Loveskiing’s Chamonix Review
“Mont Blanc and the valley of Chamonix, and the sea of Ice, and all the wonders of the most wonderful place are above and beyond one’s wildest expectation. I cannot imagine anything in nature more stupendous or sublime.” Charles Dickens, 1846.
At the foot of the Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps (4807 meters/15,770 feet), Chamonix offers one of the best high-mountain cocktails anywhere in the world. The mighty mount is a huge attraction itself; its spectacular, recognisable form, some of the most extreme landscapes you’re likely to see in Europe and last, but not least, its challenging ski areas. Altogether, the resort of Chamonix is a great place to get away for an intensive ski trip, especially for off-piste fanatics and expert skiers. No wonder it so graciously welcomed the Winter Olympic Games of 1924.
Chamonix is a village on the center of a 16km valley from the small resort of Les Houches to the authentic village of Argentière. The whole region is composed of 13 resorts linked together, with slopes almost careering right into the hamlets. Most impressive of the runs are the famous 22 km/13 mile Vallée Blanche and the excellent Grands-Montets.
Chamonix has the distinct honor of being one of the first ski resorts with already 200 years of history, bringing with it a very French and traditional high-mountain atmosphere, full of charm. As such a worldly and well-known resort, Chamonix attracts no specific type of crowd: from the French families to the sportive Americans or British, all types of mountain-lovers meet and make the town bustling during all the winter season. Foreigners are numerous, especially English speaking ones, discovering the joy of the fondue savoyarde (melted cheese with bread), and meeting at the Wild Wallabies bar when they feel homesick.
With such a picturesque setting, ski possibilities and the atmosphere felt in the town, you can’t go wrong here…
Click the image below to open the high resolution piste map for Chamonix.
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- One of the oldest and most prestigious ski resorts in the French Alps, perhaps even the World
- The place to go for expert skiing. With plenty of steep and challenging terrain on offer, even more so off-piste
- The breathtaking dramatic scenery that can be observed from Chamonix
- World-class mountain guides to help you descend the steep and dangerous terrain
- Short transfer times from Geneva – about an hour
- The cable car “Aiguille du Midi” takes you to the famous Vallee Blanche and the views are simply stunning
- Large 400+km ski area with the potential to ski to three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland
- Due to the fractured nature of the pistes and lift systems, this is not the place to take families
- The pistes are challenging – definitely not the place for beginner skiers
- There is an element of exclusivity at the resort
- Be prepared to pay high prices
- Due to the high altitude and exposed slopes, bad weather can shut a lot of the higher lifts and therefore you can’t access the best runs
- Very busy town with cars, buses and trains all passing through constantly
- Expert and advanced skiers who like to be challenged – Chamonix offers some of the best advanced terrain in the Alps
- Apres-ski – perfect for those who like to play hard and ski harder
- Perfect for those who want a weekend away, due to its proximity to Geneva and excellent transport links
- Powder Monkeys – The high altitude, north facing slopes and almost endless off-piste potential create vast areas off untouched powder… perfect!!!
- Those wanting to get a sun tan. The surrounding mountains cloak the town in shade.
- Beginners – You won’t find many beginner slopes for you to catch your feet
- Nervous skiers – if you don’t like steep drops, narrow passes and lifts that take you high above the ground then Chamonix isn’t for you
- Families – the resort is busy, nights can be long and loud, lack of beginner terrain and the cold conditions don’t suit the average skiing families
Ski / Snowboard > Skiing Overview
Since Dr. Payot introduced skiing in Chamonix at the end of the 19th century, this resort is one of the most famous meeting-point for ski-lovers in France and even in the world.
The domain is about 145 trails, with a total of 140 kilometers (87-½ miles) The skiing in the valley is spread over nine separate hamlets and villages and 13 ski areas: the legendary Grands-Montets, Le Brevent and Vallée-Blanche are some of the best skiing trails you can ever dream of. If you add off-pistes possibilities, the domain is more than 30,000 acres of ski-able terrain. It’s not far from other villages and you can escape in Argentière, Les Houches or in the Italian village of Courmayeur, which can satisfy all types of skiers. You won’t be obliged to descend the same piste again and again: variety is one of the best assets of this resort. There are 49 lifts both north and south exposed—and with 9,000 feet of vertical at your disposal, you’ll have quite a time seeing the views.
