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Patrick Thorne

26 Nov 15

Chamonix Resort Guide

Patrick Thorne

26 Nov 15

When it comes to snow sports, nowhere tops Chamonix.

The famous French resort which lies in the shadow of Western Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, has an enviable and indeed unbeatable list of attractions and claims-to-fame.

The home of the very first Winter Olympics is a vibrant, cosmopolitan resort with a pedestrianised centre, a short hop from Geneva airport. It’s more than just the town though, as the wider Chamonix Valley is home to smaller settlements that each have their own advantages if you choose to stay in them too.

CHAMONIX _DSC6989 © Bannikov

© Bannikov

Argentière, for example, is an authentic village, home to the most famous mountain guides, and located at the foot of the legendary Grands Montets ski area or Vallorcine is an intimate, preserved village on the Swiss border, in the heart of two nature reserves, at the foot of the Balme ski area, whilst Les Houches has a reputation as a particularly family friendly destination.

The Chamonix Valley is home to several different ski areas too, but the villages and the ski areas are all inter-connected by a public transport network and all included in a single Mont Blanc Unlimited lift pass, so wherever you stay you can access it all.

And what ski areas they are – for many people consider them the world’s best.  The biggest lift-served vertical in the world will lift you more than 2,800 metres above the valley from where you can ski the Vallee Blanche, the planet’s longest ski-lift accessed off-piste glacier descent up to 22km (the exact length skiable when you visit will depend on snow conditions).

But although a Mecca for the most demanding, expert skiers and boarders, Chamonix has tamer terrain too, perfect for first timers and families.  Even if you have non-skiers in your group, there’s so much to see and do off the slopes, they’ll have a great time too.

Always Snowy

The Chamonix Valley’s higher slopes are covered by glaciers with year round snow cover and 90% of the Valley’s skiing is located above 2000m, which makes it normally a perfect choice for early and late skiing. The highest lift-served area is the Grands Montets, reaching up to 3300m, which usually has great conditions from December right through until  early May.

Freeride Grands Montets©M Dalmasso

©M Dalmasso

Unlimited Snowsport

The Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass is one of the world’s greatest lift tickets!  All in all it gives seamless access to over 900km of groomed piste – one of the biggest areas on one pass you can buy on the planet. But not only does is provide access to half a dozen different ski areas in the Chamonix Valley and public transport services between them, as well as skiing at Courmayeur in Italy on the other side of Mont Blanc, it also grants you lots of added extras.  You can use it to get in public swimming pools and on to ice rinks in the Valley, even to ride the exciting downhill mountain roller coaster ride.

It’s no secret that the Chamonix Valley is considered a Mecca for freeriders and the famous Valley Blanche glacier descent and the Grands Montets ski area are globally famed draws that attract the world’s best skiers and boarders (although good intermediate level skiers with a head for heights for the shuffle down the infamous arête snowy ridge from the cable car’s top station to the start of the run can in fact tackle the Vallee Blanche with a guide)

But there’s plenty for all abilities and Balme and Les Houches  offer wonderful family skiing and fun terrain parks, whilst Brevent -Flegere have a variety of south-facing intermediate slopes with breathtaking panoramas.

If you need lessons, or maybe don’t need lessons but think it would be refreshing to try something different, it’s worthy signing up with one of Chamonix’s ski schools.

For example the Ecole du ski Francais offer special women-only group lessons as well as the ‘Pack Adrénaline’  for adrenaline junkies.

Vallée Blanche ©OT Chamonix 2

©OT Chamonix

Lots To Do Besides Skiing

Chamonix is a large resort with a long list of things you can do besides ski or board.  There’s a good selection of shops in the pedestrianised centre, a public swimming pool complex, ice rinks and plenty of spas to name just a few.  But there are more unusual and sometimes unique ‘must dos’ too whilst you’re here…

At 3,840m (12,000ft) set amidst Europe’s highest Alpine peaks, the Aiguille du Midi is a remarkable mountain station from which you can start the Vallee Blanche descent, but where there’s also lots to do even if you just get the cable car back down after your visit. One of these, if you’ve got the bottle, is ‘The Void’ – essentially a seamless glass box sticking out of the building and with nothing but space for 1000metres below you.

If you have been inspired by ‘The Jump’ on TV and fancy yourself as a budding Eddie The Eagle you can now sign up for ski jumping lessons for complete beginners with the local ski school at a fully refurbished ski jump that is opening this season at the base station of the Aiguille du Midi cable cars.

The ski jump was last used more than 50 years ago but has been completely renewed and offers three jumps of varying size and difficulty starting from just 15m for beginners, then 33m for intermediates and an impressive 55m for those who want some really big air!

You can also try dog sledding, ski joring (being towed behind a pony on your skis), paragliding, snow kiting, horse riding, ice climbing, paint balling and many other things.

CHAMONIX Dog Sledding © Huskydalen

© Huskydalen

Party On!

The size and cosmopolitan mix of skiers and boarders from all around the world means that Chamonix has long held the reputation as the top party resort in the French Alps.  Many of the venues are located in the lively Rue des Moulins.

Popular choices include the Monkey Bar and South Bar in Chamonix Sud, which are both popular with the Brits, or the Elevation and Moo Bar in the avenue Michel Croz which are popular with locals and with the climbing fraternity.

If your taste runs to home brewed beer try the MBC (Micro Brasserie Chamonix) which also does a mean burger and usually has live music.

Or Bard’UP is a rustic bar in the Rue des Moulins (Chamonix’s oldest little street), which is  Australian-run and offers pool tables, live sports on big screen TVs and live music.

If you’re looking for something slightly smarter then perhaps try Les Caves, the Bar des Moulins or The Cabanon and for dancing the best night clubs include The Bunker (once again in the Rue des Moulins), The Amnesia (located in avenue de l’Aiguille du Midi) and The Tof in Chamonix Sud which is actually a gay bar but does accept straight people if you promise not to cause any trouble.

Or perhaps you’d just like to go bowling, visit the cinema or have a flutter in the casino?

Chamonix-©EdBlomfield-0462

©EdBlomfield

Whatever you choose, you’ll find Chamonix has something for every taste all day and all night.  As the resort’s tourist office tag line has it, Chamonix is, “Easy to reach, hard to leave.”

Whether you’re a newbie looking to learn the ropes in skiing’s heartland, or an expert keen to get more out of the Alps’ best-loved resorts, Hotels.com have put together a series of interactive guides to help you plan your next ski trip.

Further hotels.com ski deals are here: http://uk.hotels.com/hotel-deals/ukskipromotion/