Tour stories

The Americans are Here! (It’s About Time.)

Jun 28 - July 5, 2021

Tour Story By Doug Mayer

Guided by Gary Daines

A diehard father and son team were our first guests back to the Alps in over a year. Their persistence paid off, with a quiet trip trail running around the northern half of the Tour du Mont-Blanc-- and a chance to trail race in Chamonix, France!

At the end of June, two Americans arrived for a Run the Alps trip. That wouldn’t be noteworthy, except that it had been over a year since tourist travel from the US to the Alps. It was a special moment for all of us at Run the Alps– aside from the business restarting, it was a reminder of why we do what we do, and how much sheer fun it is to share trail running in the Alps with our guests. Thanks, John and Cole Hoff, for being at the forefront of the reopening of our world here. It was great to have you, and we couldn’t have asked for better guests!

Enjoy this tour story from Run the Alps guide Gary Daines, as he shares his perspective on the trip. — Doug Mayer, Founder, Run the Alps

I knew from the outset that this Run The Alps tour was going to be special. It had so many unique ingredients!

First, there was the father and son, John and Cole, running trails together.

This father and son trip had me thinking a lot about when I run with my own son, Marley. It was inspiring for me to think that Marley and I could, some day, be having the same type of experiences.

Second, John and Cole were Run the Alps’ first guests back after a little global pandemic (you might have heard about it?) that interrupted 2020 for Run the Alps. Meeting them in Chamonix was special– several of us from Run the Alps spent time with them, and soaking it all in. Maybe… just maybe… the pandemic is in the early stages of winding down?

Third, was the trip itself, which is always special. We start in the beautiful town of Coumayeur, on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. For me, Courmayeur sums up Italian life. It has great food, and you can sit at a cafe and watch the world go by, drinking amazing coffee and hearing the Italian language, which has to be one of the most beautiful in the world. We then run, over the course of four days, around the Mont Blanc massif. Finally, we arrive in Chamonix, France, the famous mountain town that is without doubt the home of trail running.

Finally, Both John and Cole were also competing in trail races as part of Chamonix, France’s Marathon du Mont-Blanc series of seven races. John was running the 23km race, known as the Cross du Mont-Blanc. It’s one of the oldest races in the Alps. Cole, meanwhile, was running the Marathon du Mont-Blanc, 42 km around the Chamonix valley, finishing 1,000 meters above town at the area known as Planpraz. Both John and Cole were eager to run their races, having deferred from 2020.

The trails we were running are some of the most classic trails of the Tour du Mont-Blanc. We started our trip by running the Italian Val Ferret. This valley has to be one of the most jaw-dropping valleys in the region. The mountains and glaciers are so close– just across the narrow valley– you feel as though you can touch them. The trail is mostly easy single-track, and you can just cruise. What a first day!

After, it was time for dinner in Courmayeur, at the restaurant Boite. It’s a five minute walk outside of the center of the village, and owned by my friend Daniele. I have known Daniele for years now, and his family-run restaurant is where the locals hang out– and also where local guides go with their guests. You won’t find it in the guidebooks or see signs for it in town, but it’s a gem!

At dinner, John and Cole learned that in Italy, portion sizes of meals in restaurants are large… and maybe you should think twice before ordering pasta and pizza for your dinner! Sometimes the meals there are as big as the mountains that tower over the villages. Lesson learned!

The next day, we reached the high point of our run from Italy, through a corner of Switzerland, and on to France: 2,537-meter (8,323 feet) high Grand Col Ferret. It’s a remarkable spot– high and a bit lonely feeling, but still grassy and beautiful, with mountains all around. With our next steps, we were in Switzerland.

Running through Switzerland is always such a joy. This corner of the Tour du Mont-Blanc has a very different feel to the Italian valleys we had left. It’s just as beautiful, but more forest-y, with a lot of climbing. We used trail running poles, which really helped.

Two days later, after leaving the little village of Trient, we passed over Col du Balme and back into France. Here, the whole of the Mont Blanc massif and the Chamonix valley were laid out in front of us. The look on John and Cole’s faces said, simply, “Woahhhhh!” They were blown away by the massif in front of them– and a knowledge that the next two days would see them racing underneath those Chamonix giants.

Once into town, it was all about the upcoming trail races. The next day, John ran the 23km race that is part of the marathon weekend. He gave a sterling effort, finishing more quickly than planned. I guess all those ascents and descents over the last four days got his legs primed and ready! Then it was Cole’s turn to race in the marathon. Cole had never raced in the Alps before, but he is a high level runner for his university back home, and he was eager to do well. Still, he didn’t know how it would go, with very different terrain underfoot compared to what he sees at home. Well, Cole took to the mountain trails of Chamonix very well, ticking off a very impressive race and finishing 28th overall, and first American finisher.For both races, as the supporting guide, I was there with the Run The Alps cowbells cheering along and shouting like a madman, when I wasn’t making sure the logistics were in place to support John and Cole.

This tour really did highlight for me why I do the work I do, and why I love being part of the Run The Alps family. With new friendships formed, great trails run, races completed and fantastic local dishes consumed, it really hit home once again why the Alps are the Mecca of Trail running across the world.

Cole and John, taking a break along the Italian Val Ferret. (Photo: Gary Daines.)

On the move: John and Cole ran over alpine passes, past villages, and through forests on their way to Chamonix, France. (Photo: Gary Daines.)

Melting snow fed the brooks in late June, along the Italian section of the Tour du Mont-Blanc. (Photo: Gary Daines.)

John has a dubious encounter with another of the travelers along the Tour du Mont-Blanc. (Photo: Gary Daines.)

Time to add back some calories! John samples some local cuisine– a Croute au Fromage– along the route. (Photo: Gary Daines.)

High above Italy’s Val Ferret, en route to the Bonatti Refuge, old chalets and farms dot the landscape. (Photo: Gary Daines.)

Cole ticked off an impressive race at the Marathon du Mont-Blanc, finishing 28th overall. (Photo: Doug Mayer.)

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