Chamonix is a very challenging area in mountain sports. It’s not a quiet and monotonous place: it attracts the best skiers, people who really want to challenge themselves, and a lot of foreigners, due to its international renown. It doesn’t appeal only to experts, though, as there are nice beginners pistes (Le Tour, La Flégère). Overall however, the atmosphere is more sportive and competitive than family and quiet. It’s not the place to stroll on trails looking for chamois or marmots…
The composition of the resort also implies its drawbacks: without a car, it can be painful to go from one little resort to the other even if they’re linked by bus, since the traffic can be terrible. Because of its popularity, you’ll have to train your patience in the lift queues, especially on the Grand Montets cable car. The last drawback is the price: it’s quite expensive and you have to pay a guide for several skiing areas (the Vallée-Blanche for example). But you know what? After the breathtaking scenery, ambience, and skiing quality, it’s all utterly worth it.
The pistes are mostly above the tree line, which permits a splendid view over all the Mont-Blanc massif, makes the pistes wild and the ski much more free. Above all, it makes a fabulous off-piste (guides advised).
Ski / Snowboard > Snowboarding
Chamonix is a paradise for snowboarders—board culture is very present and increasing every year.
There’s a funpark and half pipe sponsored by Salomon on the Grands-Montets. If you’re ready for thrilling challenges, it stages numerous competitions. On the tour, there’s a long and perfect terrain for free-riding: a natural half-pipe of one kilometer long (0.625 miles). There are quite a few drags at le Tour and the rest is cable cars, gondolas or chairs, which makes a great lift system for boarders. Watch out on the Vallée Blanche, it’s flat in places and very long. And for serious boarders, possibilities for free-riding are endless. Chamonix is a free-riding heaven, with outstanding boarding and off-piste possibilities, but perhaps a bit worse during the spring season because of the quality of the snow.
Special courses are available, in every ski schools of the town. You can dispose for example of snowboard and free-ride stages during three half days for €84 per person ($74). If you’re here in February, you can catch the special Red Bull Snowthrill, an extreme free-ride race.
Because of its elevation, Chamonix has always a good snow average on the top of the mountain. The problem is often on the lowest trails, and more frequently, bad weather forbids utilization of the top lifts. At 2,000 meters/6,578 feet, the snowfall average is around 100 centimetres (33 feet) in December, 160 centimetres (52 feet) in January, 185 centimetres (61 feet) in February, 220 centimetres (72 feet) in March, 170 centimetres (56 feet) in April.
On Argentière, the north-facing slopes have good snow until May; the Col de Balme above Le Tour sports a snowy location even in the late season. On Le Brevent or La Flégère, the south-facing slopes often suffer for warmth, and runs to the resort are then closed. Chamonix uses 54 snowmakers on smaller areas (Planards, Glacier du Mont-Blanc) and on the Bochard piste on Les Grands-Montets. Many of the beginner areas need snow cover to be operational.
The trails can be icy when they are based on glaciers (Grands-Montets, Vallée-Blanche) during the early season, but the average snowfall allows a delicious powder most of the time. It’s important to be careful of avalanche risks, though the radio will always be spouting off information and advisories. Be sure to be with somebody who knows where and when to go, and don’t attempt foolish and dangerous adventures.
Ski / Snowboard > Lifts
The Chamonix lifts are mostly organized in seven lift areas that correspond to the ski areas: Aiguille du Midi, Les Grands Montets, La Flégère, Le Brevent, Les Houches, and Le Tour with a total of 49 lifts. With 19 draglifts, 16 chairs and 13 cable cars, among others, the system has a capacity of 51,262 people per hour. Since Chamonix is one of the first and oldest resorts of the Alps, the system isn’t really that ultra modern or high-tech, but it is safe and quick enough.
Due to the resort’s popularity, you’ll have to be prepared for the French queues, which typically consist of disorganized crowds shoving each other around with little to no patience.
The cable car of the Aiguille du Midi may be 20 minutes long, but it’s really worth the trip, since you have a wonderful view at 3,842 meters (12,605 feet) of Mont Blanc and then descend the 22 kilometers (14 miles) of Vallée Blanche. The tram of Montenvers can bring you down to the village if there isn’t enough snow at the bottom of the piste, which allows it to be descended during the whole winter season.
