Chamonix Mont Blanc

Haute-Savoie, French Alps

Chamonix’s reputation attracts countless advanced skiers from throughout the world.

Its dramatic setting, dominated by l’Aiguille du Midi (3482m) is just a few km from Switzerland, while the 11.6km Tunnel du Mont-Blanc offers rapid access 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 of cable-car crossing snow-covered valley, showing ski pistes and mountains.

The Ski Area

It’s big, and will both surprise and confuse you during your first visit. Thinking of it not as one ski area but several, spread along both north and south sides of the valley, will help you make sense of it all and find your ideal terrain. Here’s how it breaks down:

Aproach from Lyon, Geneva, etc., and the first area you’ll encounter is Les Houches. Hugely underrated, it offers lots of intermediate terrain, including some surprisingly long drops through the tree line, both back to the village and above neighbouring Saint-Gervais. Then there’s the legendary Kandahar World Cup Grand Slalom descent.

Next, and closest of all to Chamonix is the Brévent area, accessible via a gondola lift to mostly south-facing intermediate terrain at Plan Praz (1999m), with an onward cable car to Le Brévent (2525m) – for advanced skiers only. The same goes for the world-famous Vallée Blanche — a classic 20km off-piste descent with around 2700m vertical drop. It’s accessible via the sensational Aiguille du Midi cable car, on the opposite (south) side of the valley

Beginners aren’t forgotten, however. Les Planards (S of the village centre) and Le Savoy (just to the N., with a draglift to the Brévent gondola lift) are safe, dedicated debutant areas.

Next along the valley is the cable car serving the Flégère area (1877m), with an onward chairlift to 2525m. There’s also a cable car link to Le Brévent – useful when high winds have closed the Flégère cable car. The combined terrain is mostly red- and blue-graded, although there are a couple of greens.

Around 6km further on lies Argentière, whose new gondola lift provides a first-stage haul up to 2138m. Transfer to a cable-car and you'll be transported to 3275m to explore the world-famous (mostly ungroomed) Grands Montets area. The scenery is sensational and the terrain is graded red or black, so it’s strictly for advanced skiers or confident, experienced intermediates. If you don’t feel up to it there are some blues at Plan Joran plus an enjoyable (if occasionally icy) red back to the village.

Opening in Dec 2018, a new 6-seater chairlift "Tabé" will replace two former lifts and transport over 3000 skiers per hour up to the mid-station at Lognan (1900m). Here, Grand Montets have addressed the notable lack of beginners' slopes with the development of a new area which includes two drag–lifts and snow cannons.

Just beyond Argentière a right-hand fork is signed to Le Tour (1462m). Beside the village is a gentle beginner area (La Vormaine), while the Charamillon gondola will drop you 1850m. An onward chairlift heads up to the blue- and red-graded pistes of Les Autannes (2195m). One of the Blue links (Le Col) passes the Plan des Reines chairlift, which will haul you to Tête de Balme (2250m).

From here a red-graded zig-zag through the tree-line (or a nearby gondola descent) drops in on Vallorcine. The Chamonix valley’s final ski area is also the most recently developed, with lots of new skier accommodation. While its own gondola-served ski terrain is effectively return runs, onward lifts offer speedy access to many more between Tête de Balme and Le Tour.

To sum up: It all sounds spread out and it is, but getting around the valley is easier than you might imagine, thanks to efficient shuttle buses and a perfectly viable rail option — those staying in the valley are offered a Carte d’Hôte giving free travel on buses and trains.

Resort Information

Altitude : 1035m - 2525m
Chamonix
Pistes Total:
56 km
Bar chart showing percentages of ski piste grading/difficulty
6 Green
9 Blue
4 Red
3 Black
Ski Resort Lifts : 19
1 Magic Carpets
5 Draglifts
8 Chairlifts
1 Gondolas
3 Cable Cars
1 Funicular
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: 63
2 Magic Carpets
18 Draglifts
23 Chairlifts
8 Gondolas
8 Cable Cars
3 Funicular

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Chamonix town centre with snow

The Ski Village

Once a humble farming community, Chamonix is today a medium-sized town, yet somehow the village feel lives on in the predominantly locally-owned businesses. Big-brand boutiques are there too (along with a slightly incongruous casino), but there’s also a tangible pride in being a part of this remarkable place. Chamonix is like nowhere else.

