Chamonix: Alpine traditions
There is little to rival Chamonix for high mountain action, stunning scenery, challenging terrain and quick access – just an hour’s drive from Geneva airport. Home to Western Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, the resort prides itself on a grand mountaineering history, where karabiners and ice axes feature as much as skis and boards. Experts will gain most from the area but it has a tamer side that warrants exploration too.
A busy and bustling place, Cham has the trappings of a charming old town with the modern familiarity of a classic ski resort. Its heart is the pretty traffic-free centre beside the river, its soul a long valley of several villages surrounded by dramatic mountain ridges. There’s no shortage of accommodation for a short stay, although with six separate ski sectors (including Les Houches) to explore a car is preferable to get around.
Frequent flights into and out of Geneva airport, plus a quick 85km journey, make Chamonix a doddle for a short visit. Demand for Friday and Sunday flights is high, so consider Thursdays and Mondays to travel. If you’re not hiring a car, Chamexpress.com (www.chamexpress.com) operates regular shared transfers with prices at 25 euro per seat (at the time of writing). And the resort has a decent bus and rail system. Package visits normally take care of the transfers and other essentials so that you can just turn up and ski. Allow eight hours if self-driving down from Calais.
Chamonix is used to weekend visitors, with lodging in every category and style. Location best depends on whether you plan to ski one or more of the six areas. Ski Weekends (www.skiweekends.com) has the lively 2-star Le Vert from £315pp in March, to the central half-board Alpina at £545pp for four nights. White Roc (www.whiteroc.co.uk) has plenty of choice too: three nights in a 2- or 3-star hotel starts at £360pp. A 4-star option such as Le Morgane (complete with gourmet restaurant) is £690pp in the same travel category. On request, Flexiski (www.flexiski.com) may be able to tailor-make luxury stays in the Alpina and Morgane, as well as others in its ‘favourite’ range – such as the Grand Hotel des Alpes or Aiglons Resort and Spa.
Where do you start? Teeter on an airy ridge walk to an off-piste playground at nearly 4000m on the Aiguille du Midi, or ride the challenges of the Grands Montets? If you’re short of time, it might be easier to stick with one or two preferred areas. With favourable conditions, a must-do though is the famed Vallée Blanche: a splendid long run among the broken molars of ice of the Mer de Glace glacier, and perfectly achievable by strong intermediate skiers with a guide.
Adventurous types will relish the steep terrain and gnarly black runs on Grands Montets above Argentière; those seeking fewer thrills have Le Tour to Vallorcine and Brévent-Flégère to explore. Les Houches makes a quiet alternative for gentler, wooded terrain. Simple rustic huts provide a breather, more to gaze at the views and plan ones next descent than to linger over a sumptuous meal. Bergerie de Planpraz on Le Brévent has good table-service meals, or soak up any sun at Plan Joran on Grands Montets.
Chamonix rocks to a cosmopolitan scene. The vibe injected by season workers, climbers and buoyant visitors has introduced a varied nightlife, from typical pubs to lap dancing and cocktail lounges. It can be lively or low-key. The Choucas and Chambre Neuf tempt the teatime music crowds, while No Escape and Privilege are less frantic, more sophisticated options. You’re spoiled for choice dining out too: pizzerias, fusion food at Munchies, intimate Atmosphère and new Michelin rated Café de L’Avre are a good start.
Links: WTSS Chamonix review