Chamonix sits deep in the valley over shadowed by Mont Blanc. The Chamonix valley attracts a lot of off-piste skiers, freeriders and ski tourers from all over the world however still caters to the rest of the ski abilities fairly well.
Chamonix resort itself is a busy town with a population of 9,000 (visitors not inlcuded) and it’s setting beneath the cliffs and tumbling glaciers of the Mont Blanc massif is dramatic to say the least. The town’s old Victorian buildings give this town a touch of class and with its traffic-free centre, walking about after a day on the slopes is a pleasure with plenty to see, including a wealth of interesting shops, galleries, bookshops and speciality food, as well as souvenirs and the latest technical snow-sports clothing and hardware.
It should be noted at this point that if ski in/ski out convenience are high on your priority list, Chamonix may not be for you. If however you like the sound of runs offering more than 2,000m (6,562ft) of vertical eleveation and massive amounts of off piste (including the Vallee Blanche run, possibly the most famous off-piste run in the world), or you are simply up for a bit of a challenge, then keep reading!
Whilst there is a plethora of on piste skiing to be enjoyed, allowing intermediates and beginners a brill time, the pisted areas are scattered around the valley, and so you will have to rely on the very regular bus service or other transport to get about.
There are only two lifts in the whole valley that rise above 2800m, Les Grands Montets and the Aiguille du Midi: neither is included on the basic lift pass, both suffer from long queues unless you make advance reservations, and the Grands Montets has been closed for several seasons after a disastrous fire.
So Chamonix can be challenging. But if you get it just right, when its quiet, sunny, the scenery, the skiing and its real mountaineer vibe will definitely find its way to your heart.
1040m – 3842m
December – April
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Le Tour is arguably the best area for beginners – there are three lifts, a couple of green runs, and a longer blue for building confidence. Les Planards and the Savoy area, at the foot of the Brevent area, are popular for gentle nursery slopes within easy reach of Chamonix.
Chamonix has an excellent range of high altitude blue and red runs to test any intermediate. After La Tour’s Balme area, Les Houches is the next best bet for intermediates. Les Houches has 12 reds and six blues which are set mainly within the treeline. The lower slopes are almost exclusively blues and there are long blues and reds from the top of the Bellevue & Prarion telecabines, where you get an extraordinary 360 degree view of the Mont Blanc massif. The Vallee Blanche descent, usually open all season, is done with a guide and provides 24km of unforgettable skiing in stunning scenery.
Expert skiers will just love the incomparable slopes and challenging range of skiing. Chamonix is the undisputed off-piste capital of Europe with some quite extraordinary experiences awaiting you on the Mont Blanc Massif. Remember though, it’s essential to have a guide.
Chamonix snowboarders and freestylers will like the natural jumps, quarters, and gullies of Le Tour and La Flegere, including the infamous Big Tit jump, but for boarders, as for skiers, Chamonix is not an ideal place to learn. The gentler slopes of Le Tour are mostly serviced by draglifts though the rest of the ski areas are thankfully served by cable cars, gondolas and chair lifts, which offer relief from the draglifts but are however fairly slow in comparison to other resorts. There is a snowpark with a half pipe accessed via the Marmottons, Tabe and Plan-Roujon chairlifts in Grands Montets. It is 1 km long with around 20 jumps, rails and a wall. Crucially, it has a beginners’ area which is perfect for practising in peace.
Aiguille du Midi cable car
The highest cable car in Europe, The Aiguille Du Midi is a heart-stopping ride to the pinnacle, 3842 metres above sea level. Once at the top, you’re in another world of ice and snow. The views over the Alps are indescribably beautiful and you can often see the tiny dots of climbers, really bringing home the scale.
Dent du Geant and Grandes Jorasses
There’s a cafe and shop, or you can have lunch at the restaurant. It’s possible to cross to Italy from the top, on the Hellbronner lift, and have a coffee in a hut on the Italian side, beautiful view and great border photo-ops!
Montenvers Railway and Ice Cave
The charming old cog railway on Montenvers winds up from a separate station just next to the main train station in Chamonix. You can see it sometimes from the balcony as it passes high above the chalet). At the top, there’s an amazing panorama of the Mer De Glace glacier, a cafe, restaurant and shop. It’s a lovely spot for lunch, and you can either walk or get the lift down to the ice cave carved out of the glacier.
Another lovely old rack railway, the Mont Blanc Tramway, built in 1913, starts at Le Fayet and makes a stop at St Gervais. In winter, after winding up through woods and villages, it stops at Bellevue. You can enjoy the views at the restaurant, or by walking or snowshoeing on the plateau surrounding the area.
