He slipped into France unnoticed: a large, close-cropped, friendly looking sort in rumpled ski togs, and he toured all the chic resorts, places like Courchevel, La Plagne, Flaine, Meg√®ve and Val d'ls√®re, mingling with those elegant types who look so ferociously French. Nobody knew it was Bill Charmatz, illustrator, cartoonist and incisive capturer of moods and scenes. Working with camera and sketchbook—and later with expressive splashes of acrylic paints—he caught the country off guard and unposed, like the professeur de ski at right, who tended to exaggerate his every move so that the effect was not so much instructional as intimidating. In three anonymous weeks, our own French connection did more than discover the mood. He documented forever that the best-dressed and best-coiffed folks at these resorts were the nonskiers. Any American in this modish setting tends to look clumsy. And, sure enough, Charmatz fell heavily once. Not swiveling down the craggy Alpine slopes—but in slinking into Courchevel's Club St. Nicolas to sketch the frenzied scene that appears on the last page of this portfolio.
What is this? A sled at a ski resort? While mon petit waits, two booted gendarmes give due consideration to this special problem.
The posturing at the finish line of the men's downhill in the French National Championships at La Plagne (below) contrasts with the color and informality of the other stops on Charmatz' Alpine ski tour. Clockwise from lower left, he captures the bustle of the lunch break at a local bistro; the loading of an Air-Alpes monoplane, where getting there is more than half the fun; a ski instructor using the assembly-line approach with her collection of bébé-skieurs; and a local farmer bemused by the changes that skiing has wrought in his district.
Never mind ski style. What really counts is stamina for the bo√Ætes de nuit, where one slips into costume and wiggles all round the curves.