WINTER

SKIING IN CHAMONIX

Chamonix couldn't be more different than your usual purpose-built French skiing resort. Its skiing areas have originated and developed over many decades in line with public demand and technical progress. The valley has been built up gradually, too and except for a few ugly 70s blocks here and there the overall character of the architecture is pleasing to the eye and decidedly alpine. The drawback of the gradual development is that only two of the five skiing areas in the valley are interconnected. To get to the other ones you will need to use a car or bus. Taken from the bottom of the valley upwards the areas line up as follows: Les Houches, Brevent/Flegere, Les Grands Montets and Le Tour. Piste map of the valley and beyond

 

Skiing in Chamonix isn't, however, limited to the skiing areas. Few other resorts offer such enormous possibilities to ski off piste without helicopters or having to walk for hours as Chamonix. The best known local freeride itinerary is doubtless the descent from the Aiguille du Midi down the Vallée Blanche, but there are countless other off-piste slopes you can get to using just lifts and cablecars. Some of them are easily accessible and manageable without expert guidance but the further and more extreme you go, the more advisable it is to use the services of an experienced certified guide.

The guide HQ in Chamonix is situated in the Maison de la Montagne right in the heart of town. You will find both the Office de haute montagne de Chamonix and the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix here. Especially the latter website provides ample information on what you can do off the beaten track in Chamonix and around.

 

CHAMONIX VALLEY SKIING AREAS

Les Houches (300 metres from Chalet Chalupa)
950 to 1900 m, 55 km of pistes; 2 black, 12 red, 6 blue, 2 green

 

The largest single skiing area in the valley, Les Houches has everything from a World Cup downhill piste to gentle reds and blues. All the pistes are among trees which makes this area very popular on days with diminished visibility. Transport from the village up to the top is provided by two lifts - the Bellevue cable car (333 steps from our chalet) and the Prarion gondola (1 km). If you count yourself among those for whom a day on the mountain is not only skiing but also having a great lunch, Les Houches is your place. The restaurant Les Vieilles Luges housed in an old chalet on the side of the  Aillouds piste is one of the best mountain eateries in the universe. Early booking advisable! Piste map.

Brevent/Flegere (7/12 km from Chalet Chalupa)
1030 - 2525 m, 56 km of pistes; 7 black, 7 red, 13 blue, 1 green

These two interlinked areas on the South facing slopes right above Chamonix town are served by two lifts - the Brevent gondola from the centre and the Flegere cable car from Les Praz on the northern edge of town. Anywhere you are on this mountain you will be able to enjoy the most spectacular views of the Mont Blanc massif all the way from the Aiguilles Vertes to the Dome du Gouter. The slopes here are very varied - they include anything from wide (but not very long) pistes ideal for carving to short steep stretches changing their direction and slant every 50 metres. Here you can leave the pistes almost anywhere you like and enjoy the jumps, terrain waves and tobogans courtesy of Mother Nature. The southern orientation of these slopes, so pleasant on the cold winter days, turns into a disadvantage later in the season. In the latter part of March the snow can be heavy here from lunchtime onwards and Brevent/Flegere is usually the first area in Chamonix to close its lifts. Piste map.

Les Grands Montets (17 km from Chalet Chalupa)
1235 - 3300 m, 28 km of pistes; 6 black, 4 red, 5 blue, snowpark

Les Grands Montets = Big skiing. The twenty eight kilometers of pistes doesn't seem like much but wait till you see the mountain. The pistes cover just a fraction of it and there is virtually nowhere on its enormous side where you couldn't ski or board (depending, of course, on the level of your skills). Going up on the second stage of the cable car will give you so many options for your descent that you will no doubt join the queue for the lift as soon as you get to the bottom. The great thing here is that you always know where you are as orientation is easy due to the mountain's uncomplicated profile. And there is always someone not too far away enjoying this amazing spot anyway. The slopes of Les Grands Montets are North facing so they are not basking in the sun all day long but on the other hand the snow here lasts the longest and the lifts usually run until the second weekend of May. Piste map.

Le Tour/Le Domaine de Balme/Vallorcine (20 km from Chalet Chalupa)
1453 - 2270 m, 29 km; 8 red, 11 blue, 1 area for new snow sports

Le Domaine de Balme rises to 2270 m above the village of Le Tour at the northernmost end of the valley. The pistes are interconnected with those of Vallorcine - a pretty village on the other side of the mountain close to the Swiss border. The slopes here are a paradise for the lovers of big carving curves, while children and intermediates love the blue piste winding through the forest to the bottom of the Tete de Balme chailift. At the top of this chairlift you will be able to enjoy a fabulous view of the Emosson dam across the valley and the Swiss peaks beyond. If you would like to go back in time to the days when cars didn't go everywhere, you can ski down to Vallorcine and hop on a cute little red train which will take you all the way back to Chamonix and Les Houches. The train station in Les Houches is a bit too far for walking in skiing gear so we would come and pick you up. Piste map.

