Chamonix Ski Area
Of Chamonix valley's six ski areas, only Le Brevent and La Flegere are lift-linked. It's a stroll across town to reach l'Aiguille du Midi which accesses the Vallee Blanche, but Les Grands Montets, Le Tour and Les Houches have to be reached by bus or train.
The Chamonix valley is a narrow yet profound trough through Europe's highest mountains and glaciers, measuring 23 km (14 miles) from the Col de Voza to the Col de Balme and separating the Aiguilles Rouges to the north from the Mont Blanc massif. The valley was created by an immense glacier at a time when the entire region was glaciated, with the present site of Chamonix buried under at least 1,000 m (3,281 ft) of solid ice. Glaciers, along with their dangerous crevasses, remain a striking feature of the Chamonix ski area and it comes as no surprise that the biggest of them, the Mer de Glace is the second largest glacier in the Alps after Switzerland's Aletsch glacier. For this reason, any serious off-piste skiing should not be considered without a guide.
For reasons of local politics Les Houches is not available on the main Chamonix ski lift pass and is often overlooked as a consequence - a shame because it offers some good tree-lined skiing, though its low altitude - 1,000 m (3,281 ft) rising to 1,900 m (6,233 ft) - can mean poor snow cover. If it were included on the main lift pass, it would serve as a nice alternative to Le Tour at the other end of the valley.
The diverse and separate nature of the ski areas does not really pose a problem as they are all worth skiing in their own right, unless you are in a mixed-ability group when you are likely to want to ski different ski areas. There is no doubt that the skiing in Chamonix is more heavily skewed to strong skiers than practically any other resort. Intermediates looking for lots of piste mileage will not find it here as in most areas the marked trails are kept to a minimum in order to preserve the off-piste terrain.
The predominately west-facing slopes of Le Tour are generally regarded as having the best intermediate pistes in the valley which have been further enhanced by the lift from Vallorcine. The tree skiing on the north/north-east face down towards Vallorcine is also well regarded, though it can be avalanche prone. One of the best runs in this area is the blue Liaison Balme (T13) which is a lovely long run from which you can either follow the circuit back to Charamillon or carry on down the T17/T19 through the trees to Vallorcine for an epic 8,000 m (26,248 ft) long run.
Les Grands Montets
Les Grands Montets above the village of Argentiere is the heart of the Chamonix ski area. Its steep, wide flanks are fantastic in powder and within a week will be covered in moguls to make it one of the best areas for bumps in the Alps. The skiing rises to a height of 3,275 m (10,745 ft), though access to the final cable car requires a small payment for every journey (you get two free uplifts on a six-day pass). It is becoming quite a popular option to stay in Argentiere and many people ski Les Grands Montets more than anywhere else. Most of the slopes face north or northwest and have the best conditions in the valley.
Le Brevent and La Flegere
The most scenic skiing in the valley is at Le Brevent and La Flegere, as from here you get sublime views of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix peaks. Even skiers who are not strong enough to make the descent from the top of Le Brevent (the run down is one of the steepest in the valley) should take a ride up the cable car on a clear day to check out this most iconic vision of the mountains. The two areas are linked along a south-facing flank and the skiing takes place above the tree-line between 1,900m and 2,400m. There are several picturesque runs hidden in the bowls: check out Combe de la Charlanon (B8) and Crochus (F13), a 4,500 m (14,764 ft)-long red which has been opened up by the addition of a short drag at the top of l'Index 2,385 m (7,825 ft) and drops down 750 m (246 ft) of vertical. Note that the cable car linking the two areas can be closed in high winds and there is a daily free bus links between Le Brevent and La Flegere, every half hour from 3:30 pm.
Les Houches, at the opposite end of the Chamonix valley to La Tour, is a honeypot for skiers in bad weather. It is the only area in the valley where there is treeline skiing. Surprisingly, it is the biggest single ski area in the area but as it is owned separately it is not covered by the standard Chamonix ski pass. Les Houches has some of the easier runs in the Chamonix valley, and has the best nursery slopes in a resort renowned for its difficult runs. At the other end of the scale is the legendary Verte run, which hosts Chamonix's Kandahar World Cup Downhill race every January.
The Vallee Blanche
The final ski area comprises the off-piste routes down the famous Vallee Blanche from the top of Aiguille du Midi. It's one of the most common reasons for people to come to Chamonix and, despite the crowds, is certainly a must-ski. More information on this can be found in the off-piste section.
Chamonix Ski Lifts & Passes
The Chamonix Valley lift system has over 40 ski lifts and is busy all year round. The worst areas for queues is the Grands Montets lifts above Argentiere (reserve a place online in advance). The expensive Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass covers everything in the valley and a lot of neighbouring resorts but there are other cheaper passes too.
Chamonix's ski lift system leaves a lot to be desired and although improvements are underway, progress is slow and queuing is a major problem. The lift system includes 7 cable cars, 4 gondolas, 17 chairlifts (including 10 older fixed-grip chairlifts) and 13 surface lifts. Most of the lifts are old and slow; nowhere near the standard of other leading ski resorts such as Val d'isere or St Anton, and yet Chamonix lift passes are relatively expensive.
Most Chamonix ski lifts open in early December. Le Brevent, La Flegere and La Tour generally close by the end of April, with the lifts on Les Grands Montets staying open into early May if snow conditions are good. Skiers and snowboarders invariably grumble about the long queues found at the bottom of the four base stations (Le Brevent, La Flegere, La Tour and Les Grands Montets). While the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc has begun an overhaul to replace slow lifts and put in new links to ease bottlenecks, progress is slow and the fact that there are still too many old slow lifts is a problem.
Le Tour at the far end of the valley is reached by gondola from the small village of Le Tour, as well as from Vallorcine (another small village beyond Argentiere and over the Col de Montets). There are seldom queues other than on bad weather days when the whole valley descends to make the most of the tree-lined slopes.
