The Truth about Chamonix

A lot of people have a number of misconceptions about Chamonix as a ski resort. They perceive that it is only for expert skiers.

Chamonix valley comprises of six amazing ski areas: Les Houches, Grands Montets, Brévent, Flégère, La Tour, and the Vallée Blanche.  Only Brévent and Flégère are inter-linked.  However, what this means is that each ski station has its own individual character and attributes.   Each ski station is most suitable for different levels of skier and as they have different aspects, it means there is a wide variety of snow conditions prevalent in the Chamonix valley, and if there is extreme weather, it is highly unlikely the whole resort will be closed – which means you are unlikely to miss a days skiing.

From the top of Index lift at La Flégère, looking directly across at the Vallée Blanche, with Grands Montets on the left in the background

It is indeed true that Chamonix has some of the best off-piste skiing in Europe.  Grands Montets has wide open bowls that provide an amazing opportunity of off-piste skiers.  Flégère also provides acres of possibility, and even La Tour has amazing potential for both people learning off-piste as it has lovely off-piste routes that never take you too far from the ski pistes, as well as some incredible bowls that are amazing in powder conditions.

Only La Grave near Grenoble (where there are no ski pistes at all and just one ski lift!) rivals Chamonix for a similar level of opportunity for the off-piste skier.

This is not to mention the world famous Vallée Blanche – 24 kilometres of off-piste descent on the glacier past giant seracs towering above, over snow bridges that span crevasses up to eighty metres deep.  The scenery is outstanding, and the experience will surely be one of your most memorable ski descents ever!  Ski guide obligatory for safety!

Then there is Les Houches.  This is the family end of Chamonix valley with lots of rolling blues and reds.  It has lots of tree-lined skiing,  and so it is the best place in the valley to ski in case of poor visibility or strong winds.  Having two nursery areas, it is perfect for beginners just learning, and because of the variety of runs, it provides the most opportunity for mixed ability groups.   Les Houches is also home to the World Championship ski run, the Kandahar.  This black run is not technically that difficult and most intermediate skiers can ski at least part of it – there are also opportunities to avoid the most difficult sections, which means you too can get to experience part of what skiing a World cup downhill is like.

The Kandahar World Cup Downhill

The Kandahar World Cup Downhill

Les Houches is also one of the quieter ski stations in France and never has the same queues that I have experienced in the Trois Vallées, Tignes or La Plagne.  Because these are the most popular resorts, they are also the most crowded – especially during peak periods.   Les Houches also boasts some of the best mountain restaurants:  The delightful “Vielles Luges” is a 300 year old converted farmhouse with superb food and wonderful hosts.  “La Tanière” is also an authentic farmhouse run by an Argentinian overlooking the Saint Gervais valley with a superb reputation for mountain food.

Normally quiet - not normally THIS quiet

Normally quiet - not normally THIS quiet

The more we ski Les Houches, the more off-piste we find.  They tend to be short sections, but hold some interesting technical challenges for advanced off-piste skiers – never too far from the pistes, but some really fun descents through trees, down some steep slopes cutting into the forest and back out to join the pistes.

We also like to take our guests through the Mont Blanc tunnel so they can experience Courmayeur.  Only 25 minutes door to door from the chalet, Courmayeur is also included on the 6 day Chamonix ski pass.  This gives our guests the opportunity to
sample Italian skiing too.   Courmayeur can have different weather and snow conditions to Chamonix, so we use this to ensure our guests experience the best conditions.  Courmayeur tends to have wider runs which are extremely well groomed and are not as technically challenging as Chamonix.  It also boasts some wonderful Italian restaurants.

Chamonix provides a truly authentic skiing experience because it is not a purpose-build resort.  No concrete jungle like Flaine or Val Thorens or Courcheval here!  The town of Chamonix and village of Les Houches date back hundreds of years, and are full of life any time of year.  Chamonix’s reputation as the best ski area for off-piste was immortalised in the cult ski movie, the “Blizzard of Aahhhs”.  In fact, if you are lucky, today you can even get to bump into its star skier, Glen Plake still sporting his
infamous bad boy mohican, who now lives in Chamonix full time.

Other brilliant ski movies that feature Chamonix, include the “Edge of Never” – the story of 15 year old Kye Petersen skiing the same route that killed his father, and “Steep” – potentially the best ski documentary yet made examining the history of extreme skiing.

Anyway, in case you’ve never seen the Blizzard of Aahhh’s… well, you are missing a crucial part of your skiing education…  Here is a little clip….

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