It’s worth the queue for the Grands Montets (3,275 meters/10,722 feet) and Le Brevent (modern six-seater gondola), because they offer the best ski trails of the valley. Fortunately, there’s a new lift system on Les Bochards (you won’t have to wait more than 10 minutes, not as in the old days…), and a new 50-person cable car from the Brevent to the Flégère.
The summer is a bit more mellow; there are only two lifts open for skiing and one kilometer of slope on the Mer de Glace. However, other lifts are open for summer activities (hiking, walking, tanning…).
Ski / Snowboard > Rentals
Chamonix has an old mountaineering and alpine tradition, so you can find all the professionals you need with a large range of high-tech equipment here. Because of the ski level and all the possibilities offered by the valley, all sports shops have to prepare themselves with brand new, modern equipment. Competition is serious between the more than 20 principal mountain shops, and it won’t be a problem to find places where lines aren’t too long. All ski levels can find what you need, from the beginners’ to the carving and freeride skis. Bindings are set with a professional system and safety is always guaranteed.
Rental places are definitely friendly to foreigners (a lot of them work in the resort); Chamonix lives partly from international tourism, and people here are generally gracious, and appreciating cultures of all kinds.
Prices don’t fluctuate throughout the season and discounts are available for groups, families, or faithful clients. All stores accept credit cards. For more information, you can contact the tourist office. Some rental places are open for summer skiing.
The Snell Sport shop typically has the best in high-tech and modern equipment, sporting quality and quantity in their wares. Advanced skiers and boarders can’t go wrong here, and sellers are all very friendly and competent.
Ski / Snowboard > Lessons Schools
There are 10 principal guide companies and ski schools in Chamonix, offering all types of courses and activities you can imagine. Here you can find the best guides, many of whom were born and raised under the shadow of the Mont Blanc. They’ll know how, when, and where to go, which mountain restaurants are worthy, and where the chamois are hidden. The two main ski schools are the ESF (École du Ski Français) and Ski Sensations (especially for English language natives). Prices are competitive at both schools.
Private courses are available for one to five people for one or two hours for novices at any hour of the day, half or full day, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
There are also adult and junior group courses (13 years or older) for skiing and snowboarding for four hours a day (at about €130/$121 per week), adapted to every level. Additional classes are available during mid-term French school holidays (February through early March) because of the crowd during this period.
For people who want good skiing and lots of fun there are little groups called Ski-Passion, comprised of a handful of people, which are very homogeneous and only for higher levels. For those who want to challenge themselves, racing and competition courses are offered in elite courses of 10 people, as well as for slalom training and “godille clinic.”
Instructors cover every discipline here—ski, snowboard, telemark, parabolic, snowshoeing, and so on; while French is the language of choice, most of them will be fluent in English as well.
Apart from these ski schools, the guide companies can also propose a lot of exciting mountain cocktails: ski trips of five to six days, raids to go to summits or undiscovered lands, snowboarding or skiing off-piste, heliskiing from Switzerland or Italy, special tours in the Vallée Blanche—all to be consumed with or without moderation.
Finally, there is a special tour des pistes for English speaking guests, which can show you around the valley and help you find the best snow. Foreigners are definitely welcome.
Ski / Snowboard > Trails > Beginner
Don’t worry: Chamonix doesn’t consist only on impossible walls of snow. Beginners won’t be neglected: 49 percent of the trails are suitable for them, and there are some nice bunny slopes to boot. (Greens are the easiest trails, followed by blues.) For the very first timers, the nursery slopes at La Vormaine, Les Chosalets, Les Planards and Le Savoy are perfect: no dangerous teenagers or speed addicts.
Le Tour, at the top end of the valley, is an ideal place for novice snow surfers with its long blue and green runs, it’s the easiest resort Chamonix has to offer, with only one chair lift (the other being “tire-fesses”). The only problem is that it’s always exposed to the sun, which can make the snow very slushy. Fortunately, this area benefits of a high snow fall during all winter. In Argentière, beginners usually start on the Chosalets, conveniently situated near the Panda ski kindergarden. The Planards and Glacier du Mont-Blanc lifts both have snowmaking, so you can ski on the bottom of the mountain even when the snow comes to lack, but it’s only a two runs resort, just good enough for beginners. Les Houches offers very easy trails too, but the snow is often icy due to the exposure of the mountain. The Brevent has a good number of easy runs for beginners, and the snow is good, even in late season.
One of the drawbacks is that beginner slopes are separated from the rest: it can disturb the transition to real runs and make lunch meetings quite hard. You’d better learn ski in a more quiet and adapted resort and come in Chamonix when you’ll be able to appreciate its high-mountain marvels.