Les Grands Montets base station is in Argentiere - catch a bus or train there or drive, though the free car park fills quickly. There are two lift choices - the busier cable car up to the Lognan mid-station or the Plan du Joran chairlift, which starts to the left of the cable car. The latter is always quieter, and colder, but often beats standing in line for the very popular cable car. One of the worst queues in Chamonix is at the mid-mountain station of Lognan for the Grands Montets cable car - when this opens, there is a rush to be in line, and that is despite the fact that many people will have lift passes that don't entittle them to ride the lift for free, so they will have to pay extra. You can reserve places and if necessary pay for tickets online at www.montblancnaturalresort.com/en/domaine-skiable-grands-montets .
Le Brevent and La Flegere, the only lift-linked areas, are connected by a cable car on the mountain. Le Brevent is the only ski area accessible from Chamonix itself - and surprisingly has the shortest queues, except at ski school rush hour. The base station is a short (uphill) walk from the town centre or drivers can pay to park in the multi-storey nearby. The base station lift to La Flegere is an old, slow cable car (which often closes in high winds) just a short walk from the small village of Les Praz or a bus ride from elsewhere in the valley. When queues snake inside the base station building the wait is at least half an hour and sometimes an hour or more.
The Vallee Blanche is reached by riding the Aiguille du Midi cable car up from Chamonix which takes you to the start of the infamously long off-piste descent..
Les Houches, a 10 minute drive from Chamonix, has its own ski lift system which has been improved by the installation of a modern gondola but the Bellevue cable car is still inadequate and both access lifts suffer from queuing in bad weather when Les Houches tree-lined slopes are especially popular. The chairlifts on the mountain are also slow.
Chamonix Ski Lift Passes
With so many options available, choosing a lift pass in Chamonix is a complicated business, but for experienced skiers wanting to ski the whole area the most popular ski pass is the Mont Blanc Unlimited. You will need a car, or be perepared to spend a lot of time on buses, to make the most of it though.
Mont-Blanc Unlimited (MBU)
Yes it's expensive but it covers enough skiing for a month, let alone a week. It covers all the Chamonix Valley (Les Grands Montets including the top lift, Le Tour, l'Aiguille di Midi, Flegere, Brevent, les Houches); plus Verbier, Nendaz and the rest of the 4 Vallees in Switzerland 9at least a 50% discount on day passes); plus Courmayeur in Italy on the other side of the Mont Blanc tunnel; plus the Evasion Mont Blanc Resorts including St Gervais and Megeve (this may require a small supplement/ extension - conditions change at short notice). There are also some important fringe benefits such as free use of the Mont Blanc tunnel (in a car only) or a free ride on the rather limited Chamonix-Courmayeur bus service and the more frequent Chamonix-les Houches bus service, and some less important benefits like discounted cinema tickets. For details and online purchases see: www.montblancnaturalresort.com/en/montblanc-unlimited .
Chamonix Le Pass
Gives access to all of Le Brevent, La Flegere, La Tour and Les Grands Montets, except the Lognan-Grands Montets cable car which can be paid for on a per ride basis, and to the Chamonix beginners' lifts. It does not cover the Aiguille du Midi but this again can be paid for on a per ride basis. Annoyingly, for reasons of politics rather than geography or logistics, it does not include Les Houches but a day pass to this area is not too expensive. This is probably the pass for most intermediates and near novices who have graduated from nursery slopes to get if they are staying in Chamonic for one week, although intermediates should budget for one trip up the Aiguille du Midi and down the Vallee Blanche which the pass will not cover. For details and online purchases see: www.montblancnaturalresort.com/en/chamonix-lepass
Les Houches Ski Forfait
This does what it says on the tin: IE: it covers les Houches ski area (2 black pistes, including the famous World Cup downhill course "La Verte des Houches", 12 red pistes, 5 blue pistes and 2 green pistes) and free access to the Tramway du Mont Blanc, the old rack and pinion railway going up the ski area from St Gervais. It also covers the SKICAMP winter sports entertainments area at the summit of the Prarion gondola near the Ecole chairlift which includes snow tubing, toboggan runs, zip lines, curling and village animation. Please note that although some people call it this the les Houches-St Gervais pass it does NOT cover the main St Gervais ski area which is on the other side of St Gervais and stretches over to Megeve which is covered by an Evasion Mont Blanc pass.
Theer are plenty of discounts for young skiers, old skiers, whole families, groups, early season, late season etc.
Special Beginners Passes
All the Chamonix valley nursery slopes except les Houches are covered by the Chamonix Le Pass (and all the Les Houches ones are covered by the les Houches pass) but there are special offers to cover just the beginners lifts at Savoy (near the Brevent lift), Les Plannards (near the Aiguile du Midi lift) , Les Chosalet (near Argentiere/Grand Motets ski area) and La Vormaine (at le Tour) which is the best beginners area in the valley. You pay by either the half day or the full day. The new beginners area at Lognan (above Argentiere) built for the 2018/19 season and the beginners area at the top of Les Houches require you go up from the valley in a lift so you must have either the Chamonix le pass or les Houches pass
Compagnie du Mont-Blanc
35 Place de la Mer de Glace
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 4 50 53 22 75
Web: www.montblancnatural resort.com
Le Tour and Les Houches at opposite ends of the Chamonix valley are the best resorts to learn to ski. In Chamonix itself there are nursery slopes at Savoy and les Planards, and there is a new beginners area at Lognan above Argentiere but overall Chamonix is not ideal for beginners.
Beginner Skiing in Chamonix
Le Tour is the best village in the Chamonix valley for beginners, with nice nursery slopes next to the village and good runs to progress onto. At the other end of the valley les Houches has two good beginners' area - one at the valley level (Le Tourchet) and one at the top of its main lift.