As it edges ever further upmarket property values climb relentlessly, thanks to an international reputation and an incomparable setting among some of the most dramatic scenery the Alps have to offer. Despite the glitz and glamour Chamonix remains above all the spiritual home of mountain activities with something for everyone, at all levels and whatever the season.

Les Houches has its own chalet-style charm, steadily-growing accommodation but limited dining-out potential (so you’ll end up heading into Chamonix). Beyond “Cham’”, rubbing shoulders with the Golf Club de Chamonix is Les Praz, with a pleasing village feel and access to the mountain via the Flégère cable car.

Further up the valley, Argentière has a friendly, self-contained vibe which has many aficionados, particularly among advanced skiers. Le Tour is predictably slightly more remote-feeling, but preserves a pleasingly down-to-earth Savoyard identity. Much the same can be said for Vallorcine, which despite the volume of recently-added apartment accommodation, remains a year-round working community.

Staying There

Value for Money Accommodation Dining Out Nightlife Village Charm

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Two skiers starting piste beside chairlift, with clouds and snow-covered mountains.

Best For

Chamonix is infectiously cosmopolitan and attracts skiers from throughout the world, keen to ski in the birthplace of winter sports. You can ski (or shop) to your heart’s content here, although if you’re really going to get the best from the lift pass you’ll need to be a confident all-mountain skier. Locals will tell you that it’s not overly demanding, but piste grading here can sometimes be optimistic, some blues having red-style challenges. Chances are you’ll return a better skier.

That said, there are some super-gentle debutant areas, and at the other end of the scale, endless off-piste opportunities.

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Skiing There

Beginners / Families Intermediates Advanced / Expert Mountain Scenery

Snowboarding

Boarder cross, speed-riding and Mont-Blanc legend family area at Flegere, Big Air Bag at Brevent.
1 Snowparks
1 Snowboarder Cross


Cross-Country Skiing

Red, blue and green pistes starting a few minutes from the town centre. Ski Pass gives entry to ice-skating or swimming pool.
20km Cross-Country and Nordic Ski Trails

Handiski...

  • Les Houches is a popular destination for Handiski, with wide slopes and relatively quiet pistes. One of the first schools to teach Handiski, ESF Les Houches offers lessons for any age and disability, in partnership with the Loisir Assis Evasion association.
  • Chamonet.com offers guides for lift access etc.
  • ESF Chamonix extends a warm welcome and has a full range of equipment plus specialist instructors.
  • Chamonix town centre is mostly pedestrianised. The Mulet shuttle bus, ski buses and trains are wheelchair accessible.

icon-smileyYes please...

  • No-limits skiing for those with the skills and the nerve.
  • Free wi-fi access at key locations.
  • There are lots of other activities and sites to visit.
  • Dedicated beginner areas close to the town centre, plus a safe freestyle area at La Vormaine.
  • Skiing to suit all levels but do your homework on which area will suit you best before you book.
  • Easy transfers from Geneva airport or TGV high-speed rail connection into Saint-Gervais Le Fayet, then Mont-Blanc Express.

icon-frowneyYes but...

  • Chamonix itself is a premium destination, with premium prices.
  • Although well-connected, the valley covers a large area and most ski areas are not linked, something to bear in mind when choosing your accommodation.
  • Chamonix is susceptible to high winds and subsequent lift closures.
  • Ski buses can get overcrowded at peak times of the day.

icon-winkingOur Tips

  • You'll find free parking in the Planards car park, near the Montenvers Tramway station.
  • Use your Carte d’Hôtes (available from your accommodation provider) to enjoy excellent free public transport to access ski areas throughout the Chamonix Valley.
  • Check there’s a convenient bus stop near your accommodation.
  • 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.
  • To avoid disappointment, visit the Aiguille du Midi on a fine, clear day — and book your visit in advance to avoid 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
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 Martigny, just over the Swiss border.

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

Tried and testedAiguille du Midi

100, place de l'Aiguille du Midi
74400 Chamonix

Visitors looking at Mont-Blanc from observation deck, Aiguille du Midi, above Chamonix, French Alps.

Winter tarif 57€ return or included free on the Mont-Blanc Unlimited pass
Ride the world's greatest cable-car – a sensational two-stage haul all the way up to 3842m. Then step out into a different world, and gain a healthy respect for the people who work on the high mountain. In winter or summer you’ll gaze in awe at the snow-covered summit of nearby Mont-Blanc. There’s also a panoramic bar/restaurant, souvenir shop and displays of archive photographs celebrating the lift.