Ski / Snowboard > Trails > Intermediate
Chamonix is a paradise for intermediate skiers: quality, quantity, and variety, divided into five ski areas, with 500 kilometers (312½ miles) of pistes available on the full lift pass, all with an excellent range of high altitude blue and red runs. The total makes 39 percent of trails suitable for intermediate skiers.
For the less bold, the two areas at the extremities of the valley (Les Houches and Le Tour) offer cruising blues and reds. In Les Houches, the slopes of Prarion and Bellevue are gentle tree-lined blue and red runs, without any traps or bad surprises, ideal to warm your legs and improve your style.
For the boldest skiers, the three main areas are: Les Grands-Montets, Le Brevent and La Flégère. Le Brevent offers easy trails, except perhaps the famous red “Mur du Brevent” (“Brevent’s wall”), but there’s now a blue trail swiveling around it. La Flégère consists in a mix of blue and red, with long pistes that can be tiring. Les Grands-Montets attracts a lot of people and is often crowded because of its quality, it lies at the limit between intermediates and experts.
Last but not least: if the weather is good, take a guide and try the descent of the Vallée-Blanche; the slope is accessible for good intermediates, and it’s quite worth the outing. The scenery is breathtaking, but don’t be too adventurous, it can be dangerous…
Ski / Snowboard > Trails > Advanced
Chamonix offers undoubtedly some of the most impressive challenges to be found for expert skiers, with 12 percent of the pistes. This is really the place to be for experienced skiers, above all those who are keen on off-piste. Expert pistes are red and black ones.
Les Grands-Montets offers all types of skiing, like moguls with La Herse, a red-black run of five kilometers (3,125 miles) of moguls, or La Pendant, a big mix of rock cliffs and powder. The off-piste is wonderful: try the mythical Pas de Chevre that leads to the Mer de Glace. The black pistes Point de Vue and Pylones are long and delightful for people who need to be stimulated. The most part being made on a glacier, pistes are large but can be dangerous or icy, be sure to have a reliable guide. The off-piste seems also endless, with so many ways to take from the summit.
At Le Brevent, the off-piste is pretty limited, but nice behind the Cornu lift. Or you can also make a show under the lifts where there are some off-pistes corridors, but very narrow and steep. At La Flégère there are several good off-pistes routes like the Combe Lachenal. From the higher point of Le Tour, you can escape over the back towards Vallorcine or into Switzerland.
As for the Vallée-Blanche, there are a myriad of ways to conquer it. Watch your step, though: three quarters are on the glacier of the Mer de Glace, so mind the 150-meter (492-foot) crevices. Don’t attend it with a bad weather.
Ski / Snowboard > Trails > Competition
There are two racing trails in Chamonix. First on the Brevent is Le Stade (slalom), and on the Tour you’ll find La Piste du Stade (slalom and giant).
Every day during holiday periods you can have a great challenge on the slalom training stadium with timed runs. Test yourself at slalom (chamois) or Giant Slalom (Fleche). They aren’t excellent trails, but are challenging enough for a good skier.
Ski / Snowboard > Other Skiing > Night Skiing
If you want to ski under the floodlights and discover the huge mountain by night, go to the Bossons massif, one of the valley-floor areas. Night skiing is possible here on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights for €9 ($8), but with only one red piste to descend. And remember: no more sun equals no more warmth, just you the snow and the night, so be prepared for new sensations.
Ski / Snowboard > Other Skiing > Heliskiing
Are you a really aggressive skier? Looking for serious excitement? Helicopters can drop you on a summit in Italy or Switerland and let you go down deep, untouched snow areas. Since helicopters are forbidden on the French massifs, you can go to the valley of Valgrisenche in Italy (one hour from Chamonix), which is 28 kilometers (17.5 miles) long, and enjoy 20 other points of deposit with about 100 itineraries—one of the best areas for such adventure in the world. There are also a lot of possibilities in Switzerland, just on the other side of the mountain.
The Mont Blanc area is famous for its fabulous off-pistes: Massif of Trient and Tour, Glacier du Midi and des Grands, Petit Combin, Dolent, Mont Rose…renowned pistes or hidden ones, every guide and company has its own secrets. No queues, no crowds—just immaculate slopes and excellent skiing to enjoy.