In between les Houches and Le Tour are several inexpensive valley floor nursery areas serviced by short drag lifts. Because they are separate from the main ski areas, they are far from ideal if you are in a mixed ability group, because you will be split up from others in your group making it difficult or impossible to meet up for lunch. Also, apart from at le Tour the valley level nursery slopes can suffer from bad snow (because they are very low for ski slopes) but also be very cold as they are shaded by the towering mountains that hide the sun.
All the nursery slopes apart from those at les Houches are covered by the basic Chamonix pass. However you won't even need that for the valley floor ones because they have cheap day and half day passes which cover just these nursery slope lift(s).
Le Tour (La Vormaine) and Vallorcine (La Poya)
Beginners are best served by Le Tour where the La Vormaine area opposite the car park is perhaps Chamonix's best beginner area - it's usually bathed in sunlight and is sheltered from the wind for a start. There are three lifts of increasing size with two green pistes and a longer blue to tackle before you muster the confidence to go up the mountain.
There is a nice network of progressive blues which have been further opened up by the link from Vallorcine; the 3.2km Foret Verte (T19) blue down through the trees is a fine option. Other cruising runs in Le Tour to consider are L'Arve (T4), Liaison Balme (T13) and Les Marmottes (T7) all good for improving beginners.
Vallorcine has valley floor beginners slopes in the next door village of La Poya. Once you have mastered these you should take the bubble lift up (and down at the end of the day because the run back is a red) and ski over to le Tour on the gentle blues.
Argentiere / Grands Montets (Le Chosalets and Lognan beginners area)
A new beginners area was installed here at the mid mountain Lognan cable car station for the 2018/19 season. But there are only limited easy pistes to move onto because this is an area oriented towards advanced and off-piste skiers. The Marmottons (L7) blue is a possibility.
La Chosalets is a small beginners' area close to Argentiere. It is about 500m from the Lognan lift, so it's not easily accessible in ski boots. La Chosalets has two tiny pistes for beginners, which certainly are not worth the drive if you are not accommodated in Argentiere.
Chamonix: Le Brevent (Savoy)
At the bottom of the Planpraz telecabine there is a small nursery section for beginners called Savoy before they consider going up the mountain. For the more adventurous who simply want to get up the mountain the 2000 green (B3) can be accessed via the Altitude chairlift after Planpraz.
Chamonix: Les Planards
Close to the Aiguille du Midi cable car is another valley level ski area - les Planards. It tends to have better snow than Savoy but it can be very cold.
Les Praz/ Flegere
Flegere also has a few decent green runs, Trappe (F6) and Libellules (F7), which are accessible from the Flegere and La Trappe lifts. For those who have progressed beyond blue the Chavanne (F10) and the Liaison Chavanne (F11) and Liaison Flegere (F12) blues are easy enough.
Les Houches (Le Tourchet and Prarion/Ecole)
The Les Houches valley level ski area is called Le Tourchet. It's near the centre of town and has two drag lifts. There is another good beginners area at the top of the Les Houches ski area at Prarion around the Ecole ski lift, with plenty of easy blue runs to progress onto nearby. As the Les Houches ski area is not covered by the basic Chamonix lift pass (Chamonix Le Pass), this can make Les Houches more expensive to visit for novices staying elsewhere in the valley.
Ski Schools & Ski Lessons in Chamonix, les Houches and Argentiere
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Chamonix Intermediate Skiing
Chamonix offers intermediates some really exhilarating skiing and most of them are able to ski the Vallee Blanche, but if you are looking for hundreds of kilometres of well-groomed pistes and high speed lift connections then look elsewhere.
Strong intermediates should be comfortable skiing all of Chamonix's different ski areas, but the fact that most ski areas are not lift connected means that Chamonix is not a resort for those who like to cover vast distances of well-groomed pistes. If you like hundreds of kilometres of well groomed pistes for high speed cruising all day, there are plenty better places to ski, but if you want to test your skiing ability and have to work on your technique as you descend steep and narrow reds and blacks, Chamonix is the right place.
The place to start is Le Tour which has the some of the easies intermediate terrain; the blues are enjoyable and the reds are far easier than those in the rest of the ski area. Bear in mind that the short runs from the top of Aiguillette de Posettes get the first sun of the day.The Belle Place (T16) red through the trees is good for better intermediates, while the Ecuries (T3), Chatalet (T2) and Caisets (T1) join up to make one long red at almost 3km in length. There is snowmaking at the bottom, where it can also get crowded at the end of the day. The Esserts (T17) blue offers outstanding views of Mont Blanc at the top before winding through the forest. It links up with Belle Place.
The Grands Montets ski area is not for the faint-hearted, but intermediates can still have a wonderful time and make the step up when they are ready. La Pierre a Ric (L10) red is the ultimate carving piste with wide sweeping turns perfect for it up until mid afternoon when it starts to get busy. The Variante Hotel (L5) is an ungroomed red run that joins up with the Pierre a Ric. From there to the bottom it can often be one large mogul field so you had better like bumps. At the top of the Variante, the piste is a continuation of the Blanchot (L12) black, one of the easier black runs in Chamonix. It means that if you start at the top of Blanchots, which in turn is an extention of the black Pylons (L2), you can ski the whole of the Grands Montets descent. The twisting blue Les Arolles (L8) offers an outstanding view of the Chamonix valley and is perfect for those who want something a little less taxing.
Le Brevent and La Flegere
The slopes of Le Brévent have been redesigned to make them more intermediate friendly. The Combe de la Charlanon (B8) red at the top of the Col Cornu chairlift has a black variant and is perfect for intermediates looking to further their experience. La Flegere is home to many reds which would definitely be called blacks in most other resorts and the best runs are accessed from the top of the Index chairlift, with the Combe Lachenal (F12) red a particular favourite. The Crochues (F13) red is 4.5km long and is spectacularly free of human presence and stand opposite the Grandes Jorasses and the Mer de Glace, the longest glacier in France.
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.