If you’d like to spend some time at a spa, we have a lovely new one in Chamonix, reasonably priced and with great facilities. More about the spa here: https://www.qcterme.com/en/chamonix-mont-blanc/qc-terme-chamonix
Winter paragliding in Chamonix
Exhilarating and beautiful, accessible to almost everyone, it’s one of my favourite things that the valley has to offer, an unforgettable adventure high above the pistes.
Snowshoeing is beautiful, tranquil, and lets you enjoy the spectacular views of the mountains in peace. Paragliding is one of the most fun things to do in the valley, swoop over the glaciers in safely with qualified tandem pilots. Cross-country skiing can be enjoyed by anyone, or just get some chains on your shoes (chaunes chaussures are widely available in the sports shops) and walk the network of pisted paths though the valley.
Highly recommended, a breathtaking ride around the peaks with the longest trip going around the summit of Mont Blanc with Pascal, one of Europe’s finest helicopter pilots. The heliport is next to the excellent Cremerie du Glacier restaurant, signposted from the turn-off to Les Grands Montets just before Argentiere.
Chamonix Leisure Centre
Swimming in a huge pool complete with giant waterslide, sauna and steam rooms, gym, ice rink, indoor climbing and tennis are among the facilities available at the Chamonix Centre Sportif
In a beautiful old building, the casino has table for blackjack and roulette upstairs and machines downstairs, and also has a cafe. It’s over 18s only and you may need ID to play.
Shopping in and near Chamonix
Chamonix has a huge variety of shops, from upmarket boutiques like Chanel to some of the best choice of climbing and skiing equipment around in Snell Sports. As you’d expect, it’s a good place to shop for clothes, the big snow and surf brands like Quiksilver, Reef and Billabong all have shops here. Zero G has a particularly good clothing range and stocks brands like Analog and Nikita along with the bikes and boards. There are also chocolatiers, bookshops, galleries, local crafts, delicatessens and gift shops from the fun and cheesy to the exclusive and beautiful. Shops open from 9am to 12 noon and then from around 2pm until 7 pm. Almost nothing opens 12-2, so you may as well settle in for a good lunch!
There are several supermarkets in town, but if you intend to cook at the chalet a lot, it may well be worth while stocking up at the Carrefour at Sallanches, which is excellent and cheaper, especially for wine. You’ll also find a branch of Satoriz opposite Carrefour, a French wholefood store which has a good range of organic, vegetarian and vegan food. There is also a wholefood shop in Rue des Moulins which has a good selection of veggie food including tofu. During the season, you can find a seafood stall near the clock in the town centre where you can buy oysters and platters of Fruits de Mer.
The walled city of Annecy is very picturesque in winter, it’s an hour or so to drive, or the Chamonix Tourist Office arranges weekly coach trips, check the site for times. Geneva is also just an hour away by car or bus, and the elegant lakeside towns of Montreux, Vevey and Lausanne are also close by. You can also visit the lovely medieval village of Yvoire or the cosmopolitan and beautiful town of Evian on the banks of Lake Geneva. An hour’s drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel is Italy. Have a day in the cheerful traditional town of Courmayeur- great Italian food and friendly bars. For a cultural day out, there are several excellent galleries in Martigny (take the train directly from Les Praz towards Switzerland) including the Fondation Gianada. Martigny is also the home of the wonderfully eccentric St. Bernard Dog Museum. Also in this area is the lovely old hilltop town of Sion, a delightful place to spend a day, with picturesque streets some very good restaurants. An unusual trip is to Plateau d’Assy, a pretty mountain village that has an incredible church decorated by some of the greatest modern artists. Notre Dame de Toute Grace incorporates work by Matisse, Chagalle and Braque amongst others.
View the live snow report for Chamonix here
Chamonix has plenty of family friendly accommodation to choose from. La Ginabelle Pierre & Vacance Premium apartments are an excellent choice for families. They occupy a prime location only 500 metres from the beginners’ ski area at Les Planards, and a few minutes walk to the centre of town. The residence is also right opposite the train station and bus stop for the resort shuttle, so you’ll have no issues ferrying your little ones around. The apartments are large, comfortable and well equipped, and the property boasts fantastic facilities including swimming pool, spa and gym. There’s even a range of board games and a kid’s play corner to keep the whole family entertained.
