Wide view of Vallorcine, showing gondola ski lift and valley

Vallorcine

Chamonix Mont-Blanc, Haute-Savoie, French Alps

Just 2km from the Franco-Swiss border, at the upper end of the world-famous Chamonix Valley.

Efficient rail and shuttle-bus links to other local resorts including Chamonix (20km), from which the Tunnel du Mont-Blanc offers quick hops over to Courmayeur in Italy’s Aosta Valley.

Road access from the UK is straightforward via Geneva, with a non-autoroute option from Lyon via Chambéry Savoie Mont Blanc and Albertville.

Wide view down ski piste, with forest and mountains above Vallorcine

The Ski Area

The Chamonix Valley is big, and can be confusing to first-timers, so if that’s you then be sure to head over to the Ski Area description in our Chamonix Resort Review for a quick grounding in where the areas are and what they offer.

If you’re an intermediate skier based in Vallorcine then a quick haul on the 8-seater Télécabine de Vallorcine (the resort’s sole lift) will get you straight to the blue-graded Les Esserts (shown above). As you’ll see, it’s wide and sheltered by pine and larch forests, and connects with the base of a chairlift up to the 2250m Tête de Balme, from which you can choose between red- or blue-graded pistes over to the Les Autannes sector or down to Charamillon (1850m). From there a red-graded descent (or a gondola ride) with take you down to Le Tour (1462m).

Most of the skiing is above the tree-line, which means you have inspiring views down the valley. At the end of the day you need only ski the upper section of Les Esserts to join the gondola for a smooth ride back down to the village, or continue past the gondola to reach a long, red-graded piste which snakes its way down through woodland to a point just across the railway tracks from the gondola.

On the other hand, novice skiers will be taking a ski-school shuttle-bus to and from the safe, dedicated facilities at nearby La Poya. There’s more round at Le Tour, with direct access from the village.

Resort Information

Altitude : 1453m - 2270m
Vallorcine / Balme
Pistes Total:
29 km
Chart showing ski piste difficulty at Vallorcine, as percentages.
12 Blue
11 Red
Ski Resort Lifts : 8
4 Draglifts
2 Chairlifts
2 Gondolas
Chamonix Mont-Blanc
Pistes Total:
>170 km
Piste grading/difficulty for Chamonix Valley ski areas
11 Green
33 Blue
32 Red
13 Black
Ski Domain Lifts: 60
2 Magic Carpets
15 Draglifts
23 Chairlifts
8 Gondolas
8 Cable Cars
3 Funicular

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Wide view of village, showing ski apartments, river, gondola lifts and snow-covered valley

The Ski Village

If the name of Vallorcine doesn’t sound instantly familiar that’s because until relatively recently it was just a peaceful farming community at the upper end of the valley, close to the border with Switzerland. What changed everything was the construction in 2004 of a high-speed gondola lift (with a sizeable apartment-style accommodation development right beside it), which suddenly brought direct access from the valley to the pistes of the established family ski areas of Balme and Le Tour.

Things took off slowly at first, but as more skiers began to discover it (not least day-visitors who came via the rail link from Argentière, Chamonix and Les Houches) Vallorcine’s accommodation began to fill. A few seasons later this new-found popularity prompted the contruction of many more self-catering apartments and a stylish chalet-style bar/restaurant. What was always there, of course, was the cosy buffet of the Gare SNCF rail station. In winter it’s deservedly popular hangout for skiers, and in summer is equally welcoming to walkers, cyclists, etc.

As far as shopping is concerned, however, if you’re self- catering then you’ll find pretty well all you need in the self-service Super U in Argentière.

Staying There

Value for Money Accommodation Dining Out Nightlife Village Charm

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Two skiers and snowboarder beside gondola ski lift above Vallorcine

Best For

For anyone looking for a natural, unpressured setting from which to ski the Chamonix Valley, then this should fit the bill, as long as they’re prepared to drive or (the better option) use the free shuttle buses and train.

It’s also a solid choice for families with novice skiers, who will be transported by the ski school to and from nearby La Poya – a safe, friendly beginner area.

Intermediates will love the wooded lower runs, although before long the views along the valley from above the tree-line will tempt them to explore a lot more terrain elsewhere.

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Skiing There

Beginners / Families Intermediates Advanced / Expert Mountain Scenery

Snowboarding

High altitude snowpark for beginners and advanced with freestyle area
1 Snowparks


Cross-Country Skiing

From Vallorcine or Le Buet, unspoilt pistes among forest and hamlets.
8km Cross-Country and Nordic Ski Trails

Handiski...