Chamonix & Off-Piste Advanced Skiing
Most advanced skiers in Chamonix head for Argentiere’s legendary Grands Montets ski area, but Chamonix's other areas also provide testing skiing on piste and in good weather the off-piste skiing in Chamonix is virtually limitless.
Most of Chamonix's advanced skiing is off-piste but there are also some testing black pistes and ungroomed runs that are avalanche controlled, throughout Chamonix's different ski areas.
Le Tour is best for intermediates and often overshadowed by Les Houches in bad weather but it also offers some of the best tree skiing around including some advanced descents. What's more, Le Tour has historically one of the highest and consistent snowfall levels in France. The north facing flanks of Le Tour are home to another fabulous itinerary, the Emosson black (T18), while the red of Belle Place (T16) takes you over 2km to Les Esserts (T17). Both runs wind through pine and larch forest and provide some of the best tree cover in the Chamonix valley.
Argentiere's legendary Grand Montets has the most advanced terrain in the Chamonix valley. The Grand Montets area is reached either by cable car to Lognan or the high-speed quad to Plan Joran. All of the runs here are steep and narrow at some point and are all worth close scrutiny. The dividing line between piste and off-piste becomes blurred very quickly and the whole mountain is quickly covered in bumps - it is very popular.
The Bochard lift opens up much of the mountain including the Combe de la Pendant and Lavancher bowls, but be sure to ride the second stage cable-car to the top of the mountain 3,275m (10,742 ft) for spectacular views and the 100 metal step descent to the slopes.
Here you have the 1,000 m (3,281 ft) vertical of the Point de Vue black (L1) itinerary and its views across the Argentiere glacier or Pylones (L2), a similarly long black run which is often icy and usually bumpy. Both of these are an absolute must, but do not stray off on to the glacier without a guide - you have been warned!
Other black runs in the Grand Montets ski area to consider are the steep and 3.4km Chamois (L4), which gives sumptuous views back into the Lavancher bowl and the La Remuaz (L14), which is often cut up into bumps. Both are entirely dependent on the Retour Pendant chairlift so check it is open at the top of the Bochard gondola before you embark on either piste.
Le Brevent and La Flegere
Brevent and Flegere also have some great pistes. In the Brevent area the Charles Bozon black (B1/B1b) is all about the pitch and there is truly testing skiing across the flank. The Nants (B10) black is thin and winds down through the trees to the Planpraz gondola. As a result, it can get very busy in the afternoon as a route home and it also suffers from poor snow quality at the bottom. Great views though.
Flegere offers the Praz (F1) and Floria (F14) blacks, both long winding runs that are perfect for accessing some of Chamonix legendary off-piste. Praz takes you back to the valley floor. Although intermediate red runs, the Charlanon (B8) and Crochues (F13) are often ungroomed and provide a decent challenge. For those who like skiing in uncrowded surroundings, the Combe Lachenal (F12) red is the only run in the huge Lachenal gully that also provides good off-piste options.
The main draw for experts in Les Houches is the famed Verte black, which is the only piste approved for World Cup racing in the Haute Savoie. The Verte is surrounded by fir trees, which means the sun rarely gets to the snow making it icy. What's more, it is almost 3.5km in length, has an 870m vertical and a series of jumps including the well-known Cassure and the Goulet, but it's only difficult if you are skiing over 80kph like a pro. The likes of Didier Cuche and Alberto Tomba have done it in less than two minutes. Challenge accepted?
Skiing off-piste is a way of life in Chamonix with backcountry ski terrain to suit everyone from 'powder puppy' to 'extreme skier' including open slopes, couloirs, powder or spring snow (on the same day), cliff jumps, crevasses, the Valle Blanche and some of the most dramatic high mountain scenery imaginable, within an hour of Geneva airport.
Grands Montets,one of the world's top off-piste ski mountains, has plenty of off-piste terrain within easy reach of the pistes, but when venturing off-piste close to the pistes you still need to be aware of avalanche risks and other hazards. Les Houches is often best for skiing fresh powder in bad weather and Le Tour has some great terrain for learning to ski off-piste and includes some of the best tree skiing in the Chamonix valley. La Flegere has stupendous views of the Mer de Glace and the Grandes Jorasses and is worth visiting on busy powder days to introduce skiers to deep snow and when Grands Montets is too busy. Le Brevent has plenty of good off-piste skiing close to the lifts including short steep descents in the Brevent Col area which are great for practising your technique.
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 except that most of the ski lifts are old and slow, and queuing is too often a problem. The infamous Big Tit jump at La Flegere, just off the side of the main red run from the top of the Darth Vader lift (L'Index), is reputedly the biggest natural kicker in Europe. Le Brevent (linked to La Flegere by a low-level gondola) has some good on-piste and steep powder runs, the best of which are accessed from the top of the Col Cornu chairlift, and the runs beneath the Parsa chair are good for fast on-piste riding. There is also a boardercross at Le Brevent.
There is a snowpark with a half pipe accessed via the Marmottons, Tabe and Plan-Roujon chairlifts in Grands Montets. It is quite extraordinary at almost a 1 km long with around 20 jumps, rails and a wall. Crucially, it has a beginners' area which is perfect for practising without the more proficient watching on. For updates on new obstacles please visit www.ho5park.com
There is a snow park south of Chamonix covering much of the small resort Les Bossons (one chair lift and 3 pistes) which is privately owned and not covered on the normal lift pass (open afternoons and evenings for around 10 Euros a session), but there are not many big jumps and with so much amazing natural terrain on offer in Chamonix it is not really worth the effort.
For experienced boarders, however, the mountains of Chamonix open up like a picture book. While the infamous Vallee Blanche is mostly too flat for easy riding, there is plenty of good off-piste terrain; described in detail in Chamonix off-piste.
Chamonix Mountain Restaurants
Chamonix focuses on skiing, not eating on the mountain, and the choice on any given day is limited partly due to the distance between the various ski areas and partly by the poor quality of some mountain restaurants.
