Sport: Going To Eleven
I am standing in the shadows of the 11,000-foot-high Tête du Ruitor, staring down a spectacular powder ribbon along the French Alps’ Invernet Glacier. No one has skied this slope—a whopping 9-mile-long descent that drops 7,800 vertical feet to a quiet mountain village—all winter, and Jean-Noël Gaidet, a guide for Eleven Experience, has elected me to go first. Normally, passing the leader is strictly verboten in heli-skiing, so I check with Gaidet to confirm I have his blessing.
“We are told so much in life—don’t do this, don’t do that,” Gaidet says. “But in the mountains we have freedom.”
After three days with Gaidet and his fellow guides, I have become accustomed to the freedom—and exhilaration—that comes with an Eleven Experience journey. Launched in 2011, the Colorado-based bespoke adventure company is opening a handful of intimate luxury lodges and chalets in remote destinations where its founder, entrepreneur Chad Pike, has skied and fished for years. From fly-fishing and mountain biking at the recently opened Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte, Colo., to scuba diving and kitesurfing at the soon-to-open Bahamas House Inn on Harbour Island, each of the company’s trips strives to go a notch beyond other high-end outdoor experiences. Even Eleven’s name—a cheeky reference to the famous amplifier scene in the cult movie This is Spinal Tap—emphasizes pushing the boundaries of adventure travel.
“We want to show people our mountain lifestyle while embracing their lifestyle,” says Alan Bernholtz, Eleven’s head of global operations. “We take them right up to their comfort level doing the things they love to do, but never quite like this.”
Comfort is a priority at Chalet Pelerin, a 6,000-square-foot wood-and-stone cottage that Eleven opened last February in the French Alps. Located some two hours south of Geneva, Pelerin sits in the hamlet of Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise, population 800 or so, surrounded by three ski resorts and some of Europe’s best heli-skiing. The chalet includes a private chef, a heated saltwater pool, a media room, and five guest rooms stocked with new ski jackets. (Helmets, custom Wagner skis, and other gear also are available to guests.) In addition to downhill excursions at nearby resorts and off-piste slopes, guests can snowshoe, dogsled, or even take a B3 helicopter for an afternoon of skiing in Italy.
Back on Invernet Glacier, Gaidet assures me I am free to christen the fresh slope before me. Pushing off, I bounce through some of the best snow I will find all winter—maybe ever. Hours later, when I finally collapse beside the chalet’s fireplace with ice in my nostrils and a glass of bourbon in my hand, I am convinced Eleven’s volume goes to 12.
Eleven Experience, 970.349.7761, www.elevenexperience.com