  • The Chamonix Tourist Office has a useful guide to adapted facilities including accommodation, access, activities and transport.
  • The ESF in Argentière have a qualified Tandem ski instructor who also offers a ski-taxi service to help anyone discover the Le Tour / Vallorcine area.
  • The most established area in the Chamonix valley is on the relatively quiet pistes at Les Houches where the ESF ski school have a number of instructors and a good range of equipment.

icon-smileyYes please...

  • Less-pressured, alternative base from which to ski the Chamonix Valley
  • Modern gondola lift brings access to the pistes above Balme and Le Tour
  • Efficient rail and shuttle-bus links between ski areas throughout the valley
  • The Carte Hôtes pass (available free from your local accommodation) which gives unlimited use of bus and rail services linking the ski villages.

icon-frowneyYes but...

  • Vallorcine can feel quite remote.
  • Chamonix has the boutiques, restaurants and nightlife.
  • Le Tour has the beginner facilities.
  • Mile-hungry skiers will get to know the transport system.

icon-winkingOur Tips

  • Free access to La Poya family ski area in Le Buet when you purchase a Chamonix Le Pass or Mont Blanc Umlimited ski pass (min. 3 days)
  • Remember to ask your accommodation provider for you Carte d'Hôtes to enjoy excellent free public transport to access ski areas throughout the Chamonix Valley.
  • Visit the Tourist Office to get information about events, guides, places to visit and transport timetables.
  • Buy the right Chamonix ski pass for you - there's a useful guide to all lift passes and what they include on Chamonet.com Buy online to avoid the queues.

Practical Information

Getting there

By Car
For Dover-Calais ferry travel, other cross-channel routes, offers and bookings visit P&O Ferries

From the A40 Autoroute Blanche signs to Chamonix. You'll need chains or winter tyres especially if you are heading beyond Chamonix in the direction of Argentière and Vallorcine.

By air
The nearest airport is Geneva (88km) which can be accessed by bus or taxi. See SAT MONT BLANC which provide links between Geneva and Chamonix.

By train

Mont-Blanc Express train arriving at Vallorcine with falling snow

This couldn't be easier - travel by TGV direct from Paris to Saint-Gervais, then change to the Mont Blanc Express for stations throughout the Chamonix Valley to Vallorcine and beyond to Martigny, just over the Swiss border. There are two stations, one at Le Buet and another at Vallorcine.

Book your TGV fast train from Paris or Eurostar’s ski train direct to the French Alps with OUI.sncf

Transfers
Visit Ski-Lifts for the best range of ski transfer destinations from airports and main rail stations.


Things to do

Trapper Trips

74660 Vallorcine
+33 (0)4 50 54 60 69

For 8 to 12-year-olds. Supervised by a mountain leader, these events take place in the late afternoon and evening, and include animal tracking, igloo building and sledging. Equipment is provided.


Scenic Helicopter Trips

Chamonix Mont-Blanc Hélicoptères
Argentière
+33 (0)4 50 54 13 82

Helicopter flights over the Massif du Mont-Blanc mountain range. Prices from €75 to €200 per passenger.


Where to stay

Residence L'Ours Bleu

Vallorcine

Convenient central location just metres away from the Vallorcine gondola lift. Superb for visitors arriving by train as the station is also nearby. The Ours Bleu chalet style buildings contain 70 spacious apartments sleeping up to 10 people. Facilities include a leisure area with an indoor heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, WiFi and free outdoor and covered parking. For those who like fresh croissants in the morning, a daily bakery service is available.

Enquiries and bookings:
Peak Retreats
023 9283 9310 (UK)
reservations@peakretreats.co.uk.


Where to Eat

Le Café Comptoir

Chemin Rural dit du Plan de l’Envers
74660 Vallorcine

Skiers entering Le Comptoir restaurant at Vallorcine ski village, Chamonix Valley, French Alps.

Skiing in Le Tour, take the liaison to Les Esserts for a tree-lined run down into Vallorcine for lunch at this charming Savoie style chalet restaurant. Serving fresh seasonal produce, this recently established restaurant has quickly risen gained a following. Dishes start at 11€, or a three course lunch from around 18€.


Tried and testedL'Arrêt Bougnette

Avenue de la Gare
74660 Vallorcine‎
Tel: +33(0)4 50 54 63 04

Skis and snowboards outside Arrête Bougnette bar restaurant at Vallorcine

Just a few steps further across the railway line and on the way to the return gondola, you'll find this little gem of a bar restaurant serving delicious mountain food. Lunchtimes can be busy so best to book unless you fancy taking your chances.


Insight: Vallorcine / Balme

Wide view of two skiers from Vallorcine with overview of Chamonix Valley

Insight: Vallorcine / Balme

The last time we skied here involved taking the Chaumillon gondola lift from Le Tour, for the simple reason that back then Vallorcine was little more than a down-to-earth farming community (which it still remains for much of the year). There were, however, already clear signs that it was also about to become the Chamonix Valley’s newest (and probably final) ski destination. That was then. Now we no longer turn off the road towards Le Tour – in fact, this time we relax and peer at the snow-covered Vallée de l’Arve through the windows of the Mont-Blanc Express, which we’d joined at Chamonix.