Given the wide separation of the major ski areas, you have to make do with the restaurants in the area you are skiing on any given day. The logistics of a group skiing the Grands Montets and meeting for lunch with an intermediate group skiing Le Tour are impractical, even though these areas are relatively close. Perhaps surprisingly in a resort that is a member of the Best of the Alps and so focused on the skiing, the mountain restaurants are often disappointing.
Most of Chamonix's mountain restaurants are self-service but there are some notable exceptions.
The Plan Joran is the Grand Montet's best restaurant though the Cremerie du Glacier, off the side of Pierre a Ric (L10) in the trees above Argentiere is a traditional small mountain restaurant that also offers excellent local food. The Chalet-Refuge off the beaten track at Lognan is also worth visiting and La Bergerie is your best bet in Le Brevent. The Col de Balme refuge offers a fine Plat du Jour in Le Tour, though there is a short but worthwhile walk to get there, and an even longer wait for service.
Plan Joran (Tel: +33 4 50 54 05 77)
The Plan Joran in Grands Montets is for proper dining and serves interesting food such as rabbit with foie gras, sucking pig and terrine of beef shank.
Chalet-Refuge (Tel: +33 6 88 56 03 54)
The Refuge at Lognan has a good terrace and is worth visiting but difficult to get to and therefore really only for good skiers as it is accessed by black runs or pedestrians via a cat-track.
Cremerie du Glacier (Tel: +33 4 50 54 07 52)
The Cremerie du Clacier serves hearty mountain food including fondues and giant omelettes which are very filling.
La Bergerie (Tel: +33 4 50 53 05 42)
Located at 2,000m, La Bergerie offers hearty meat dishes from a small but quite expensive menu. The plat du jour is inexpensive and often tasty.
Col de Balme (+33 4 30 54 02 33)
The Col de Balme is tricky to access as it involves hiking, although the leisurely walk back helps with digestion! Worth the effort and the plat du jour is worth the price.
Chamonix has an attractive, bustling old town centre, but parking is a problem. Chamonix is not the only base, however: the smaller, quieter ski stations of Argentiere, Les Houches, Le Tour, Vallorcine and les Praz offer a different style of resort life.
Chamonix Town and Les Praz
A large town on the valley floor, Chamonix is one of the most visited tourist destinations in France and was a centre of mountaineering long before it became a ski station. Nowhere could be further removed from the purpose-built ski resorts developed across France in the 1970s than the old town of Chamonix, with its narrow, cobbled and pedestrianised streets along the banks of the River Arve. This is the preferred place to stay in the valley, despite the fact that there are only two main lifts that emanate from within the town centre area.
To appreciate Chamonix for what it is you have to adjust your perception of what a ski resort means to you. For Chamonix is not your typical ski resort, but more of a base camp from where you can explore the different ski areas, not only directly within the confines of the Chamonix valley but also many of the other areas which are accessible on the Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass. Regardless of where you stay, some of your skiing days will inevitably involve taking a bus or car between the different ski areas and a car is highly recommended for complete flexibility.
The old town centre of Chamonix is attractive, but the fringes continue to grow with some unsightly apartments, and which with every passing year make the centre seem smaller. The atmosphere is of a bustling market town: there is a busy railway station, restaurants aplenty and a sense that day-to-day life goes on as usual while pleasure seekers hit the slopes above. Chamonix's living population is around 10,000 and the town receives more visitors during the summer months than in winter.
Getting your bearings is easy enough in the pedestrian centre, but arriving by car can be a challenge. If you are staying centrally, make sure parking is provided. For day visitors there are pay car parks to the south of the approach road and dotted around more centrally; there is also pay and display on-street parking, if you can find a space.
The Aiguille du Midi cable car station is the main bearing south of town centre; heading into town from here there is a good range of ski/mountaineering shops, many with ski and board rental, followed by increasing numbers of cafes, restaurants and bars as you near the middle of town. There is every sort of accommodation, and at almost every price point.
Heading out of town in a Nort West direction and going up the valley, you pass through the outer subsurbs of Les Nantes and Les Rosieres, until you reach the Golf Club at Les Praz. Its lift (Flegere) connects with the Le Brevent sector reached by the Plan Praz gondola rising from the centre of town. Les Praz itself is really just a part of a larger suburb/village called Les Bois The whole area is quiet and lacks its own identity, but it can be a convenient base for skiers who want to alternate between Chamonix and Argentiere.
The small village of Argentiere is the next most popular resort centre, where commerce and resort life is based along one main road which is lined with ski and food shops, bars and restaurants and with more accommodation in chalets and apartments than hotels. In contrast to Chamonix town, Argentiere feels more like a traditional ski resort with typical alpine charm. All facilities are within walking distance including access to the skiing. Les Grands Montets ski area is a five minute stroll from the ski resort centre while the easier slopes of Le Tour are an easy 10 minute drive away. There's a train link to Chamonix with a regular service running from early morning until early evening. Argentiere has everything you need for a week's ski holiday except for a decent nightclub.
Vallorcine and Le Tour
Vallorcine over the Col des Montets and 2 km from the Swiss border is growing in popularity with plans for a new resort centre and new property developments in the next few years. At present Vallorcine - and the neighbouring village of Le Buet - are embryonic ski resorts. Between them they have a couple of restaurants, a couple of local bars and limited accommodation in hotels and gites. The main attraction is the efficient and modern gondola lift link that takes skiers up to the back of Le Tour. Like Argentiere both are linked to Chamonix by train, a sometimes essential connection when heavy snowfall shuts the Col des Montets and cuts off the villages from the rest of the valley. On the other side of the the Col des Posettes, the small village of le Tour provides access to the same area.
Les Houches lies at the north end of the valley before you reach Chamonix on the motorway from Geneva. It is a linear resort centre, which develops year on year and it is home to many of the younger year-round residents who can't afford Chamonix's high property prices. One of two main access lifts out of the ski resort was upgraded with a new gondola at a cost of several million Euros, but the old cable car remains inadequate. There is plenty of accommodation in the resort and also in the satellite villages of Le Lavancher, Les Praz, Les Bossons, Les Tines and Montroc.