Tried and testedMontenvers Mer de Glace

35, place de la mer de glace
74400 Chamonix
Winter tarif 30.50€ adult return or free with Mont-Blanc Unlimited pass

View of tramway at Mer de Glace gare, Chamonix

This classic rack railway begins beside the Gare SNCF de Chamonix and winds its way up to the celebrated Mer de Glace, where you can view the glacier and even walk down to an ice-cave under it. These days getting down requires a gondola lift descent, followed by 430 steps down a series of steel stairways fixed to the rocks. It's an adventure, after which you can browse for souvenirs, revive your energy levels with drinks and snacks or enjoy a restaurant meal while awaiting the return train.


Tried and testedTramway du Mont Blanc

80, avenue de la gare
74190 Le Fayet or
571, Rue du Mont-Lachat
74170 Saint-Gervais
Le Fayet - Bellevue 30.50€ adult return or free with Mont-Blanc Unlimited pass

Mont-Blanc Tramway car on snow-covered mountainside at Les Houches

Ride this historic tramway (France’s highest mountain railway) from Le Fayet or Saint Gervais up to the Col de Voza and 1794m Bellevue in the heart of the Les Houches ski area. Choose a clear day (check the webcams) to enjoy fabulous views.


Musée Alpin

La résidence,
89 avenue Michel Croz
74400 Chamonix
Tel: +33(0)4 50 53 25 93

This excellent museum’s collections retrace the development of Chamonix, from the arrival of the very first tourists, including a celebration of the Alpine activities which have made the town world-famous. Entry 5€.


Where to stay

Tried and testedLes Balcons du Savoy

179 rue Mummery
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc

View across snow to Balcons du Savoy chalet-style apartments

Les Balcons du Savoy occupy a commanding position 5-10 minutes walk from the north of Chamonix town centre. There are nursery slopes very close to the residence with drag-lift access to the Brévent gondola lift. Given the right conditions, there’s doorstep skiing. Nearby bus stops (short uphill walk back to the residence) bring access any part of the valley skiing without driving.
We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment with a panoramic view across Chamonix to the Aiguille du Midi. and balcony. There’s a separate kitchen with microwave, hob and dishwasher plus adequate pans and crockery. The lounge has a sofa bed, TV (English channels available) and DVD player, plus access onto a balcony equipped with table & chairs. There’s a separate WC and bathroom with bath and overhead shower. Free WiFi access throughout the residence.
If you wish you can order a buffet breakfast, served in the bar next to reception, cost 12€ per person/8€ child. Massage and beauty treatments plus hammam are available in the spa & pool area.
It’s a 5 minute walk to a supermarket, and there’s an excellent boulangerie a couple of minutes’ walk away.
Underground parking has lift access to all apartment levels.

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


Where to Eat

Tried and testedLa Calèche

18 Rue du Docteur Paccard
74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
Tel: +33(0)4 50 55 94 68

High interior view of traditional Savoyard restaurant with diners

For once the ‘authentic Alpine style’ description has real meaning — this renowned restaurant has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1946. The food and the service are exemplary, and the cosy decor features a museum-like collection of Alpine ephemera from a bygone age. We loved it.


Casa Valerio

88 rue du Lyret
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 55 93 40

Great atmosphere, superb service and award-winning pizzas at this authentic Italian restaurant (they have an excellent Italian deli next door which is worth a visit). Reserve a table, as the restaurant is deservedly very popular.


Le Bergerie de Planpraz

Brévent / Flégère ski area
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 05 42

Side view of Bergerie Planpraz mountain restaurant with fresh snow

The restaurant offers a snack bar or restaurant with a fabulous terrace offering some of the best panoramic views over the valley. We’ve been there winter and summer and it’s truly spectacular on a clear day. Accessible from the mid-stage of the Brevent gondola at Planpraz, it’s also an attractive lunch option for non-skiers who can get a return gondola ride and lunch for 32€. For a pause from skiing go to Le Comptoir on the lower floor – espresso coffee 2€, and sandwiches & snacks from around 5€. Restaurant meals including local specialities cooked over a wood fire are served in a cosy dining room on the upper floor.


