Chamonix is one of the most famous European alpine ski towns, with a ski pedigree to equal any in the alpes. It sits underneath the glaciers of Europe’s highest mountain, Mont-Blanc at 4811m, and is home to five world class ski resorts. It’s the annual host of the FIS Kandahar World Cup Downhill ski race a regular feature on the BBC’s Ski Sunday, held on the slopes of Les Houches. Whilst Chamonix is renown for steep off-piste skiing, Chamonix actually has a wide range of skiing options to suit all abilities from advanced to complete beginner.
Whilst the back country seems almost infinite in its possibilities, staying close to the major runs provides access to terrain that the vast majority of ski resorts can only dream of.
Chamonix has been in existence for hundreds of years but it was only discovered as a tourist destination 250 years ago, when a two of Englishman came to Chamouny (later changed to Chamonix), and the hotels started to establish themselves from there. Today it is a mecca for alpinists and skiers who come to experience the exhilaration and beauty of this high mountain resort.
Unlike many ski towns the summer season is even more popular than the winters which means that there is usually more accommodation available than you might expect. However during the peak weeks around New Year and the French school holidays the resort does get very busy and it’s advisable to book accommodation and ski lessons early to avoid disappointment.
Chamonix is a real town unlike some of the other purpose built French resorts, it has a permanent population of about 10,000 which can swell by up to 80,000 in the peak weeks of the winter and summer seasons. It has a bustling centre with lots of bars and restaurants and a main shopping street which caters for all tastes and budgets. There’s a large sports centre and swimming pool, but unfortunately the 50m out-door pool which is overlooked by Mont Blanc is only open during the summer months. The Chamonix valley is served by a very regular bus service which quickly and efficiently whisks skiers off to the slopes so if you don’t plan to bring or hire a car its quite easy to get about.
Skiing in Chamonix
There are 5 main ski areas in the Chamonix Valley;
- Le Tour is a great location for the first day after a summers break from skiing, with its rolling slopes and superb back-bowls towards the Swiss boarder.
- Les Grands Montets, in Argentière, is world renown for its glacial skiing, a mecca for the off-piste enthusiast with a multitude of off-piste and open bowls.
- La Flégère faces south which ensures it gains the maximum amount of sunshine especially welcome in those early season days of December and January. It is positioned on the side of the Aiguille Rouges and looks across at fantastic views of Mont-Blanc. It is joined via a liaison lift to Le Brévent, the only two areas linked in the Chamonix valley.
- Le Brévent’s lifts rise straight out of Chamonix town so if you can face a short 400m walk uphill from the centre of town there’s no need to use transport. However for those who prefer a more leisurely start to their mornings there is a bus service from the centre of town. to start more leisurely and make a quick lunch-time ski now a real possibility for those working in town.
- Les Houches, 4km down the valley toward Geneva, is home to the World Cup Downhill and whose tree-lined skiing are a popular alternative to the high altitude skiing of many of the Chamonix resorts. This provides a haven on stormy days when other resorts may be experiencing high winds and where usually the visibility is significantly better in the trees.
In Chamonix there are are a total of 152 kilometres of marked pistes and an endless variety of off piste descents and there really is something for every kind and level skier. Beginners will enjoy Le Tour and Les Houches’s gentler slopes and The Grands Montets, despite its steep appearance is perfect for helping skiers off that intermediate plateau and providing an introduction to the joys of skiing off-piste.