Chamonix Bars & Restaurants
Chamonix has an abundance of bars and a huge variety of restaurants serving every food type including Italian, Japanese, French, Tex-Mex, Indian and fine dining.
Restaurants in Chamonix
The Gault Milau-rated Le Chaudron is probably the best for local specialities though it is very small, so book ahead. Alternatively try La Bergerie or Le National. If you have overdosed on traditional Savoyard cheese dishes,Munchie is the perfect restaurant to visit excellent for Thai and modern European fusion that won't hurt your wallet. The fresh sushi served at Satsuki is another good alternative to Savoyard overload - the lunch-time menu is a bargain. The cooking at the Maison Carrier, the non-Michelin starred restaurant at the Albert Premiere, is also extremely good. For excellent fish dishes try the French formality of L'Atmosphere restaurant.
The Micro Brewery de Chamonix (MBC) is a good choice for more casual dining with a menu of burgers, Thai curry and pleasing appetisers. Often overlooked by the tourist crowds it is well-known by the guiding community and seasonnaire population so book a table before you go. Back in town Casa Valeria is the top choice for pizzas and pasta - the Dolce Vita next-door deals well with the over-spill of customers unable to get a table. If you can't quite handle a fondue for lunch the popular Bistrot des Sports does a good menu of salads and simple French dishes including a reasonably priced 'plat du jour'. There are plenty of places to take-away: from toasted sandwiches from Belouga, burgers and chips at Poco Loco, pizza from Pizza Salsa and kebabs at Cappadoce.
Chamonix restaurant listings
123 Place Balmat - Tel: +33 4 50 55 97 97
Classic French restaurant enjoying a river-side location, the entrance to L'Atmosphère is missable but shouldn't be missed. Diners are organized into two sittings.
56 Avenue Ravanel le Rouge - Tel: +33 4 50 18 47 26
Take-away for excellent hot sandwiches toasted in minutes and an ice-cream counter for warmer days.
232 Avenue Michel Croz - Tel: +33 4 50 53 45 04
A deceptively large Savoyard restaurant with enough room for big parties for fondue, raclette and meats grilled over an open fire.
Le Bistrot des Sports
182 Rue Joseph Vallot - Tel: +33 4 50 53 00 46
A French clientele, a menu of French staple dishes and service in the French style. Le Bistrot is the perfect place to escape the tourist hordes. The Ultimate ski team had an excellent lunch in there.
3 Route Salle - Tel: +33 4 50 53 20 04
Chamonix's only kebab shop.
79 Rue Moulins - Tel: +33 4 50 53 40 34
A small, sweet, family-run restaurant on the Rue des Moulins serving classic French & Savoyard dishes with room for a handful of lucky diners.
Address - Tel: +33 4 50 53 31 23
Tasty Tex-Mex restaurant and a laid-back atmosphere.
350 Route de Bouchet - Tel: +33 4 50 53 61 69
For burgers, beer and relaxed dining in this edge-of-town micro-brewery; it's best to book a table.
44 Route de Bouchet - Tel: +33 4 50 53 00 03
Maison Carrier in La Ferme - the annexe to the celebrated Hotel Albert 1er - offers classic French dining in a delightful rustic chalet setting. Pork dishes are a speciality, though leave room for the extensive cheeseboard and the delicious desserts. If you can afford the Albert 1er itself it will be one of the best meals you will have in your lifetime.
87 Rue Moulins - Tel: +33 4 50 53 45 41
Always reserve a table as Munchie is popular with locals and holidaymakers alike for its quality Asian and Scandinavian fusion food. Good alternative to the Savoyard cheese feast.
3 Rue Docteur Paccard - Tel: +33 4 50 53 02 23
Chamonix's oldest Savoyard restaurant and a landmark among the mountaineering community, the food and service at Le National is reliably good and well-priced.
215 Avenue Michel Croz - Tel: +33 4 50 53 96 90
Good pizzas served quickly with no option to sit-in.
47 Rue Doct Paccard - Tel: +33 4 50 53 43 03
A narrow strip of a restaurant serving tasty burgers and chips, including the ultimate American burger and chip butty combo. Take-away available.
288 Rue Joseph Vallot - Tel: +33 4 50 53 21 99
Fresh tasty Japanese sushi with a bargain lunch menu. Like Munchie the restaurant offers a good alternative to Savoyard fare. Satsuki has outposts in Megeve and Tignes. Also does take-away.
Restaurants and bars in Argentiere
Argentiere's few restaurants and bars heave in the peak season weeks and it is best to reserve a table at popular places such as The Stone Bar, which a popular choice for good pizzas and pub games with beer. The Office Bar by the Tourist Office is another hub of apres ski resort life in Argentiere, with the emphasis on beery socialising. The Rencard in the Commercial Galerie appeals to seasonnaires with its down-at-heel charm - and hot sandwich counter for lunch on the go - while The Rusticana, better known as Rusty, has a welcoming feel and also serves good food. For a slice of local life check out the traditional La Savoie Bar.
The Office Bar
274 Rue Charlet Straton, Argentiere - Tel: +33 4 50 54 15 46
Sunday roasts, tasty nachos and well-filled baguettes, the Office serves something to suit every taste plus live football and rugby on TV.
20 Galerie Grand Roc - Tel: +33 4 50 54 14 02
A funky venue in the Galerie Commercial with Wi-Fi internet access serving decent pizzas and take-away a hot sandwiches for lunch.
216 Rue Charlet Straton - Tel: +33 4 50 55 88 28
Open from 4pm and a good choice for pleasant apres ski, often with live bands, and a good menu for dinner later. Free Wifi.
