A mecca for expert skiers, Chamonix is one of the most famous luxury ski resorts in the Alps. Situated right under Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest mountain at 4,810m, it is often considered the mountain capital of the world. The centre is full of character, the skiing some of the most challenging and best in the world, it boasts a vast array of great value catered ski chalets, summer and winter, and is probably one of the top 10 must visit ski resorts in the world.
One of the most famous luxury ski resorts in the Alps. Chamonix and Mont Blanc that towers above (4,810m Western Europe's highest mountain) are renown as the mountain capital of the world. Attracting mountaineers and skiers throughout the year to its vast array of catered ski chalets, summer and winter, it is a humbling and unforgettable ski resort to visit.
One of the worlds premier ski resorts, Chamonix benefits from a good snow record with Mont Blanc creating its very own micro climate. It quite rightly has a reputation for some of the best and most extreme skiing in the world. However, Chamonix has much more to offer than if you are not an expert don't be be put off by its infamous reputation. Les Houches and Le Tour in particular are excellent ski areas for beginners and intermediates and there is so much history and things to do off the slopes (more of this below in a moment). Alternatively south facing Brevent and Flegere are a half way house and offer a variety of intermediate and expert slopes that keep most competent mixed ability groups entertained for the holidays.
Last and by no means least, at the difficult end of the scale is the world famous Grands Montets ski area. A meccas for any skier or snowboarder who wants to truly test their claim to the ‘expert’ crown, has good on piste, and world class off-piste starting at the top of the Grands Montets at 3,275m. Here the world is your oyster with a Mountain Guide as you can stay right running parallel to the Glacier d'Argentiere for some powder or giant moguls, or the opposite side into the Combe de la Pendant and Le Lavancher bowl as it is affectionately known.
One of the best luxury ski resorts for ski holiday groups with non-skiers, Chamonix has a large and lively centre. Chamonix is also probably one of the most picturesque in the Alps, as well as one of the busiest. Along with Mont Blanc that towers above it, it has been attracting visitors since the 18th century and the architecture is simply stunning, a mix of grand alpine town houses, character hotels, farmhouses, and real ski chalets that quickly rose up from the tourist boom of the 19th and 20th centuries.
There are a wide variety of shops; boutique outlets as well as extensively stocked mountaineering establishments. It is a large town and many visitors will be surprised at the array of things to do as a consequence for both skiers and non-skiers in the party. Recent years at his moved considerably up market but it still retains an earthy, rugged, mountaineering ambience too.
If you haven’t skied or snowboarded in Chamonix, you're in for a treat and will find there really is so much to do that you will have to come back, time after time.
Family Skiing In Chamonix
Surprisingly good despite Chamonix’s reputation as one of the extreme ski resorts and a ski resort for experts only. Accomplished teenagers will love the Grands Montets ski area but our top tip for young families is Les Houches. The secret is out here and the once quiet satellite village of Chamonix grows more popular each year and now has several excellent family ski chalets for a range of budgets. Gentle blues and reds and the Kandahar World Cup black in Les Houches run provide a varied ski terrain but none of it is unreasonably difficult or disconcerting. Powder days are particularly spectacular amongst it beautiful tree lined pistes looking at the spectacular Mont Blanc Massif above.
Le Tour is also a good choice at the opposite end of the valley although it lacks the picturesque tree line skiing of Les Houches and is best avoided on colder, windier days. Intermediate family skiers will also love Brevent and Flegere for its mainly south facing slopes and stunning views of Mont Blanc across the valley.
Expert and Off-Piste Skiing and Snowboarding
Chamonix has it all, steep, deep and scary! This is one resort you’ll never get the better of It. Skiers from every corner of the globe come to ski it and hence why you really do have to be up on first lifts to get fresh tracks on a powder day! The Grands Montets is a particular mecca and suitably experienced off-piste skiers will typically head for the top of the Grands Montets and then down to the left of the l’Argentire Glacier or across into the Lavancher bowl for powder and mogul heaven. For a more extreme run, you can pop off the back and down to the Mer de Glace the other side but it is steep!
For the ultimate off-piste day out, the Vallee Blanche is an absolute must with 17km of glacier terrain, skiing under seracs and beautiful peaks shaped as needles.
The Combe Lachenal has some great off-piste in the sunshine in the right snow conditions and after steeper start the runs mellow and widen. Le Tour is also a popular choice over the back into Vallorcine. Close to the piste through the trees is preferred by many or the bowl to the right. The latter is heavily avalanche prone so as always, make sure you have the competencies to ski it and check conditions before venturing into it.
