On the one hand, the unique character of a Savoyard mountain village, with traditional chalets, horse-drawn carriages and sun-bleached frescos, and on the other, a modern metropolis of winter sport, with a unique variety of skiing facilities. This eclectic mix can all be found in one place: the famous resort of Chamonix, in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
It’s easy to see why Chamonix was chosen as the location of the very first Winter Olympics in 1924 – the traditional resort in the heart of the Chamonix valley leaves nobody disappointed when it comes to snow sports. Guests will find all the ingredients for a perfect holiday waiting for them in and around the resort, whether in winter or summer. The picturesque town centre contains a labyrinth of pretty streets and alleyways, with many shops, as well as countless restaurants and cafes to be enjoyed. The range of activities on offer is massive, whether you’re looking for fun on the slopes, or just for perfect walking, climbing or cycling conditions. In short, Chamonix truly has something for everyone, set against the most dramatic backdrop imaginable: the Mont Blanc Massif with its 7 valleys, 71 glaciers and 400 peaks.
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A full 90% of the entire skiing region of Chamonix Mont Blanc, including the Aiguille du Midi, Col de Balme, La Flégère, Le Brévent and Grands Montets ski areas, is more than 2000m above sea level. This means that near-perfect snow conditions are virtually guaranteed at all times, and skiers of all levels can enjoy uninterrupted access to the slopes. All the various skiing areas in the region, spread over 3 flanks of the mountain, are easily accessible by bus, car and ski lift, so getting to the slope of your choice is never a problem. Skiers will find a selection of 74 runs, with a total distance of 152km available to them, all connected by a network of 47 lifts, and with an altitude difference of 2000m from the highest summit down to the lowest ski station.
The biggest highlight of the ski area is undoubtedly the “Aiguille du Midi”, which juts out below the white peak of Mont Blanc itself. Its summit, at 3842m, is home to the second highest cable car station in Europe. It is also the meeting point of two distinct groups of the most adventurous visitors: those attempting to conquer the summit of Mont Blanc itself on foot, and those looking for a true skiing challenge: the Vallée Blanche glacier run, which descends via the Mer de Glace over a total distance of 20km. The run winds through truly breathtaking glacial scenery, and is only suitable for the most experienced of skiers. Even expert skiers are advised to enjoy this special skiing experience with the help of a guide, who will be familiar with all the snow packs and crevasses.
Of course it takes more than one ski run to give a resort the towering reputation for freeriding and extreme skiing that Chamonix enjoys. The ski region also contains many other runs and routes, including the medium-difficult and difficult runs on offer in the Le Brévent ski area. Real pros often board another cable car in Le Brévent, which takes them up to the 2525m summit, where many challenging black-graded runs await. An equally overwhelming landscape of skiing challenges is on offer in the neighbouring ski area of La Flégère, which is directly linked by ski lift to Le Brévent. A particular highlight for experienced skiers in La Flégère is the 5km black-graded run that leads down to Les Praz. The ski area of Argentière is also somewhat of a Mecca for lovers of extreme skiing. Set against the backdrop of a beautiful mountain panorama, comprising L'Aiguille du Drus and L'Aiguille Verte, Argentière provides steep runs starting as high as 3300m. Another challenge for the more adventurous, the black-rated “Point de Vue” run begins on L'Aiguille des Grands Montets, before descending across the Argentière glacier towards Croix de Lognan and eventually levelling out into a red-rated section, the so-called “Pierre à Ric”. Covering a total vertical distance of 2050m, and a horizontal distance of 8.5km, a run on this route is an unforgettable experience.
For those with a real insatiable appetite for extreme skiing, there is also the “Haute” route, which leads through the Valais Alps all the way into Swiss Zermatt, and takes several days to complete.
Needless to say, Chamonix is not just a haven for experienced skiers. Intermediate level skiers and beginners will also find themselves well at home amongst countless blue and red runs. The slopes around La Vormaine, Les Chosalets and Les Planards are particularly well-suited to families, or as practice areas for beginners. Those smallest of ski-enthusiasts are also very well catered for, whether in one of the several ski nurseries, kids parks, ski schools or at the beginners area around “Le Savoy” lift in Chamonix itself. Cross-country fans will find a total of 58km of carefully prepared routes, winding through the alpine landscape of the Chamonix Mont Blanc ski area. A particular highlight is the round circuit of Chamonix – Argentière, which at 32km is the longest of the area’s cross-country routes.
Finally, snowboarders will also find themselves well catered-for in the area around Chamonix ski area, with its numerous snow parks, “freeride” zones, back-country routes at Le Brévent and l´Aguille, as well as powder snow slopes in the area surrounding the Grands Montets.
The sporty activities on offer at Chamonix go well beyond the exceptional selection of ski runs and routes. Walkers and climbers also have a fantastic choice of opportunities. There are many ways to explore the impressive range of peaks on foot, from easy hill walking routes, to steep, challenging routes through dangerous glaciers, only recommended for experienced alpine walkers. The “Tour du Mont Blanc”, which leads around the highest peak in the alps, before heading through France, Switzerland and Italy via no less that 11 mountain passes and a total climb of 9000m, often attracts the most passionate of alpine enthusiasts.
Climbers will discover a total of 7 designated climbing areas comprising of 180 routes, catering for all levels of ability. Mountain bikers in Chamonix are also perfectly placed to make full use of the various routes on offer, including a particularly popular downhill route leading from the top station of the Planpraz cable car right down into the centre of the resort.
Paragliders looking to take to the skies above the spectacular ski area need only hop on one of the many cable cars, which will take them straight to the numerous take-off points.
However, for those who would rather take in the fresh alpine air with their feet still firmly on the ground, there are 17km of winter walking routes to explore. An olympic-sized swimming pool, a fitness centre and tennis courts complete the impressive array of facilities available to visitors.
When rest and relaxation is on the agenda, Chamonix certainly doesn’t disappoint. A trip to the cinema, theatre, bowling alley or alpine museum provides the perfect wind-down from the more strenuous activities. An evening in one of the approximately 80 restaurants, 40 bars and pubs or several clubs is the perfect way to finish off the day.