It’s about €183 ($171) per person for one deposit and €274 ($257) for two deposits. Available from January to May depending on the weather and snow conditions, heliskiing is always a little less appealing during spring.
Ski / Snowboard > Other Skiing > Cross-Country
Chamonix-Mont Blanc is one of the best places in France to practice cross-country skiing at. This is due to the excellent snow conditions and the beauty of the landscapes. Cross-country skiing actually became an Olympic discipline during the games that took place in Chamonix in 1924.
There are 11 resorts in the valley that offer cross-country trails: Vallorcine, Chamonix-Argentière, Les Houches, Les Contamines Montjoie, Megève, Combloux, Cordon, St. Gervais, Praz sur Arly, Plassy-Plaine Joux, and Servoz. Most of these offer both traditional and skating trails that are accessible for all levels. Access to the resorts for one day is not expensive, but if you are planning on going every day then you’ll save money by buying a weekly ticket. Young people usually get a discounted price and in Les Houches those under 16 ski free.
The closest resort is Chamonix/Argentière. There are green, blue, red, and black loops, and with 42 kilometers (26 miles) of trails, skiers from beginners to experts can escape from the crowded downhill skiing resorts here. All the trails are very well prepared but by the end of the season (in the spring), the snow coverage is poor. Don’t forget to bring some bread and a healthy serving of Tomme de Savoie” (one of the several local cheeses) to have a picnic in one of the many wonderful places you’ll find on your way. Allow yourself a bit of a rest, either sunbathing on a rock or sitting by the shade of one of the many pine trees.
It is better to use a car to go to the other resorts, even though there are buses running from Chamonix to the cross-country skiing tracks. Intermediate and advanced skiers will probably have a great time in Les Houches, where 34-½ of the 35 kilometers (21 miles) are blue and red loops. Others might prefer the variety offered at Vallorcine or at Les Contamines-Montjoie.
If you’re an expert, then you should consider driving to the neighboring resort of Megève (just a few miles from Chamonix), where you will enjoy 15 kilometers (10 miles) of black trails.
There are several ski schools in the Mont-Blanc valley that offer cross-country skiing lessons for both adults and children. Discover new trails and make friends by participating in one of the outings that take place throughout the season. In December, a big night outing is organized in Chamonix.
Ski / Snowboard > For Children > Ski / Winter Activities
The Mont Blanc valley is a great area for families, as there are plenty of ski schools and private instructors that provide ski lessons for children at reasonable prices. Among the ski schools of the valley, the Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) is the most famous as well as one of the most reliable.
There are discounts for children on lift tickets in most of the resorts, and those under four years ski for free. There is also a wide range of activities other than skiing that are offered in the resorts around Chamonix, as well as in the town itself. The vast majority of the resorts have daycare centers near the pistes. Moreover, almost all of these nurseries have English-speaking staff, since they cater a lot of British tourists.
The already well-known Panda Club located in the lovely little village of Argentière (about eight kilometers (five miles) further along the valley from Chamonix) welcomes children from six months to 12 years old. Qualified and experienced nannies that are never short of ideas for non-skiing activities and games will take care of the little ones between six months and three years of age.
There is a skiing kindergarten for those from three to 12 years old, located about five minutes from the beginners’ slope Le Savoy. Children can go to the Panda Club on a half- or full day basis. Lunch is included in the price for full days. The only drawback is that the location of the center is not very convenient for parents who go skiing in the other resorts around Chamonix. During the summer, the Panda Ski Club becomes a pony club.
There is also a municipal day nursery in Chamonix open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. It’s quite cheap but absolutely necessary to book in advance. The library lends board games and your children are free to come here to play with friends or borrow books. There is always someone present to keep an eye on the little ones and answer their questions.
It’s also possible to have a nanny or baby-sitter come to your accommodation to mind your children; ask either the Tourism Office, the staff at the Panda Club, or at one of the day nurseries, as they will be able to tell you who to contact.
The Tourism Office will also be happy to tell you what kind of excursions to go on with your children when you don’t feel like skiing.
Other Winter Activities > Overview
The great thing about Chamonix is that you don’t have to be a big downhill skiing fan to enjoy yourself. The range of activities offered is huge during both the winter and the summer seasons. Basically, you can do nearly everything you like. Tennis, squash, mountain treks, helicopter flights, paragliding, and horse riding are all viable options.
