The town of Chamonix, France, looks like any other bustling mountain town in the Alps—until you look up. The pure vertical relief is mind-boggling: Granite mountains shoot 10,000 vertical feet from valley to peak, their wild blades at odds with the mannered European culture of coffee and croissants far below.
"It’s one of those must places for any die-hard skier," says Dueck, who has never been. "And there’s one particular zone that I’ve been told is an epic feature." It’s known as the Cosmiques Couloir, a 2,600-foot-long, 45-plus-degree gash with a rocky entrance that prompts most skiers to rappel into it. The couloir is a challenge for any expert skier, but that hasn’t stopped Dueck from setting his sights on becoming the first paraplegic to notch it.
Even for those who aren’t advanced skiers, Chamonix is an experience, not only for the mountains themselves but for the rich ski culture they’ve incubated. The town was the host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and has proven a training ground for top ski mountaineers.
"I just want to experience that ski vibe and ski culture that’s so rooted in the community and the mountains there," says Dueck. And for those of us not inclined to catapult ourselves down nearly vertical slopes, there are plenty of other options, including three local resorts and mellow off-piste runs like the Vallée Blanche, a stunning 11.2-mile off-piste cruiser that winds 9,000 vertical feet through spires and glaciers.
In 2012, at Powder Mountain Catskiing near Whistler, British Columbia, Josh Dueck became the first paraplegic skier ever to land a backflip. Though his main love is pushing the boundaries of big-mountain skiing as an adaptive athlete, Dueck also holds his own on a race course. In 2010, he won a silver medal for Canada at the Paralympics, and in 2011, he won gold in the mono ski cross at the X Games.
- Nat Geo Expeditions