La Vallee Blanche

The freeride through the White Valley is for many visitors the highlight of their skiing week in Chamonix. The descent which can be anything between 17 and 22 km long depending on the snow conditions starts at the top of the Aiguille du Midi at the altitude of 3842 m and takes partially place on France's biggest glacier - the Mer de Glace. Doing the Vallee Blanche is not particularly difficult and has been accomplished by hundreds of thousands of intermediates, however, we are talking high altitude big mountain skiing here which entails a number of risks and it is therefore highly recommended to do this under the watchful eye of a professional guide who will choose the most suitable route, lead you through the minefield of often invisible traps such as crevasses and snow bridges and who will know exactly what to do in case of an accident or sudden weather change. Joining a guided tour will also mean that you will get properly equipped with a harness, transceiver, probe and spade. For guided tours go to Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix.

 

SKIING CLOSE BY

Courmayeur, IT (22 km from Chalet Chalupa - through the Mont Blanc tunnel)
1224 - 2755 m, 50 km; 4 black, 14 red, 6 blue, 3 green

If you feel like a change of atmosphere, a bowl of rizotto, a stinco di vitello al furno (oven baked veal calf) and excellent espresso for 1 euro, you can intersperse your week in Chamonix with a day or two in Courmayeur, where you can ski on your Mont Blanc Unlimited skipass. The best day to pick for Courmayeur is the one when the weather in Chamonix goes bad. The Mont Blanc massif serves as a huge weather barrier and the conditions on the opposite sides often vary 100%. The Courmayeur mountain is equally brilliant for piste skiers/boarders as for freeriders. The journey up to the highest point at Cresta D'Arp in the tinny tardis of a cable car is an experience in itself, not to mention the fantastic freeride down a huge bowl to Val Veny ending in Zerotta where you can have one of the best meals of your life at the eponymous restaurant serving local specialities as well as gluten free pasta dishes. Talking of restaurants the ristorante Maison Vieille on the southern side of the mountain is the second best on-piste eatery in the universe after Les Houches' Les Vieilles Luges. The tidy and prosperous looking town of Courmayeur is also worth a visit after a day on the mountain - at least for the great shopping, espressos and the excellent cioccolata calda. Piste map.

Verbier, CH (70 km from Chalet Chalupa)
1500 - 3330 m, 100 km, 28% black, 29% red, 43% blue

Another resort where you can ski on your Mont Blanc Unlimited skipass is Verbier. If you want to ski in three different countries on one skiing holiday, the opportunity is yours. As if Verbier in itself with its 100 km of pistes wasn't enough it's a gateway into the Four Valleys area which puts together over 400 km of pistes served by 89 cable cars and lifts. Official website.

Breuil-Cervinia, IT (110 km from Chalet Chalupa through the Mont Blanc tunnel)

Breuil-Cervinia is here for those who can't survive the summer without strapping their skis or boards on. It is the nearest summer skiing glacier resort - it takes an hour and a half to get there via the Mont Blanc tunnel. Breuil-Cervinia is worth considering even in the winter. If you want to see the Matternhorn and ski in Zermatt without the bother of having to use the local electromobiles, go to Cervinia! These two resorts are interlinked in the winter and together offer a staggering 400 km of pistes served by 59 lifts and cable cars. Official website.

Other resorts you can easily go to for a daytrip from Chamonix are Saint Gervais (17 km), Megeve (28 km), Flaine (55 km and Morzine-Avoriaz (62 km).

 

SKIPASSES

There are three skipass options in the Chamonix Valley.

 

Les Houches

Our local Les Houches skiing area offers the cheapest skiing in the valley. The skipass which is valid in Les Houches only costs 39 eur/day, 195 eur/6 days; children aged 4 to 15 pay 33,20 eur/day, 165,80 eur/6 days. For the full pricelist incl. a great family offer (2 adults + up to 5 children pay for two adults and one child only) click here.

Chamonix Le Pass

This is the cheaper way to ski in Chamonix. Le Pass is valid everywhere in the valley except Les Houches, the Aiguille du Midi (Vallee Blanche) and the top segment of the Grands Montets cable car. Le Pass costs 46 eur/day, 230 eur/6 days; children aged 4 to 15 pay 39,10 eur/day, 195,50 eur/6 days. For the full pricelist incl. a great family offer (2 adults + up to 5 children pay for two adults and one child only) click here.

The Almighty Mont Blanc Unlimited (MBU)

If you want to go everywhere within the valley you will need the MBU. This skipass is valid everywhere including Les Houches and Courmayeur (IT). If yours is for 6 or more days, you can go to Verbier and the Four Valleys for a day, too. MBU costs 56,50 eur/day, 282 eur/6 days; children aged 4 to 15 pay 48eur/day, 239,70 eur/6 days. For the full pricelist incl. a great family offer (2 adults + up to 5 children pay for two adults and one child only) click here.

 

CHAMONIX WITHOUT SKIS

Chamonix has plenty to offer to non-skiers even in the winter. Breathtaking views of the surrounding alpine peaks, tourist cable cars and trains, paragliding, helicopter excursions, luge, indoor swimming pool, french food and wine, great shopping, cinema (for those who can speak French) and if you have any money left after all this, even a casino.