Your children will be most happy to relax at the swimming pool and will also be able to go cycling with friends. There is something new almost every year in the resorts, so go to the Tourist Office to get a list of the different activities that meet your requirements.
Other Winter Activities > Snowmobiling
Snowmobile rental is available from the store Snow Bird in Les Contamines, but if you are not familiar with the area, it is better to take a guide or sign up for an hour trip. It is quite expensive, but you will remember all your life the thrill you had while descending back to the village in the middle of the night.
Other Winter Activities > Ice Climbing
It is absolutely necessary in Chamonix to go ice climbing with a guide to ensure your safety, and you also have to be in good physical condition, as it an intense and dangerous activity. The Compagnie des Guides runs an ice climbing school and provides ice climbing courses. You will improve your rock climbing skills by enjoying a three-hour walk on the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice). Spanning seven kilometers/four miles and running 200 meters/658 feet deep, the Mer de Glace is a fantastic and thrilling glacier.
If you already have good climbing skills, the Compagnie des Guides will organize a climb adapted to your abilities. Three- or five-day trips to other glaciers are also available. All these courses usually take place during the summer (from June to September).
Of course, it’s also possible to go ice climbing during the winter when the waterfalls are deeply frozen. Along with the Compagnie des Guides, there are also freelance guides, though they’re usually a bit more expensive. It all depends on what exactly you want to do. Since the Compagnie des Guides offer both group and individual climbs, they are probably the best option. The group lessons are aimed at beginners who just want to give it a try. The advanced climber should go for the one-on-one outings for the possibility to combine ice climbing and skiing. Climbing equipment will be lent to you if you need it, but the price doesn’t include lift tickets.
Other Winter Activities > Tubing / Tobogganing
Chamonix is not the best place for tobogganing. There are two pistes of almost a kilometer in length, but you can only endeavor this during the summer. During the winter, you have no other choice than to rent a slide and try to find a nice slope.
Other Winter Activities > Ice Skating / Hockey
If your legs aren’t giving way under you after a full day of skiing, you can go skating on the ice rink in Chamonix, which is open all year round. It’s nearly a century old but don’t worry; it’s been well taken care of since then.
From the beginning of December until the beginning of March, there are two natural rinks available. One is in Les Contamines, and the second one is right in the middle of the village Les Houches.
There’s also a hockey club in Les Houches; however, if you want to enjoy a good game of ice hockey, go to Megève, which hosts an excellent team. Ask the Tourist Office for the dates of the games and their location.
Other Winter Activities > Sleigh Riding
Horse drawn sledding is available in Chamonix, and it’s best to ask the Tourist Office for the details. Regarding dog sledding, you’ll have to choose between five companies—the prices are more or less the same, as they all seem to operate together. It’s a great experience to be pulled by huskies sitting in a sled, but in the Mont Blanc valley you’ll also have the opportunity to learn to mush a team, perhaps even more interesting.
Other Winter Activities > Snow Hiking
Chamonix is probably the best place in Europe to go snow hiking—of course, this should come as no surprise when you see the village located at the foot of the Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is indeed one of the most famous itineraries, but there are many other challenging walks. Both daily and hut-to-hut hikes are available. This is a great way to escape from the crowds and to test your limits. Unless you know the valley by heart, do not go hiking alone. Hiring a guide is the best way to explore the region safely. It’s also important to be in good physical condition.
If you’re a beginner in mountaineering, it’s better that you take a training course before attempting the ascension of the Mont Blanc. Usually, guides refuse to take people under the age of 18 to the Mont Blanc, because their lack of experience in mountain climbing constitutes an additional danger to the many others already going. Practicing hikes in the neighboring mountains of the Mont Blanc is the best way to get prepared to reach its summit.
Summer is the ideal time of year to attempt hiking in Chamonix.
Other Winter Activities > Snowshoeing
If you want to go snowshoeing in the Mont Blanc valley, the best thing to do is to take a guide. Lots of outings are organized by the Compagnie des Guides; you can choose to go just for a day or embark upon a five-day trek. They also organize a night-time “walk” going through the forest and ending with a nice dinner. The prices of the excursions are very reasonable, given the fact that they include everything from the snowshoes rental to the nights spent at the hotel if you pick up the five-day trek. Avoid travelling alone, as there’s always the slight risk of an avalanche.
