligure in Italy is but 3 hours south of us.
  • 4 0
 Delectable
  • 4 0
 Cham-wow
  • 2 0
 whoops, commented on the wrong thread, haha @constantly-broken ill tag you in the correct one
  • 2 0
 Is the Chamonix area open to mtb now?
I recall a few years (well, a decade) ago they were pretty hostile towards our kind.
  • 2 0
 In the summer most hiking trails are closed to MTBs : for example the iconic Plan de l'aiguille. There are a lot of "secret trails" and some official ones.
The town is pretty hostile to MTBs, but the neighbors (Vallorcine and Les Houches) are more open on the subject.
  • 1 0
 Second that. The good stuff is closed to bikes generally (in summer). As much as I adore Cham for skiing, it wouldn’t be my first choice for mbting. There are a few good official trails and you can find some trails using an IGN map but you never feel welcome and there is definitely a bit of hostility in the air from hard core hikers and trail runners towards bike riders.
  • 2 0
 Most hiking trails are banned to MTB in July-Aug around Chamonix but Petit Balcon N&S are now allowed which makes a big difference. Also Les Houches (loam Mecca) and Le tour/Vallorcine (the old DH track was reopened last year) can be ridden freely (and are lift accessed from June till mid sept). Best season is Sept-Oct.
I am a Les Houches local and you will find most trails (official and unofficial on Trailforks). The MTB scene has literally exploded in the last 3 years with pro teams visiting almost every week in the season.
Another big perk of Chamonix is it's super central : La Thuile is 35min drive, Pila is 55min, Les Gets 45min, Verbier 1h, Samoens 40min
  • 1 0
 Awesome pictures, very well composed and nice to see the Hasselblad in action, very inspiring!
  • 2 0
 Sweet camera! Nice photos too, that double exposed is really good
  • 3 1
 I literally know nothing about cameras, but I could guess that it‘s a Hasselblad, I saw a similar one once, just by chance.
But just to reiterate: I‘ve got no idea what I‘m talking about Big Grin
  • 4 0
 @lejake: It is a Hasselblad 500cm.
  • 1 3
 @lejake: Could indeed be a Hasselblad, but more than likely not, you can do that sort of effect on any film camera, and in fact any digital camera too with a bit of photoshop magic! Hasselblad's are incredible pieces of kit though, would love to own one someday.
  • 4 0
 @Jaib06: I believe he is talking about the one in several of the pictures above, which is a Hasselblad 500cm. But it did not take the pictures in this article. They were taken on a Nikon D850 and Sony ILCE-7RM2
  • 3 0
 @Jaib06: What effect do you mean? The double exposure can be done on any digital camera with a multiple exposure setting, and literally any film camera since you can manually wind the film back. It's pretty clear @lejake is talking about the pictures of the dude with the camera which is obviously a Hasselblad lol
  • 3 0
 @redrook: ahh right sorry, misunderstanding, yep that makes more sense!
  • 2 1
 @redrook: the last one are from the Hasselblad. Square, bw, clearly shot on bw film. No matter what exif say they are anolog, trust me, done this for years.
  • 1 0
 @lkubica: Lol so have I. I'll go by the metadata unless told otherwise by the photographer Wink
  • 3 0
 @redrook: the square black and white photos are shot on a Hasselblad 500CM on Illford Delta. I "scanned" the developed negatives with a Sony A7R2, which causes the metadata. Nathan shot all his amazing photos above on his Nikon's.
  • 1 0
 @PeterKaiser: I remember that scannig was the major pain in the ass. How do you do it with Sony?
I ended up scanning just for internet use and making analog prints on paper. Printing them right is not easy, but when you find a proper paper and developer combination to get the right shade of black/white (warm or cold) it is something truly great.
  • 1 0
 @PeterKaiser: Awesome Smile thanks for confirming. I'm not one to just take random comments from someone with no profile as truth haha
  • 1 0
 Brilliant photos.

They make me want winter to sod off so I can go and ride in the Alps again Smile
  • 1 0
 My old stomping ground. Its truly stunning and has some amazing trails if you're willing to work for them
  • 1 0
 loved it. Does anyone over there in Cham wanna do a house swap? I have trails right out the back door, just sayin'
  • 1 0
 Luca, where are you? How many beds do you have?
  • 1 0
 Top photography and 'post' work there guys. Nice
  • 1 0
 Man’s look fresh as though
  • 1 0
 Awesome photos... Looks epic !!
  • 1 0
 At least 3 photo of the year nominees in this story.
  • 1 0
 Beautiful pictures!
  • 1 0
 I want to go to there.
  • 3 4
 Smoke up your ass
  • 1 0
 aghhh! you beat me to it!
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