The Aiguille du Midi cablecar

The top station of this cablecar at the altitude of 3842 m ranks among the highest in the world. You will feel like you could touch Mont Blanc from here. The trip up inside the large cabin is an experience in itself - not only for the great height it surpasses but also for the mixed company you are likely to be travelling in. There will be everybody from weather beaten freeriders going up to set off on the Vallee Blanche freeride to serious mountain walkers and mountaineers for whom the mid-station is a great starting point for their walks and climbs to ladies in high heels and gentlemen in patent leather shoes with cameras shooting faster than an AK 47.

For more info, prices and timetables go to www.chamonix.com or www.compagniedumontblanc.com

 

Train du Montenvers

This picturesque train going from the centre of town up through the forest to the Mer de Glace glacier is one of the oldest tourist attractions with its 100 year+ history. To see the monumental wall of ice and mighty crevasses of France's largest glacier is definitely worth the fare plus you can visit the ice cave carved inside the glacier and have a good lunch of local specialities in the Hotel du Montenvers.

For more info, prices and timetables go to www.chamonix.com or www.compagniedumontblanc.com

 

Tramway du Mont Blanc

Another  tourist attraction built at the beginning of the 20th century is a cog railway going from Le Fayet/Saint-Gervais-les-Bains  to the top of the Les Houches skiing area and then further up to the Nid D'Aigle - France's highest train station (alt. 2372 m). Especially in the summer you are likely to see an interesting mix of passengers inside the cars of the Tramway du Mont Blanc since it is used by middle aged tourists in beige city clothes as well as serious mountaineers setting off on their Mont Blanc climb and mud covered mountain bikers hungry for another run down the track to Les Houches. Chalupa's guests can go up on the Bellevue cablecar which is a mere three minutes walk from the chalet and join the Tramway at the top. From there you will have a choice of going up to Mont Lachat and Nid D'Aigle or down to Le Fayet. The ride could be extended to a daytrip by visiting the spa at Saint-Gervais-les-Bains (a 10 minute walk from the Le Fayet station) and returning back the same way. Fantastic views in both directions guaranteed!

For more info, prices and timetables go to www.chamonix.com or www.compagniedumontblanc.com

 

SPAS

Les Bains du Mont Blanc

The thermal springs of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains have been curing people of various complaints for nearly 200 years. The latest addition to the traditional looking sanatorium buildings spread over a large park are Les Bains du Mont Blanc - a modern wellness centre focused around an attractive yin-yang shaped pool with jets producing whirlpools, bubbles and streams of all sorts. Saint-Gervais-les-Bains is 17 km away from the chalet by road but the road is not the only means to get there. Other than the scenic trip by cablecar and train described above under the Tramway du Mont Blanc heading you can also hop on the little local red train called rather grandly the Mont Blanc Express which will get you to Le Fayet/ Saint-Gervais-les-Bains in a mere 24 minutes. Les Bains du Mont Blanc

 

Le Bachal Spa at Hameau Albert 1er

It makes sense that the best hotel in town should also have the best spa. Le Bachal spa in the five star Hameau Albert 1er cerainly lives up to expectations and is luckily open to non-hotel guests. The indoor/outdoor pool with a fabulous view of Mont Blanc and the range of spa treatments on offer are sure to satisfy even the most demanding customer. If you felt like giving yourselves a special treat you could combine the visit to the spa with a dinner in the hotel's restaurant - the only one in Chamonix boasting two Michelin stars. Hameau Albert 1er

 

Municipal Swimming Pool

The futuristic looking municipal sports centre in the heart of town is rather well equipped for water based activities with its 50 m outdoor (summer only) and 25 m indoor pool, complemented by a children's play-pool and a paddling pool. There is also a steam bath and sauna. Centre Sportif Richard Bozon

 

 

 

Chamonix Luge

The luge track is part of the Planards activity parc whose main winter focus is on teaching children to ski. There is a moving carpet, a couple of rope lifts, a drag lift and a four seater chair lift allowing children to progress from the first steps on their skis to skiing down a short blue or red piste. The luge track - winding its way down alongside the chairlift - is really a roller-coaster with cars for two running on a track. The speed will not make you scream but the 75 sec ride will provide a few  exhilarating moments. Parc de Loisirs

 

HELICOPTER TOURS

A shot of adrenalin and a bird's eye view of the Mont Blanc masif courtesy of Chamonix Helico. There are several tours available ranging from 10 to 30 minutes in time and 75 to 200 euros in cost. Chamonix Mont-Blanc Helico

 

 

 

 

 

PARAGLIDING

The Chamonix valley provides excellent conditions for paragliding. In ideal weather there are tens of colourful wings on strings in the sky and you are likely to get bumped into by (mostly) men dragging enormous bags into cablecars. You don't need your own wing and you don't even need to know how to do it if you want to try. Just a little bit of courage and a modest sum of money will do. There are several companies that offer tandem flights from the surounding peaks. Here are links to some of them...
Fly Chamonix, Absolute Chamonix, Les Ailles du Mont Blanc