Sitting at the base of Western Europe’s highest mountain Mont Blanc, and overshadowed by towering glaciers the town of Chamonix is in the heart of the Alps’ best off-piste skiing. What’s more, the opportunities and size of the town makes it a natural hub for the best guides – essential company for anyone contemplating a sortie from the marked pistes. One of the best-known itineraries is the legendary 20km Vallée Blanche run, which begins at the Aiguille du Midi cable car and drops 2,800m to the Montenvers rail terminus. See the historic Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix for tours and options, chamonix-guides.com
With distinct and different ski areas on both sides and at either end of the valley in which Chamonix sits, the range of on-piste skiing and snowboarding from the town is impressive. In total there are about 157km of pistes, split between Chamonix/Brevent, La Flagère, Les Grands Montets, Le Tour/Balme, Les Houches, and La Vormaine. For beginners the best skiing is either at Les Houches, at Chamonix Town’s Les Planards, or at the Teleski de Savoy, which runs almost into the centre of Chamonix under the Brévent cable car.
As a proper town full of outdoorsy residents and guests, Chamonix is buzzing with après options from cosy cafes and tea houses, to late bars or clubs with dancing or live music like Moo Bar, Elevation and Chambre Neuf, to traditional Savoyarde restaurants like La Calèche, and Michelin-starred fine dining, such as Pierre Maillet’s Albert 1er. There’s even a microbrewery which serves food as well as its own artisan beers – the MBC (Micro Brasserie de Chamonix) mbchx.com
Culture and history
One of the oldest resorts in France, Chamonix has been a snowsports hub for over a century, even hosting the inaugural Winter Olympic games in 1924. Walk into a bar or café in town at any time of the year and you’ll be among like-minded mountain enthusiasts, many who have moved to live next to their beloved mountains permanently. A great way to explore the town and its highlights is with Chamonix’s Itinerio app, which is also available on a tablet you can rent from the tourist office. The app takes you to 110 points of interest around the town, where it will show you pictures, sounds, video and historical information. Don’t miss a trip up the Montenvers funicular railway to the Europe’s biggest glacier, the Mer De Glace, or and the Aiguille du Midi cable car to the 3,842m peak of the same name – the closest to the summit of Mont Blanc you can get without walking and climbing there.
Being a living, breathing town, the variety of accommodation in Chamonix is as impressive as the scenery. There is literally everything from £27 dorm beds in mountain refuges, such as the 2,771m Argentière Refuge, which welcomes ski tourers to its close-up views of Mont Blanc’s north face, to the town centre favourite of Mont Blanc explorers Grand Hotel des Alpes. There are apartments and chalets of every size, luxury and description too, from one-bedroom mini-chalet Savoyarde Mazots for £500 a week, to 10-bedroom-plus luxury chalets just metres from the slopes – for a lot more...
Only about an hour’s drive from Geneva airport along excellent motorways and main roads Chamonix is easy and quick to access by plane and road, with its short transfer making it even a good option for the weekend. Plenty of transfer companies ply the route to the resort too, with shared transfers costing from about £20 per person each way.
For more details of these and many other reasons to ski or snowboard Chamonix see Chamonix.com