Max Rhulen and Jack Botti had perfect timing, in more ways than one.
Not only were they able make their planned trip to Chamonix, France, before the coronavirus pandemic restricted international air travel — they also experienced a skier’s dream scenario. The two young skiers from Bend found themselves skiing 9,000 vertical feet down the legendary Aiguille du Midi in the heart of the Alps on a bluebird day in 3 feet of fresh powder.
“That really never happens for anyone,” Botti said.
“It was incredible,” Rhulen added. “We lucked out with some blue skies and fresh snow. Perfect blue skies and thigh-deep powder, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The terrain is just unreal. We were lucky enough to have a guide, which was super helpful, because you can find yourself in a sketchy situation really fast.”
The duo made the trip to Chamonix as hires for the Ski.com Dream Job.
Rhulen, 22, and Botti, 23, both recent graduates of Oregon State University-Cascades, were selected last November as two of 12 snowriders — out of 1,500 applicants — for the Dream Job, which features expert skiers and snowboarders documenting through videos and photos what it is like to experience six top ski destinations in North America, Europe and Japan.
Rhulen and Botti spent their weeklong visit (March 1-7) to Chamonix at several of the five ski resorts in the Chamonix Valley, a guide leading them to some of the best and safest ski spots. Ski.com provided the airfare, lodging and food expenses, and paid Rhulen and Botti $2,000 each. The duo, in turn, has provided the website with photos and videos chronicling a memorable trip to one of the most renowned ski destinations in the world.
“We were lucky to even go amidst this time,” Botti said, referencing the pandemic. “I think things kind of started to break loose right when we were taking off to go to Geneva (Switzerland). The European borders closed like a week after we got back, so we were lucky to even go.
“During the time we were there we caught two storms, which is really unlikely. And then it cleared up right after.”
To earn the gig, the skiers had to submit a 90-second video explaining what made them the perfect candidates and then answer questions in a Skype interview with Ski.com officials. (Ski.com, headquartered in Aspen, Colorado, bills itself as North America’s largest provider of mountain vacation packages.)
Other Dream Job destinations include Aspen Snowmass, Colorado; Big Sky Resort, Montana; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and Niseko, Japan.
Rhulen and Botti, both business administration majors, are pursuing careers in photography and videography, and both were part of the first four-year graduating class of OSU-Cascades. Rhulen’s focus is in photography and Botti is a professional videographer.
“When we weren’t skiing and shooting, we were editing,” Botti said. “There’s a lot we wanted to push out right away. It was challenging for sure, but it was a rush the whole time. It was unreal. It’s nothing like the States. It’s hard to even describe. It’s nothing like anything I’ve skied before. Chamonix is just a different kind of world. You’re engulfed in these mountains left and right.”
Located deep in the Alps in southeast France near the borders of Switzerland and Italy, Chamonix is just north of legendary Mont Blanc and the massive peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges, including the Aiguille du Midi. Skiers and snowboarders can access backcountry ski terrain via a cable car lift to the Aiguille du Midi. Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France and was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
The day spent skiing the Vallee Blanche run from the Aiguille du Midi was no doubt the highlight of the trip for the skiers.
“It wasn’t even expected to clear up throughout the week, so we definitely lucked out with that day,” Botti said. “We got the first tram up there and we skied bluebird fresh turns all the way down. We ended up skiing all the way into town. It’s one of the longest runs in the world.”
To reach the Aiguille du Midi, the skiers took two trams up, then donned harnesses to walk across an exposed ridgeline on the roof of the Alps at more than 12,000 feet in elevation.
“We were harnessed in, and death is literally to your left and right,” Botti said. “So that was exhilarating. Our guides were awesome. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have done half the stuff.”
At the bottom of the ski run were ice caves formed by a massive glacier. Rhulen and Botti skied through one with their guide.
“The glacier moves every year so those ice caves move,” Botti said. “But you’re able to go in them and walk around and walk through them. We skied through one, and that was pretty incredible.”
Rhulen said the steep terrain of Chamonix was challenging, and he was thankful to have a guide.
“If you go down the wrong way there will be a cliff or a crevasse,” Rhulen said. “Having someone who knows where they’re going is key to skiing over there.”
Rhulen said he feels lucky to have made the trip when they did. About a week after they returned home to Bend on March 7, air travel to Europe was banned.
“We didn’t really run into any issues,” Rhulen said. “There were really no signs of the virus. I felt safe the whole time. But definitely since we got back it’s blown up to a point where I wouldn’t go. And now you can’t go.”
Both Botti and Rhulen say they feel perfectly healthy with no symptoms of the coronavirus.
“I think we’re in the clear,” Rhulen said.
Timing is indeed everything.