Beginners Ski Areas
Chamonix has plenty of gentle slopes that are perfect for kids and beginners. Most of the ski areas have easier slopes towards the bottom but the best areas for those starting out are Les Planards and Le Savoy, both of which are easily accessible from Chamonix town. Les Planards is the bigger of the two areas and is located in the lower end of town, opposite the Montenvers funiculaire station and only 500 metres from La Ginabelle Apartments. The area has two drag lifts on a green run and a two-man chairlift that accesses a blue and a red run. Le Savoy is at the top end of town. It’s a smaller area than Les Planards with two drag lifts that access a large open area where first timers can find their feet, as well as a longer green slope. The Chamonix-Planpraz gondola, which accesses the much larger and more advanced area of Le Brevent, departs from the top of Le Savoy, which means that groups of mixed ability can ski in the same area and meet up at the bottom.
Ski School and Childcare
There’s a wide range of ski school and childcare options in Chamonix. The ESF runs Piou Piou children’s clubs at both Le Savoy and Les Planards beginners’ ski areas, where highly qualified instructors will introduce kids from the age of 3 all of the skiing basics in its ‘snow gardens’ and dedicated kids’ ski areas. There are also plenty of independent nanny and babysitting services to choose from. Chamonix Nannies (+44(0) 7860 925055) offers flexible childcare for babies and children from age 4 weeks to 14 years. Baby-Cham (+33 645 018 639 or firstname.lastname@example.org) is the longest running babysitting agency in the resort, and aim to pair parents and children with the perfect babysitter. If you want to give your kids a break from snow based activities, book them in for arts and crafts focused childcare at Le Petit VIP Kids’ Club (+33 (0) 6 78 22 59 35) in Chamonix Sud. They take kids from the age of 3 for slots of a minimum of two hours. The same company also runs Le Petit Didi Dance classes, which are aimed at under 4s. The 45 minute sessions involve singing, clapping, jumping and moving along to French and English songs and nursery rhymes, and will entertain, exercise and educate your little ones.
Family friendly accommodation options such as La Ginabelle Apartments have pools that are ideal for letting your kids splash around in. However, none are as good as the indoor pool at the Richard Bozon Sports Centre. This fantastic amenity has a 25 metre pool and a separate children’s pool with a waterfall, water jets, river rapids and a 130 meter long covered water slide.
The sports centre also has an Olympic size indoor ice skating rink as well as a slightly smaller outdoor one.
Indoor climbing wall
There’s also a large indoor climbing wall at the sports centre that’s suitable for kids from the age of 6. Children from ages 6 to 10 must climb with a qualified guide, and older kids aged 10 to 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
The Loft at 272
Le Cristal de Jade Apartments
Hotel Mont Blanc
Heliopic Hotel and Spa
Le Refuge des Aiglons
Le Morgane Hotel
Hotel La Folie Douce
Hotel Alpina Eclectic
The major airport closest to Chamonix is Geneva which is about an hour and 15 minutes by road from the main town in the resort, Chamonix Mont Blanc. Geneva airport is well serviced by cost efficient private shuttle buses for transfers to the resort. Other French regional airports nearby are somewhat further away such as Grenoble, Chambery and Lyon. It is simplest to get to Chamonix from these airports by road. Transport by train to get there is a little complex.
The Mont Blanc Tunnel is an amazing feat of engineering with a highway tunneled under the Alps from France into Italy. The entry being conveniently located just outside Chamonix Mont Blanc, means skiers in Chamonix can easily visit Courmayeur, the Italian Ski Resort on the Southern side of this range of the Alps and Mont Blanc.
The motorway from Geneva is the Autoroute Blanche and it takes about an hour and 15 minutes from Geneva Airport to the resort. When leaving the airport, take care to leave on the Swiss side as this takes you directly onto the Autoroute. The exit from the French side, means you’ll have to take a circuitous route to wend your way to the motorway.
To get to Chamonix from the western side, from Switzerland, make your way to the town of Martigny. From here, it is a wonderful scenic drive as you wind your way up steep curving mountain roads till you get to the border at Vallocine, then head down the Chamonix Valley to the main town of Chamonix itself. The journey takes about an hour and a half to 2 hours depending on road conditions.
In short, it is difficult to get to Chamonix by train. The train that runs through the Chamonix Valley is run by the local province and does not leave the region.
Be sure to locate trains that go to St Gervais/ La Fayet. It is from this regional rail hub that you catch the train to Chamonix Mont Blanc.
Get yourself to the interchange at Martigny for the special narrow gauge train that climbs up the Alps to Vallorcine, at the head of the Valley. Here, change trains onto the local train that services the Valley.
Note: there are no trains from Italy to Chamonix.