Michael, Nina, Birken and Anders Silitch sit in front of their chalet on the edge of Chamonix. The family lives surrounded by guides who work for the Company.
The Aiguille Verte is just one of dozens of peaks around Chamonix that you can see from the Vallee Blanche. When Edward Whymper climbed it in the 1800s, he did so with guides who were not part of the Company. It caused such an outrage that he was escorted out of town by police.
Michael Silitch, front, and photographer Patrick Lindqvist slip out across the flats from the Cosmique Hut following a storm.
Silitch coiling rope at the top of the Aiguille du Midi.
Silitch sidesteps toward the Cosmique Hut as a storm begins to intensify. There were only three other skiers in the hut, which sleeps over 100 people.
The Cosmique Hut is one of the highest huts in the Chamonix area at about 12,000 feet. It has beds for more than 100 people. Notice the tents at the bottom right under the cliff. I bet they slept well.
The Alps are stitched with ways to get quickly to the fun stuff. As a mountain guide, Silitch doesn't have to suffer the slog in and can be home to kiss the wife and kids each evening.
Chamonix valley as seen from the Aiguille du Midi. The skiing options are virtually limitless.
People making their way down from the Aiguille du Midi station to the Vallee Blanche.
Silitch brings up the rear guiding a group from Paris down the Vallee Blanche. Less than 24 hours later, he and I would ski it again through boot-deep fresh snow with no one around.
A group waits on the edge of an icefall while skiing the Vallee Blanche. The crevasses and seracs are reminders that skiers are deep in backcountry terrain despite the easy access.
Silitch breaks trail to find a steeper shot one morning after a storm. The serrated peaks around town are high-quality granite. They erode into dramatic spires and faces.
The day after it stormed we skied the Vallee Blanche again, this time with a dramatic change in weather and snow conditions. Powder covered the mogul field and we left fresh tracks.
Photographer Patrick Lindqvist lets it rip through the fresh snow on the Vallee Blanche.
Chamonix early in the morning after snow in town.
The pin and green jacket worn by members of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix.
Armande Comte, 73, is one of the oldest Company guides still working. Like many guides here, Comte comes from a long line of mountain men who first ventured into the high reaches of the Alps to collect crystals.
The Vallee Blanche can be a zoo on good days. Here the masses work their way down from the tram toward the start of the run, with the Grandes Jorasses in the background.
Silitch stands on a spire along the Cosmique Ridge, accessed by hopping over the rail at the Aiguille du Midi tram station. In the background, Mont Blanc tries to break through the gathering clouds. A storm is rapidly approaching.