Snow shoeing is a great way to discover the mountains and it is an activity than even children and seniors can enjoy. In Les Contamines, a special snowshoeing tour called Mini Adventure Igloo is organized for children aged seven to 12. The little ones will learn about the animals of the Haute Savoie region, participate in an orienting run, and learn how to build an igloo.
Dining and Nightlife > Après Ski
If you have enough energy to go out after a day on the slopes, Chamonix will definitely suit you. From the French restaurants where eating is an adventure to the numerous bars where it’s impossible to know if you’re in Sweden, Germany, or America, you’ll be busy…
Dining out is a pleasure in France and especially in Haute-Savoie, but you can also escape in a Latin, British, or even Japanese atmosphere if you want to test all the restaurants of the town. Restaurants, cyber-cafés, bars, and clubs can keep you busy all night if you wish.
Dining and Nightlife > Dining Out
France is famous for its delicious food and there are plenty of restaurants in the valley that are open all year round, so you’ll surely find something that suits you. The cheese lovers will have the feeling that Chamonix is paradise on earth, as most of the local specialties are made with cheeses from the region. Don’t spend hours reading through the menu, however, as trying to choose between a Raclette (chunks of cheese that are exposed to heat and scraped off on a boiled potato as they melt), a Fondue Savoyarde (a pot of melted cheeses where you plunge cubes of bread), or a Tartiflette (sort of potato gratin with onions, lardoons, and reblochon cheese) will be impossible.
Enjoy your meal while admiring the wonderful landscapes of the valley and of Mont Blanc’s summit by dining at one of the seven altitude restaurants around Chamonix. The Panoramic, located at the top of the Brevent, is very popular among skiers and the view is breathtaking—but if you want to boast in front of your friends back home, tell them you had lunch at Le 3842, the highest restaurant in Europe.
Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian—you can find all kinds of food in Chamonix. Plus, prices are for all budgets. The Mexican restaurant La Cantina boasts some quality food and a fantastic atmosphere. Vegetarians will enjoy dining at Le Santa Fe, but so will their meat-eating friends. To savor the best sushi in town, head off to Munchie. If you want to eat in an upscale restaurant and you are ready to pay the price, go to the Hotel Albert 1er or to the Auberge du Bois. Both have traditional French meals, but the second one is cozier.
Dining and Nightlife > Clubs And Bars
With 14 bars, 80 restaurants, and seven discotheques, Chamonix’s a very lively town at night, and the pedestrian center gets busy once the lifts close. The international melting pot of mountain addicts have a great choice of video, cyber, or live music bars, and nightclubs and discotheques stay open until late at night.
If you want to try your luck, the world-class casino of Chamonix will give you game fever; blackjack, roulette, and more machines in the purest tradition offer a special French class.
The Pub, the Ice Rock Café, the Mill Street Bar, and the Bar du Moulin are some of the most popular meeting points to have fun. The Choucas proposes videos, and web surfers can find their fun on the Santa Fe or Cybar (next to ChamJam). The Swed/American crowd seems to go to the Wild Wallabies or the bar Chambre Neuf, where beer and rock n’ roll make for endless parties.
Dining and Nightlife > Cinema
The Cinema Vox in Chamonix will usually allow you to choose from three different films. All moviegoers should be satisfied, as along with French films you will also have the opportunity to watch movies in original versions, as well as American blockbusters.
In March the town hosts the Festival annuel d’Avants-premieres, and you might bump into some famous faces while going down the Vallée Blanche.
Dining and Nightlife > Performing Arts
Most of the performances in Chamonix concern sport and mountain; it’s not a theatrical center. Anyway, you can find open-air concerts every evening in the Bois du Bouchet during September, as well as concerts in the Salle Olca in Les Houches. Ask the Tourist Office for up to date information.
The summer, indoor, and street concerts give a joyful atmosphere to the valley. There are also spiritual breaks and lectures on Bach in the Temple. Just don’t expect to find Figaro, Die Zauberflote, or Hamlet in town, as you’ll have to be satisfied with the cinema, and if not, you can go to Megève or Annecy.
FAQWho Should Go?
Chamonix is a great destination for solos. Go hit the town on Friday and Saturday night, and you will have no difficulties finding someone to hang around with. Most of the people in Chamonix are very friendly and if your neighbors haven’t invited you to their table yet, feel free to ask. During the winter, the bars and restaurants are packed almost day and night. An easy way to meet people is to sign up for an excursion or any other kind of group activity.