La Savoie Bar
The Stone Bar
390 rue Charlet Straton - Tel: +33 4 50 54 13 17
The best pizza in the valley served in a buzzy, smoky atmosphere - bookings advised. Drinkers are welcome to sit at the bar; and there are pool tables in a separate room.
Other restaurants and bars elsewhere in the Chamonix Valley
Some of the best eating experiences are found away from Chamonix's town centre, in the outlying villages of Vallorcine, Le Buet and Les Praz. One of the nicest is La Ferme des Trois Ours over the Col des Montets in Vallorcine. Still a working farm - the cows live beneath the restaurant - diners choose between Savoyarde favourites and excellent beef dishes. Another good choice is Sarpé, tucked away in the woods behind Les Praz, and known by a lucky few for its wonderful menu, including a daily selection of fresh fish. Also in Les Praz, the restaurant at the Hotel Eden has a loyal following.
Plan de l'Envers, Vallorcine - Tel: +33 4 50 54 63 04
Only open at lunch-time, make the most of the limited hours to enjoy bubbling hot croutes, good salads and simple omelettes.
La Fermes des Trois Ours
Les Plans, Vallorcine - Tel: +33 4 50 54 63 06
A charming chalet-style restaurant with an open log fire and a large terrace for sunnier days offering excellent cooking and good value set menus.
Hotel Le Buet
Lu Buet - Tel: +33 4 50 54 60 05
While Le Buet will not win any prizes for decor, the simple dishes are tasty and good value.
Les Praz - Tel: +33 6 67 36 21 43
Sarpe in Les Praz is a simple room with a sophisticated menu. Local clientele are prepared to pay the relatively high prices for the wonderful cuisine.
Bars in Chamonix
There are over 30 bars open from late afternoon until the early hours. During the peak weeks of the ski season, the bars are full to over-flowing: at other times nightlife can be a surprisingly quiet affair. The Rue des Moulins was the centre of Chamonix's night-time entertainment until a fire in 2006 destroyed the popular Cybar and the Dick's T-Bar nightclub, as well as damaging the Queen Vic. Le Privilege escaped the fire and has established itself as the top choice for apres-skiers looking for a more refined place to drink. Bar'd Up, further down the Rue des Moulins, draws in the younger tourist crowds while Mix Bar has emerged from the ashes of the 2006 fire and serves good cocktails in a small but stylish property.
Away from the Rue, the cocktail bar at the Clubhouse is very laid-back chic but is members only, so either join up or befriend a member. Its main competition is Alpes Angels (formerly No Escape) which used to be a slick operation but is now a lap dancing venue that turns into a nightclub - great for stag and hen parties. The lovely art deco architecture of La Terrasse's first floor gives the bar a classier feel, in contrast to the more grungy ground floor. Along Rue du Docteur Paccard The Pub doesn't try too hard to be anything but is a pleasant place for a beer and a chat. Le Choucas just across the road has a very different feel to it altogether with a very male clientele. The South Bar is the heart of Cham Sud's social scene famous for its Swedish contingent and one of the few bars in the valley to have a more equal male to female ratio.
Chamonix bars listings
Rue des Moulins - Tel: +33 4 50 53 29 10
One of the few bars to survive the fire on the Rue des Moulins that took out Dick's T Bar in 2006, Le Privilege is a laid-back lounge bar serving good cocktails with low-key live music.
123 Rue Moulins -Tel: +33 4 50 53 91 33
Popular with Chamonix's younger crowd, Bar'd Up is good for most things: beer, bands, sports and fun.
90 Rue des Moulins -Tel: +33 6 11 14 96 71
Risen from the ashes of the 2006 fire, Mix Bar is a small, cool cocktail bar on the main drag open until 2am.
74 Promenade des Sonnailles - Tel: +33 4 50 98 42 20
This Alpine outpost of London and New York's Milk and Honey Bar offers good cocktails, decent music and a more bling crowd than you find elsewhere. Non-members need to go with a guest or go for dinner.
27 Route de la Tour - Tel: +33 4 50 93 80 65
Used to be No Escape cocktail bar and nightclub, but now has added cabaret into the mix. Chamonix's only pole dancing and lap dancing club which also promotes stag and hen parties.
43 Place Balmat - Tel: +33 4 50 53 09 95
A Jekyll and Hyde of a bar: music pumps out from the lively ground floor while the atmosphere in the first floor bar is more restrained.
215 Rue Docteur Paccard - Tel: +33 4 50 55 92 88
The Pub is Chamonix's little corner of England in appearance, drinks and clientele.
206 Rue Docteur Paccard - Tel: +33 4 50 53 03 23
Dark, dirty and full of fun, but don't expect to see many girls.
Place Edmond Desailloud - Tel: +33 4 50 55 43 07
Swedish-run with Swedes in front of, and behind, the South Bar is a fun place to warm-up before heading to the Garage nightclub.
Chamonix nightclubs listings
Nightlife dies down from about 1am unless you venture into one of Chamonix's nightclubs - with nothing much beyond 1am in Argentiere or the other smaller villages. Le Garage in Cham Sud is the biggest nightclub in the ski resort where it is easy to stay until the small hours. The music is what matters at La Cantina and it attracts a clubbier crowd than a typical ski resort nightclub. Another late night option is BPM.
52 Rue Moulins - Tel: +33 4 50 53 64 69
Theme nights, queues to get in, baguettes for late-night munchies… the 'Gay Rage' is Chamonix's quintessential night-club experience.
37 Impasse des Rhododendrons - Tel: +33 4 50 53 83 80
Regular guest DJs and dance-music lovers squeezed into a small space.
Address -Tel: +33 4 50 53 63 52
BPM is best known for its weekly Scandinavian party.
The apres ski scene in the Chamonix valley has an international flavour, but unlike many resorts most of the action takes places in Chamonix town or Argentiere rather than on the mountains.
