Chamonix ski resort
Adorned with accolades, including housing the world’s longest lift-served run – the famed off-piste Vallee Blanche descent – and being the site of the first ever Winter Olympic Games in 1924, Chamonix is arguably the most famous ski resort in the world.
In the shadow of the incomparable Mont Blanc, the extensive slopes offer a challenge to even the most skilled skiers and snowboarders. However, there are numerous options for lesser-mortals and thanks to a lively après-ski scene that continues to flourish, the resort has blossomed into an excellent destination regardless of your competency on the snow.
The compact town of Chamonix is choc full of hotels, apartment complexes, restaurants and shops, all together creating a vibrant and often cosmopolitan feel as visitors from all over the world arrive in droves, year round.
The overall ski area, more accurately titled The Chamonix Valley, has expanded to incorporate a series of separate villages and ski areas, including Les Houches, Le Brévent, La Flégère, Grand Montets and Balme, which are spread along the valley. Of these, however, only Le Brévent and La Flégère are linked by lifts, while the others are serviced by regular buses.
Chamonix is situated in the Haute-Savoie region of France, in the French Alps. It is bordered by Switzerland and Italy and dominated by the Aiguilles de Chamonix mountain chain, part of the Mont-Blanc Massif that peaks at the top of Mont Blanc (4,810m /15782ft in height).
On the slopes
Chamonix draws huge crowds during peak season, enticing skiers and borders of all levels. However, its biggest draw is for the pros who’ll find some of the planet’s most exciting terrain here.
For good skiers, both on- and off-piste options are sensational; but competent snow sports enthusiasts should not overestimate their ability, as Chamonix offers some of the world’s most challenging terrain. Snow conditions can vary enormously and lower slopes can be unreliable, but the upper slopes are high enough to guarantee snow cover – as a consequence, the ski season in Chamonix runs from mid-December until early May.
Chamonix does specialise in the spectacular however, such as the remarkable up to 24km (15-mile) long (depending on conditions) Vallée Blanche off-piste run from the top of the 3,842m (12,605ft) Aiguille du Midi – famously the longest lift-served run in the world – and the magnificent off-piste options of Grands Montets, for which an accompanying ski guide is essential.
Away from the downhill slopes, there is an extensive terrain park at the Grands Montets that includes several challenging options for different ages and levels of expertise.
The École de Ski Français (ESF) (tel: +33 450 532 257; www.esfchamonix.com) and independent operator Evolution 2 (tel: +33 450 559 022; www.evolution2-chamonix.com) are based in the town centre, and are well regarded. These companies are especially good at more specialist training, such as off-piste skiing and ski touring. Skiers will have no problem hiring gear, with numerous resort rental shops and hire centres at the base of each ski area.