When we reach the gondola we let the skis run all the way down to the Tête de Balme chairlift. This time we pull a tight left turn and settle into the long run down Forêt-Verte, sheltered by dense pine and larch forests…
Overview of gondola ski lift, ski-pass offices and apartments in Vallorcine
Wide view of two skiers beside top station of gondola ski lift, with piste signage above Vallorcine

On time and with impressive smoothness, the train glides into the retro gem that is the Gare de Vallorcine, after which it takes us just a couple of minutes to walk to the nearby gondola lift. Intermittent snowfalls mean that conditions are murky, but we’ve waited a long time to get back and while it’s skiable we’re up for it.

It’s a smooth and rapid haul up the mountainside, and after snapping back into our bindings we do what all skiers from Vallorcine do and ski the lower section of the blue-graded Les Esserts piste. In fact, there are two; turn right from the gondola and you’re on the ‘Variante’, or like us follow the main route by heading left. The two reunite around their mid-point for a final run to the foot of the Tête de Balme chairlift.

From here you can swing a sharp left onto the blue-becoming-red descent through the trees back to the valley floor, or ride the four-seater chair for a haul up to 2250m, the topmost point in the Balme/Le Tour ski domain. It’s another essential stage for skiers from Vallorcine, and in clear visibility the panoramic views from the top are quite something.

Today, though, we’re plunged into dense cloud well before we reach the top, and find ourselves skiing off the lift virtually blind. In conditions like these it’s all too easy to get completely disoriented, especially on wider pistes, but groping our way past successive piste markers enables us to find our way without mishap down the blue-graded Bêchat to the base of the Plan des Reines chairlift.

View of skiers on Esserts piste above Vallorcine
View past ski piste signage to snow-covered valley with clouds building

Just below it is handy drag-lift (‘l’Aiguillette’) which heads up to a ridge from which the top section of the Esserts piste drops down to the Vallorcine gondola. Since we’ve barely begun, time isn’t exactly tight, so we press on onto Retour Charamillon, another blue piste which drops back through the clouds en-route to the 1850m arrival point of our old friend the gondola up from Le Tour.

The clearer conditions down here mean we suddenly have a lot more skiers for company than would be the case in better weather, so we head into the on-mountain self-serve for an early lunch, which should find things calmer when we head back out (and everyone else is about to eat).

It seems to have worked when we re-emerge, so we take Les Caisets, a red-graded piste which winds its way down to the village of Le Tour. It feels very different from how we remember it (not least since the previous occasion was on snowblades..), but the valley overviews dead ahead are as impressive as ever, and a major part of the charm of skiing here.

At the bottom we jump in the gondola for a slightly leisurely ride back up (the lift is due for replacement soon), while we enjoy the scenery at the head of the valley. At the top we transfer to the Les Autannes chairlift for a ride up to 2195m, where we find the cloud base hanging stubbornly significantly lower. What’s more, there’s a chill wind blowing in from Switzerland (which begins just on the other side of a nearby ridge) and light levels are starting to drop even more.

Clearly, the weather forecasters were right in their predictions for a depression to move in during the afternoon, so we decide somewhat reluctantly to start making our way back to Vallorcine before things clamp down completely. The Liaison Balme is normally an easy blue-graded cruiser, but in fast-deteriorating conditions feels more like an adventure where it crosses a couple of pistes and a draglift before reaching the start of Esserts.

View of skier on piste among forest above Vallorcine
Rear view of snowboarders on piste into heart of Vallorcine

A few minutes into the run things have become clearer and we have the welcome shelter of woodland on either side, so when we reach the gondola we let the skis run all the way down to the Tête de Balme chairlift. This time we pull a tight left turn and settle into the long run down Forêt-Verte, which certainly penetrates dense pine and larch forests but is graded red (although take it easy and there’s nothing along the way which need deter blue-piste skiers unduly).

It looks good on the piste map, though, and doesn’t disappoint when you get to ski it at the end of the day, when it offers a sheltered and enjoyable alternative to a gondola ride.

Parting thoughts? Well, conditions prevented us from getting the kind of images which would do this place justice, but we can see just how well Vallorcine and Le Tour fit together. If the latter hadn’t got there first then its new neighbour would be claiming a lot more piste mileage, so we’d say don’t read too much into the stats alone. There’s great skiing here, with a whole lot more within easy reach, thanks to the superb local transport services.

Being this far up the valley creates a sense of remote detachment, and with less through traffic you sense you’re somewhere which hasn’t lost touch with its mountain community roots. MountainPassions heart icon