Eating Out At The Mountain Restaurants
Les Vielles Luges is a must for any visitor who loves traditional cooking in the perfect alpine farmhouse on the mountain. Situated in the Les Houches ski area it is probably the best mountain restaurant in the valley. Closely behind in our opinion is the Refuge Lognan which provides fine traditional French dining with a wonderful ambience just off the piste below the Herse ski runs. Then there is the Cremerie at the bottom of the Grands Montets that specializes in Croute’s that nowhere else come close. All three are always popular so we recommend you book ahead.
On the Brevent and Flegere, Le Bergerie at the top of the gondola, next to the Brevent Cable Car is a good choice as is the l’Adret behind the top of the Flegere cable car. For the views on a warm day, the Panoramic at the very top of the Brevent offers a spectacular dining aspect.
Chamonix Snow Parks
Snowboarders and free style skiers will appreciate the snow park on the Grands Montets with a variety of jumps for all abilities and a large snowboard / ski cross course.
The two main ski schools are ESF and Evolution 2. At Chalet Ski Holidays we have found ESF to be particularly good. BASS are a smaller British offering but can be difficult to book as have only a limited number of British instructors.
Varied and extensive is probably the best way to describe the après-ski in Chamonix. Chambre-Neuf would be our top tip for lively entertainment after the slopes with its live music and raucous crowd. Situated next to the railway station you’ll recognize it straight away with après-skiers spilling on to the pavement outside and dancing on the tables inside! A quieter drink can be had across the road at Elevation or something between the two the Moo Bar next door.
Other bars worth a mission include Le Privilege that as its name suggests a little more upscale, as is the Mix Bar close by. Right in the centre square is La Terrasse with its ornate décor or for a more down to earth experience and a chance to talk to some of the local seasonaires on the best places to ski,Bar d’Up is well worth a visit.
South facing off-piste routes can be found on the the Brevent although the couloirs underneath the Plan Praz cable-car are somewhat extreme for most skiers. Alternative try the Combe Lachenal which in good snow conditions are ideal for real experts. La Tour is also good trip down into Vallorcine off the back but as in the case with any off-piste, should only be attempted with the appropriate knowledge and expertise.
Chamonix Michelin Star Restaurants
For the ultimate dining experience, the Albert Premiere takes some beating. One of the best culinary experiences in the alps, it is situated close to the train station and centre, on the road out to Argentiere and has two Michelin Stars. It has a warm and cosy, period décor that reflects its rich heritage in this famous old town.
The other Michelin Star restaurant in Chamonix is the Bistro with one Michelin Star and is situated just down from the l’Aiguille du Midi Cable Car. The décor is a modern, stylish design and it offers excellent Michelin Star food. Many choose the taster menu which from our experience is a mix of gourmet meat and fish dishes and was excellent value too. There is also a very good, and incredibly good value lunchtime plat du jour for those that fancy some time off the slopes or an earlier mid day exit.
Chamonix has a wide array of restaurants to suit most budgets from pizzerias through to fine dining experience, not withstanding the two Michelin Star restaurants noted above.
For ambience and great dining La Cabane in Plan Praz is a great choice in our view, with a dining experience that is close to Michelin Star as it gets. We recommend visitors get there early and enjoy pre-dinner drinks at the bar, or even in the large leather sofas in front of the grand fireplace. A little out of town, it is well worth the effort.
In Chamonix itself you won’t go far wrong with l’Impossible, a biological and gluten, lactose free friendly place (the menus being coded to highlight suitability), it has become one of the most popular dining places for fine dining locals. One, if not the most beautiful restaurant in the Chamonix Valley, it is an old farmhouse with oak beams and a stunningly grand fireplace in the centre that creates a very special atmosphere. Booking is advised to guarantee a place and get the best seats and it is found just out of town close to the Bus Station and Ten pin Bowling Alley.
The Caleche is the sister restaurant of La Cabane and situated in the centre of Chamonix just off the main square. It has a pretty front and a wonderful interior. Full of character inside, it creates a great ambience with warm wood décor and a number of artifacts donning the walls and ceilings. Whilst the food is very good, it’s not quite as good as La Cabane but compensates on its central location. Fish, meat or traditional savoyarde dishes, its always a winner when ever we go there with friends and family alike.
Lastly is the Casa Velero. An Italian Restaurant just down from the Casino, from the outside it doesn’t inspire, but as you walk in the restaurant opens up next to the river Arve and ihas a really warm and cosy setting. The food is varied price wise so it can be relatively low cost or as expensive as you want. The pizzas are excellent, but their pasta really is the highlight and the ravioli with a tarragon butter sauce just melts in the mouth and id delicious. One of our favourites.