Romantic partners welcome? Of course, especially if you consider an exciting off-piste trip to the Vallée Blanche or a big cheese and wine party in a mountain restaurant at 3,842 meters/12,636 feet high to be romantic adventures. But don’t look for discreet hidden corners, as you won’t find them (except perhaps on untouched off-piste). You can still have 20 minutes alone on the Aiguille du Midi cable car where the scenery is breathtaking; this definitely the place for a declaration.
If you prefer Chamonix to Venice, remember that the winter is quite cold. It’s best to enjoy the sun in the late season, unless you really want a perfect ski. The solution could also be found during the beautiful and quiet summer if you enjoy hiking and mountain climbing—but it’s not the time for skiers.
Chamonix is the place to go for group of friends. It’s at its the best during the regular and spring seasons, when you can alternate intensive skiing with discussions under the sun on mountain terraces. Winter and early season are more for people who appreciate sport and challenge than friends’ company; the days are shorter and atmosphere less exciting.
FAQ > Accommodations
There are 55,000 guest beds in the Chamonix valley, with over 60 hotels to choose from. You also can find 17 gites and seven tourist residences. At last, you can rent apartments and chalets by the week or for the whole season. Even if France is an expensive country in Europe and Chamonix more expensive than other little resorts, prices are still affordable, especially for the US dollar.
Most of the visitors use the good-standing hotels that dominate in the area around the station. Fortunately, there are no narrow apartment complexes like in Tignes or in a lot of modern and popular resorts. Hotels are often old chalets or houses that have been modernized to offer all the contemporary facilities.
There are four-star hotels like the Auberge du Bois Prin, a magnificent chalet savoyard in front of the Mont Blanc massif, with a sauna, Jacuzzis, and delicious French food (from €119-203 /$110 to $190). There are 20 three-star hotels like the beautiful chalet hotel Hermitage (from €71-€120 FF/$66 to $112), or the Hotel de la Vallée Blanche, right in the center of the town (from €28 to €48/$25 to $42). The 28 two-star hotels offer a good quality/price relation, with a warm mountain atmosphere (from €23 to €38/$20 to $33).
The distance from the slopes depends on which hotel you have chosen, but there are buses everywhere. Because of the valley disposition in little resorts, there’s no real “middle of nowhere.” If you want to stay near the nightlife downtown, choose a hotel in Chamonix itself. If you prefer a peaceful and quiet place, the villages of Argentière or La Flégère are very nice.
FAQ > Travel Time
Getting to Chamonix is actually easier than it seems at first glance. The town lies only 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Switzerland, the closest airport is Geneva-Cointrin, located 88 kilometers (55 miles) to the northwest.
If you’re coming with your family, then the best way to escape from the hassle of going to the resort by bus is to rent a car. It usually takes an hour to leave the airport after the plane has landed. The drive to Chamonix is between one and one-and-a-half hours, depending on the traffic. There are signs everywhere, so it shouldn’t be a problem to find your way to the AutoRoute Blanche (motorway) that will take you directly to Chamonix.
For just one extra mile, you can do the same from the French airport of Annecy-Meythet. You can also arrive at the International airport of Lyon, but then driving to Chamonix will take at least twice the time that from the other airports, as it is 225 kilometers (about 150 miles) to the southwest. Unless you really want to visit Lyon, avoid the town, because it is very easy to get lost, and at rush hours the traffic becomes really bad.
If you can’t afford to rent a car, no need to worry—there are daily bus transfers from the airports to the skiing resorts. Cab rides are available, but they can cost a fortune, so it’s probably not the best option given the distance to cover.
Coming from Paris, it will be cheaper to reach Chamonix by train than by plane. The journey is approximately five-and-a-half hours on the TGV. There are five departures per day, and on Friday evenings and weekends, you can also take the direct TGV Snow Special. The SNCF (the French railroad company) offers many discounts, so go ahead and ask the cashier about them. Also, the further in advance you book, the cheaper rate you get. Car rentals and buses are available at the railway station in Chamonix, so getting to your accommodation will be a piece of cake.
By road, you have to take the A40 or A41 motorways and from Paris; it should take between eight and nine hours to reach Chamonix. If you happen to understand French, turn on the radio on 107.7 to get traffic information. Getting there by car is probably not the best solution though, because gas is pretty pricey and tolls are costly too. If you’re driving on your own, not only will your journey be longer and more tiring than if you had taken the train, but it will be more expensive too.