(1040m - 3842m)
Standing in the shadow of Mont Blanc, Chamonix is one of the world’s great ski resorts. With a reliable snow record, impressive vertical and access to 762km of terrain Chamonix seems to have it all. It does if you are a powder hound looking for off piste, and a hair raising challenge. However, Chamonix for many of us does have its limitations, most notably the lack of terrain for beginners and intermediates and the fact that the resort is fragmented over 5 areas.
Resort at a glance
|Ski Range||1040m - 3842m|
Surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery the Alps has to offer Chamonix’s slopes are located in 5 distinct areas. From the village a cable car takes you up to Aiguille du Midi which is the start of the world famous stunning 24km Valley Blanche run. Apart from a few steepish sections all but the very timid of intermediates will have no problem completing it.
From Chamonix, Le Brevent on the other side of the valley can be accessed via the Planpraz gondola. At the top of the gondola there are several blue runs with the Cornu chair accessing several reds as well. Advanced skiers will want to take the Cable Car to the top of Le Brevent to try out the tricky black run.
The area of Flegere is linked to Le Brevent at altitude via the Laison cable car or can be accessed at village level from Les Praz which is situated several kms outside of Chamonix itself. Here there is a greater range of runs for intermediates comprising of blues and reds, and the odd green run. Don’t be fooled however, as this area is not for individuals expecting easy, cruisey runs.
Further along the main road at Argentiere the area of Grand Montets can be accessed. Here the slopes are reached by cable car and chairlift, with the runs being mainly red or black. Once again experts will relish the steepness of these slopes and the off piste possibilities. A long red then takes you right back down to village level.
Finally 12km from Chamonix the slopes of Le Tour are reached. The slopes here are accessed by gondola and chairlifts and less adventurous intermediates would be best suited to the mainly blue and red runs. The slopes of Le Tour are often quiet and are therefore suitable for a mixed party but there is the problem of getting to them in the first place.
For absolute beginners Chamonix cannot be recommended. There are a couple of nursery slopes around Chamonix, however progression is made very difficult due to the fragmented nature of the resort.
Chamonix has a great range of apres ski possibilities with plenty of bars, clubs, live music and more traditional cafes with tempting delicacies to entice you. Most of the apres ski is town based rather than up on the mountain and it tends to get far livelier later on in the evening.
There are a large number of cafes serving great apres ski drinks and snacks - everything from delicious hot chocolate, coffees, smoothies along with beers are on offer. L'Atelier Cafe, by the river is worth a visit, as is Grand Central in the Hotel Pointe Isabelle. The wine bar - Lapin Agile, serves a good hot chocolate and decent beers along with wine, it also does free tapas if you get peckish while you are there.
Notable bars include Chambre Neuf - with live music and dancing, along with Elevation 1904 situated close to it. Micro Brewery de Chamonix (MBC) is close to town, and serves its own beers brewed on the premises, so is well worth a visit, they also serve burgers, Thai curries and other bar snacks.
There is a huge variety of restaurants in Chamonix serving everything from the traditional French and Savoyard dishes to Indian, Tex Mex, Italian, Japanese and many more in between.
For traditional Savoyard dishes then try Le Chaudron on the Rue des Moulins, La Bergerie is also very good, as is Chamonix's oldest Savoyard restaurant - Le National. There is also the Albert 1er, a two-starred Michelin restaurant if your budget will stretch that far.
For an alternative to the Savoyard style then try Munchie which is great for Asian and fusion food, Satsuki serves up tasty Japanese sushi. For something lighter still then there are plenty of places selling pizza and pasta such as Cas Valeria and Pizza Salsa, where tex mex can be found at Eldorado and there is even a kebab shop - Cappadoce.
For non skiers or those wanting a day off there is a large variety of things to keep you occupied in Chamonix. There’s a casino, a great 10 pin bowling alley, a cinema and a range of designer boutiques to use up that spare holiday cash.
There is also a large sports centre with the usual facilities - a swimming pool with water slide and wellness area (saunas, Turkish baths, solarium), ice rink, climbing wall and gym. For something more exhilarating then try husky sledding, skidooing, ice climbing or snow shoe walking, paragliding and hang-gliding are also available.
There is a weekly market (Saturday) which is worth a visit and also day trips to Geneva, Annecy and Turin. There is also the Montenvers tramway that takes you to visit the ice caves in Mer de Glace or hop on the cable car to the summit of Aiguille du Midi and look into Switzerland and Italy.
There are a number of ski schools in Chamonix to choose from. There is of course the ESF - Ecole de Ski Francais - which is France’s biggest ski school offering private or group lessons including skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and even handicap skiing. Private lessons cost from €122 for 2 hours and group lessons from €222 for 6 half days. Do check their meeting place when you book as it depends on your ability.
Ski Factory offer ‘custom built skiing’ for all levels and ages from three years upwards. They assess your ability, discuss your objectives and then create a customised programme for you. Prices start from €180 for half a day based on 4 people with a full day from €350 for 4 people. They do pick you up from your accommodation.
Evolution 2 offer private and group lessons and cover skiing, snow boarding and off piste. Private lessons cost from €105 for 2 hours and group lessons (for 3-4 days) start from €135 to €165 depending on ability. Most classes offer transfer from Chamonix to the ski area.