Chamonix's apres ski has a metropolitan feel, with English, Swedish and French bars. This is not the lively ski-boots-on apres ski scene found in Austria - the detached nature of the ski areas means there is no natural meeting point for drinking at the end of the day's skiing.
Chamonix really wakes up later in the evening when ski boots are off. In the meantime Chambre Neuf, near the SNCF train station is the best bet for happy hour prices, live music and a pub atmosphere. Take a break from the relentless partying to enjoy the sunset visible from the terrace outside. Elevation 1904 across the road from Le Neuf is also popular.
The Canadian-owned Micro Brewery de Chamonix (or MBC), a five minute walk from the town, is another popular apres ski stop. All beer is brewed on the premises and they do a nice line in bar snacks and live music. The Jekyll, on the other side of town, is the venue for Henry's Avalanche talks (www.henrysavalanchetalk.com), held weekly at 6pm on Tuesdays.
Despite its party reputation, apres ski in Chamonix also has a quieter side. The Italian-run Lapin Agile is a charming wine bar on two floors, with a predominantly Italian wine list, decent beers and tasty free tapas from 6:30pm.
Grand Central opposite, on the ground floor of the Hotel Pointe Isabelle, has a lengthy menu of coffees and smoothies to drink and delicious bagels, muffins and carrot cake to munch on. L'Atelier Cafe just off the Place Sassure has a pleasant location by the river.
There are also relaxed end of day drinks at the restaurants and bars at the foot of the Grands Montets ski area as a last stop before heading back into Argentiere or Chamonix. In Argentiere village the Office Bar gets the bulk of the apres ski drinkers. In Le Buet, the bar at the Hotel Buet is popular with thirsty ski-tourers, while L'Arret Bougnete at the Vallorcine train station does probably the best vin chaud in the valley.
Apres ski bars in Chamonix
Hot drinks, beers and a menu of light snacks with comfy benches outside for sunny days.
Tel: +33 4 50 52 32 36
272 Avenue Michel Croz
The hub of Chamonix's apres-ski with excellent live music, ever-flowing beer and a rowdy crowd.
Tel: +33 4 50 55 89 81
259 Avenue Michel Croz
A small triangular bar close to Chambre Neuf popular with locals and seasonnaires for a mid-morning coffee or afternoon beer. Sandwiches are available from the kiosk.
Tel: +33 4 50 53 00 52
62 Promenade Marie Paradis
Decent coffee and healthy smoothies, the bagels and cakes are perfect for lunch or afternoon tea. Run by Swedish sisters, and staffed almost exclusively by Swedes. Take-away is possible.
Tel: +33 4 50 53 56 09
71 Route Pelerins
The friendly bar staff serves a loyal, local crowd in this wooden chalet on the fringes of Cham Sud. Henry's Avalanche Talks (www.henrysavalanchetalk.com) held weekly, 6pm on Tuesdays.
Tel: +33 4 50 55 99 70
Le Lapin Agile
11 Rue Whymper
A well-chosen wine list, blonde beers and a hot chocolate to die for. Free Wi-fi connection all-day and free tapas are available from 6:30pm.
Tel: +33 4 50 53 33 25
350 Route de Bouchet
Excellent draught beers and tasty nachos fill the post-ski, pre-dinner gap. The very thirsty should ask for a 'camel'.
Tel: +33 4 50 53 61 69
74 Promenade des Sonnailles
Only open to residents, members and their guests, the Clubhouse is a good spot to read the newspapers and enjoy the daily apres-ski freebie snacks. The Clubhouse is linked with London's The Player and Milk and Honey members' bars and serves great cocktails in a classy setting.
Tel: +33 4 50 98 42 20
Apres ski bars in Argentiere
The Office Bar
274 Rue Charlet Stratton
Open from breakfast to late evening and popular with all nationalities for drinking, snacking and playing pool. Live sport shown and free Wi-fi from 4pm.
Tel: +33 4 50 54 16 32
Apres ski bars in Les Houches
130 Rue de l'Eglise
English-run bar/restaurant in an old bakery and popular with the local English population. Open until 2am.
Tel: +33 4 50 91 52 06
Apres ski bars in Vallorcine
Hotel Le Buet
Ski-tourers and mountaineers mix with local workers. A standard drinks menu in a very French bar.
Tel: +33 4 50 54 60 05
Plan de l'Envers
In the railway station, over the railway tracks at the end of the Verte piste down from Le Tour. Excellent vin chaud, hot chocolate and the usual list of other drinks.
Tel: +33 4 50 54 63 04
Chamonix is a small town attracting tourists all year round and with plenty of activities for non-skiers from indoor climbing to ice rinks, from cinemas to day trips to Geneva and plenty of shops to browse or splash out in.
Being a town more than a resort, there are lots of non-ski activities in Chamonix. As you would expect from a centre of excellence for climbing and mountaineering in summer, there are superb indoor climbing facilities as well as a wide range of ice-climbing opportunities in winter. Staying on the ice, there are indoor and outdoor ice rinks. The Richard Bozon sports centre, which is open all year round, includes a swimming pool, gym, climbing wall, tennis and squash courts. There is also a bowling alley and a casino. If you are after an aerial view, check out the helicopter flights or paragliding. There is also a cinema and quick links to neighbouring cities such as Annecy, Turin and Geneva.
Richard Bozon Sports Centre
214 Avenue de la Plage
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 4 50 53 23 70
Paragliding and speed riding
3 Route des Moussoux
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 6 20 63 18 52
Evolution 2 Chamonix
350 Avenue de la Plage
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 4 50 55 53 57
11 av du Savoy
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 6 61 84 61 50
Maison de la Montagne
190 place de l'Eglise
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 4 50 53 55 70
Absolute Chamonix Parapente Speed-riding
390 route des Gaillands
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 6 08 23 92 65
Prestige Outdoor Specialists
10 Route des Drus
Clos des Chanterelles
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 6 80 20 83 70
Husky dog sledding
74 chemin des Falets
74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33 6 84 99 34 67