Chamonix town is an all year tourist town which sits in the middle of the 16 km long Chamonix Valley which hosts 5 main resorts and several smaller ones with slopes almost careering right into the hamlets. It was host to the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924. IT is located just an hour from Geneva, making it one of the most popular resorts in Europe for long weekends.
Chamonix is the hub of the valley and it could not look, feel or be any less purpose built if it tried. As such, the atmosphere in Chamonix mid-winter is like no where else. However, even with lifts starting and runs finishing either side of the town centre, most lodgings are not so central and as such, transport in the shape of buses, cars trains or taxis are depended upon heavily. This for some is the appeal of Chamonix…it’s not mass market – it’s a bit of a rough diamond.
The skiing at Chamonix is divided into 5 separate areas linked by bus. The Chamonix Ski Bus is free for those on a valid ski pass. The 5 areas are:
•Les Grands Montets
Le Brevent – Located in the northern part of the town. A gondola takes you to Plan Praz where there is a smaller lift that whisks you to the peak at Le Brevent. The ski down from the top is best for those seeking a challenge. We recommend the ski areas around Plan Praz for families, timid intermediate s. Beginner are also catered for in and around Plan Praz.
La Flegere -La Flegere can be accessed from Le Brevent or from the bottom at the village of La Praz. Flegere is open and sunny and ideal for intermediates. There are nursery slopes here as well.
Les Grand Montets -This is what skiing is really about – the steep and deep. Access to the very best, most challenging skiing is only with the slightly more expensive Unlimited Ski Pass. This gives skiers access to the top of Les Grands Montets. Argentiere, a village up the road from town towards the Swiss border, is the access village for this vast ski area. Skiing for intermediates is at the middle level of the mountain.
Les Houches – Les Houches is home to the World Cup Downhill Piste, the Piste Verte, also known as the Kandahar. Despite its name “Verte”, there is nothing green about this run. This is seriously steep, long and fast. Time your visit to coincide just prior to the World Cup and you can ski alongside the competitors while they’re training. Due to Les Houches sitting at the foot of Mont Blanc, it is shaded meaning that the snow is protected and is generally in better condition. Most of the pistes are cut through forest – so, in white out conditions head for Les Houches. The Unlimited Ski Pass is required to ski Les Houches.
Le Tour/Domaine de Balme – This is a most wonderful open sunny bowl, perfect for beginners and intermediates. This is at the other end of the Chamonix Valley from Les Houches. You’ll find more than enough intermediate and beginner terrain to explore. Also accessible from the village of Vallorcine.
In conclusion of this short resort summary, in terms of lifts and infrastructure, there are plenty more modern resorts. Lifts are slow, some ancient, some commonly out of action and you may need to wait, on average several minutes longer for lifts than elsewhere in France . But – that really is all you can say against the place. You come to Chamonix to play hard. And what a playground it is!
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