Insight: Chamonix

Overview of skiers converging on Le Cornu chairlift in Chamonix, with wooded mountainside

Insight: Chamonix

Le Brévent – Chamonix’s home ski terrain

Today we’re setting off to ski the Brévent area, the closest high-altitude skiing to our apartment and to Chamonix itself, being located just above the town and accessible via the powerful 8/10-seater Planpraz gondola lift. The last time we were here things were very different, with a memorably hairy ride up in old, cramped ‘egg’-style cabins, but back in 2009 the whole installation was upgraded. It’s still an impressively steep haul, though, but faster and much smoother, after which we step out onto the mostly south-facing terrain at Plan Praz (1999m).

From here advanced skiers can take a vertiginous cable-car ride up to Le Brévent (2525m) for sensational views of the Aiguille du Midi and the massif du Mont-Blanc, plus a single black-graded scenic descent made even more interesting by having two of its intermediate sections dividing briefly into alternative routes. They reunite before joining either a green piste back to Plan Praz or an onward blue over to the Cornu sector. Snow permitting, you can then ski a black (Nants) all the way back to the floor of the valley or the base of the Planpraz gondola.

For now we decide to pass on Le Brévent’s black terrain and instead explore some of the intermediate runs before the imminent arrival of this morning’s Sunday skiers. Thanks to the previous night’s copious snowfalls we float off silently on fresh powder, and lay tracks on Vioz and Blanchots, two blues which drop us neatly at the base of the Cornu chairlift (1814m). The high-speed six-seater serves three steep Red pistes, with the option of a detour on an even steeper Black (Bouquetins).

Group of skiers leaving top station of Planpraz gondola ski lift
Overview of Brevent cable-car arriving at Plan Praz

From Brévent over to Flégère

After enjoying overviews of skiers tackling with varying degrees of success the more demanding descents found up here, we reach the 2333m top station and opt for the red-graded Charlanon. After a brief schuss we make a tight right-hand turn, which fires us down onto an unexpected and impressively-steep wall. In Chamonix it really does pay to expect the unexpected, a thought we ponder while powering our way down the sharp drop which eventually eases before passing the arrival points of a couple of chairlifts. A final tight left turn, still on Charlanon, puts us on a blue-graded run which takes us through startlingly beautiful scenery down to the Liaison cable-car linking the Brévent area with that of Flégère.

Once safely across the void we’re skiing for just a few seconds before joining the Evettes chairlift for a smooth haul through the tree-line and up all the way to the base of the muscular Index six-seater chair (1892m).

For reasons not immediately obvious Index is resolutely closed to skiers when we arrive. It’s a blow, since this key lift heads all the way up to 2405m for a choice of red- and black-graded descents (with a little help from the topmost Floria draglift), all with some pretty incredible views to the distinctive slender peaks on the opposite side of the steep-sided valley. Hopefully it’ll be accessible next time we’re here.

Not that it’s all harcore stuff; if something a little gentler is more your style, just a short distance up ahead lie a couple of chairlifts serving mostly blue- and green-graded pistes (a welcome sight for post-debutants based down in Les Praz).

High view of ski pistes on mountainside with valley and mountains
Wide view of skiers and skis outside mountain snack bar in Flegere ski area.

A storm blows into Flégère

It’s just above this exposed spot that we discover that not only the Index chairlift but also the Flégère cable car bringing skiers up from the valley floor are closed, and we’re about to find out why. At any other time we’d have passed by the slightly unappealing-looking Tendance Foehn snackbar/takeaway but high winds are now starting to whip up the snow and firing it at our faces like needles, so it doesn’t take long to decide to dive in for quick chocolat-chauds and let the storm blow through before we think of heading back over to the less-exposed Brévent sector. This looks like it could be a wild one. It can happen here, sending skiers further down the valley to the more sheltered, tree-lined pistes of Les Houches. Right now that has definite appeal.

Happily, after stepping back out into the wind-chill and pointed our skis back towards the cable-car, we’re amazed to find that the return run on the blue-graded Évettes turns out to be quite literally a breeze, since it’s reassuringly sheltered, to the point where we wouldn’t have believed how conditions could differ so dramatically in adjoining areas. It also illustrates why it pays to keep a watchful eye on forecast conditions (and lift closures) around the valley when deciding where to head for your day’s skiing from Chamonix.

See our individual Resort Review pages for Argentière, Les Houches and Vallorcine & Balme ski areas in the Chamonix Valley. MountainPassions heart icon