For the more refined guests, a visit to No Escape is a must and situated right in the heart of the old Chamonix town. l’Amnesia is also worth a visit, situated near to the l’Aiguille du Midi Cable Car. Locals however are more likely to head for the White Hub situated across the square from Bar d’Up to party well into the morning.
Getting Around The Valley
When selecting your chalet ski holiday in Chamonix it is worth considering its location. Some chalets can be quite a distance from the piste or away from the nightlife. This said, some of our chalets offer a driver service and there is a very good free bus and train service that run frequently between ski areas and villages.
Considered by many as the mountain capital of the world, Chamonix has so much to do. The luge (toboggan) is a firm favourite with all ages as is the horse and sledge ride or husky sleigh ride.
Tandem paragliding is offered all year round, and there is the l’Aiguille du Midi cable car, at 3,842m Europe’s second highest for amazing views of Mont Blanc, or the Montenvers railways for the spectacular Mer de Glace and the ice caves that are cut into the glacier.
Ice climbing is a popular favourite with the sportier ski mountaineers and there is also two excellent climbing centres, as well as indoor squash and tennis courts, gymnasium and a large swimming pool (and childrens pool adjacent).
Chamonix Ski Piste Maps
Chamonix Mont Blanc is situated in France on the Swiss and Italian border, underneath Western Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc. Just 1 hour and 15 minutes drive from Geneva Airport, 1 hour 45 minutes from Champery, and 2 hours 15 minutes from Lyon Airport.
The Chamonix Valley is made up of four main areas, Les Grandes Montets, Brevent and Flegere, Les Houches and Le Tour (also referred to as La Balme) and Vallorcine. There is also the high mountain off-piste skiing known as the Vallee Blanche that starts at the top of the l'Aiguille du Midi:
Chamonix Valley Ski Area:
World class skiing, and not just for experts as many would lead you to believe, with Les Houches, Le Tour and Placards ideal for beginners and intermediates, this mecca really does offer a unique and very special ski holiday:
Vallée Blanche and L'Aiguille du Midi Ski Map:
The world famous Vallee Blanche is a spectacular glacier ski route that starts at 3,842m and with weather and conditions permitting provides 17km of spectacular skiing and scenery, and 1,700m of descent. Competent and experienced skiers only and advisable with a guide (see note below).
Please note: If venturing from the public viewing area on the l'Aiguille du Midi, that the terrain is high mountain glacier skiing and a suitably Qualified Mountain Guide (e.g. IFMGA) is strongly recommended. Being high altitude we recommend that skiers and non-skiers should be fit and relatively healthy (young children and pregnant women not recommended) to ascend. Also please note that temperatures may be considerably colder at the top than the valley floor so be prepared just in case by taking appropriate layers and clothing.
Non skiers will love the viewing platforms off the top and the close and amazing views of Mont Blanc before descending back down the cable car (as will skiers as they catch their breath before the fabulous Vallee Blanche ski home):
Grands Montets Piste Map:
The world famous Grands Montets, situated above the village of Argentiere in the Chamonix Valley, has featured on numerous ski movies and once you've skied it you will understand why. Not an area we would recommend for beginners, competent intermediates will enjoy its challenging runs, advanced skiers will simply love the challenging on and vast off-piste terrain:
Brevent and Flegere Piste Map:
South facing, opposite the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc mountains, the skiing is excellent for intermediates and experts who are looking for a day in the sun with probably the most spectacular views to be found in the sun:
Les Houches Piste Map:
Les Houches offers some great skiing for beginners and intermediates and is probably the best place to ski for young families with its confidence boosting blues and reds. It also has the famous Piste Verte, home of the Kandahar FIS World Cup downhill, arguably the 2nd most challenging downhill ski event after Kitzbuhel's Hannekahm:
Le Tour Piste Map:
Great for beginners and intermediaries on the piste, with great skiing off-piste for experts, Le Tour is a great place for mixed ability groups (please note that we recommend experts venturing off-piste should have the competent skills and experience or do so with a qualified guide - some out of bound areas have risks of avalanche):
Chamonix Planard Nursery Slopes and Piste Map:
Home of the Chamonix FIS World Cup Slalom event, Planard is situated 250m from the town centre and offers floodlit skiing for major events. It has a great nursery area, and a blue and red to practise on as skiers progress. Particularly ideal for beginners staying close to the centre of town: