Chamonix has, quite justifiably, a reputation as an extreme sports Mecca. The world’s best free ride skiers and ski mountaineers have made their winter pilgrimage to its steep slopes and technical descents for decades.
However, thanks to on-going efforts by the Compagnie du Mont Blanc (the people responsible for the lifts and pistes in Chamonix) there are also countless opportunities for skiers of all abilities.
Chamonix also has a reputation for being awkward to get around. Unlike many of the purpose-built French resorts that sprang up in the sixties and seventies, Chamonix is a historic frontier town nestled amongst some of Europe’s most spectacular mountains. This means that, depending on where you stay, many or all of the ski lifts will be either a bus or car ride away.
Although you won’t find hundreds of kilometres of linked pistes, with a bit of planning and preparation you can enjoy over 150km of pistes spread across the valley’s different ski areas. Each has its own distinct personality, and all of them offer the most astounding views over the Mont Blanc Massif.
Lift passes in Chamonix
There are two types of lift pass available in Chamonix. The Chamonix Le Pass and the Mont-Blanc Unlimited pass.
The former provides access to the linked areas of Brévent-Flégère, Domaine de Balme to the east, and most of the Grands Montets ski area up to 2765m (not including the summit cable car). Also covered are the beginner areas lower down the valley, Le Savoy and Les Planards in Chamonix town, Les Chosalets in Argentiere, and La Vormaine up in La Tour.
For beginners and intermediate skiers, the Chamonix Le Pass is almost certainly enough to keep you busy for a week.
The Mont-Blanc Unlimited offers access to all the different ski areas mentioned above, as well as a whole lot more. With this pass you can ski Verbier in Switzerland, the Megève ski area of Evasion-Mont-Blanc, the whole Courmayeur ski area (only twenty minutes away through the tunnel to Italy), and the Skyway Monte Bianco – Courmayeur’s answer to the Aiguille du Midi lift, with stunning views of the south face of Mont Blanc.
Good areas for beginners
As long as there is snow down to valley level at 1035m, the micro ski areas of Les Planards and Le Savoy, right in the middle of town, are great places for young children to learn.
The best place for total beginners, by far and away, is up at Le Tour, at the far end of the Number 2 bus route. There are wide, low-angled green pistes served by a number of easy-to-use draglifts at the lower section of La Vormaine. There are a handful of snack bars and cafes at the very foot of the slopes, and the beautiful ski area of La Balme is just a short ride away on the Charamillon gondola. Here you’ll find well-groomed blue pistes (and the occasional optional red) with incredible views all the way down the valley.
Good for intermediates
For a wide range of reds and blues, the linked ski areas of Brévent-Flégère are the place to go, with more than 56km of pistes served by 17 lifts. You can also test your skills on the timed slalom course by the Stade draglift at Le Brévent, and the speed skiing course by the Chavanne chairlift at La Flégère – both open to the public and free of charge.
The sunny south-facing slopes of Brévent-Flégère offer beautiful views across the valley to the imposing granite monolith of Les Drus, the jagged sawtooth ridgeline of the Chamonix Aiguilles, and the mighty north face of Mont Blanc itself.
Advanced and expert skiers
With over two thousand metres of descent between the summit at 3300m and the lowest lift station in the village of Argentiere, the Grands Montets is the crown jewel of all of Chamonix’s pisted ski areas. Advanced skiers are sure to find something to challenge them here. Enjoy high-speed turns through the trees down a freshly-groomed Pierre a Ric red run early in the morning. Try the long, sinuous Chamois black piste winding its way through the Combe de la Pendant from the top of the Bochard gondola, or the fearsome Point de Vue run descending from the very summit of the Grands Montets to the Argentiere glacier a thousand metres below.
The options for expert skiers here are endless. Facing north, and with glaciers draped across every aspect of its summit, the Grands Montets stays cold, and has good snow all the way into early May.
But each and every one of Chamonix’s other ski areas has some formidable offerings for expert skiers. From the black Floria deep in the heart of the Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve at La Flégère to the magnificent Charles Bozon piste, directly under the soaring south face of Le Brévent. Then there’s the steep and icy La Verte in Les Houches, home of the infamous Kandahar Race, where the best downhill skiers fly down the 3.5km piste with 870m of descent in around two minutes. Are you up to the challenge?
Off-piste skiing in Chamonix
As varied as the on-piste skiing options, there is no denying that Chamonix has a reputation as a primarily off-piste resort. As the birthplace of modern ski mountaineering, Chamonix is home to some of the most amazing off-piste skiing on the planet.
But perhaps the best thing is just how much Chamonix can offer aspiring off-piste skiers of almost any ability. From the easy-angled meadows at Le Tour and the wide-open bowls of La Flégère, to fresh powder on the Pas de Chèvre under the sheer granite walls of Les Drus – there really is something for everyone.
In the minds of many a skier, Chamonix is synonymous with La Vallée Blanche, the world-famous descent from the top of the Aiguille du Midi, sometimes referred to, quite disparagingly, as “The Longest Green Run On Earth”. Whilst the skiing itself, if snow conditions are good, might not provide much of a challenge even to intermediate skiers, the entirety of the descent is on a glacier. This means that you simply must hire a mountain guide, and there is a great list of backcountry guides and specialists on the official resort website.
If you want to get a real taste of the Vallée Blanche check out this article on Pistehors.com.