Principal Ski Areas in Chamonix ||
This information is intended as a rough guide. Please note that the areas change drastically depending upon snow conditions, the weather and the number of people in the resort.
Selecting the right area for the day and your abilities is the secret to getting the best out of the Chamonix Valley. Do not hesitate to consult www.compagniedumontblanc.com or phone the lift companies to ask for reports on conditions - particularly on days following a heavy snowfall or on very strong wind days, when lifts or areas may be delayed / closed or reduced. The Chamonix tourist office can supply information for all ski areas - this info can sometimes be a little outdated though.
Radio Mt Blanc (97.4 mHz) gives out weather & lift opening info in English between 8h - 8h30
Most of the ski areas have "Ambassadors" in front of the ticket desks their role is to offer advise to skiers.
ARGENTIERE / LES GRANDS MONTETS Tel: 04 50 54 00 71
The largest and most challenging of all the areas. Usually offers the best snow conditions due to its abundance of North facing slopes. The piste skiing is challenging and somewhat limited, particularly if there is insufficient snow to ski down to the bottom. Lower intermediate skiers should leave this area until the latter part of their visit. Experienced skiers can benefit greatly by employing a mountain guide or instructor to show them the area for their first day here. The off piste descents (7,600 ft vertical) to Chamonix from the top of Les Grands Montets can be outstanding but are only for experienced skiers who due to the natural dangers and difficult navigation should be accompanied by a guide.
The best skiing is invariably off the pistes but beware of the crevassed areas that can be accessed from the top cable car . To use the top cablecar you must either have a Mt Blanc unlimited pass or to purchase supplementary tickets before entering the queue . It is possible & sometimes necessary to reserve your place on the lift at the ticket desks or www.compagniedumontblanc.com.
There is very limited tree skiing available in the case of bad weather; if the piste to the bottom is closed the tree skiing is exclusively off piste, is limited & difficult. In the early part of the season this area receives little sunlight and can be bitterly cold, ski the Brevent or Flegere in the morning (they receive more sunlight) then move to the GM.
If there is a queue for the bottom cablecar , walk a few mins beyond the main building and take the four man chairlift where there is rarely a queue. This four man chairlift also offers a restful descent to the valley compared with queuing and standing in the cablecar if snow is limited on the lower piste.
BREVENT Tel: 04 50 53 13 18
This area offers a good variety of pistes and some discreet steep off piste. There is a small lower intermediates slope which leads on to longer and fairly gentle slopes. This area works well for groups of mixed (lower) abilities as it is well exposed to the sun and has a good meeting point at the Altitude 2000 restaurant that can be accessed by beginners. The only real pisted tree skiing is on the piste back down to Chamonix - this often lacks snow cover & can become very busy in the late afternoon; a rather challenging ski for intermediates . Paragliders can be seen launching from close to Altitude 2000 . It is now possible for lower intermediate or better skiers to take a connecting lift to the Flegere ski area.
There is car parking above the ticket desks. This can get full in peak season. If possible, take the ski tow from the Clos du Savoy beginners area and walk two mins down to the gondola. At the end of the day , walk up from the bottom of the gondola (if you have not skied all the way down) and then ski the beginners slopes of Clos du Savoy back to the town centre.
FLEGERE Tel: 04 50 53 18 58
The sunniest skiing in the valley with a slender selection of intermediate pistes but nevertheless a worthwhile area to ski. Higher intermediates will enjoy the off piste which is vast and with spring snow the conditions can be absolutely fantastic. Care should be taken when skiing the off piste as navigation can be complex and after new snow the rolling terrain can make for a high avalanche danger. During peak season it is advisable to take the cable car from the valley floor before 9 a.m. so as to avoid lengthy queues or to use the more effecient new Brevent telecabine and ski over to Flegere (but too difficult for lower intermediate skiers or lower abilities). Once up the mountain the lifts system works very effectively. Due to snow conditions it is comparatively rare to be able to ski down to the valley and the cable-car back down can become very busy in the late afternoon. Lower intermediates can ski over to the neighbouring Brevent ski area and then use the new telecabine to descend to Chamonix.
BALME / LE TOUR Tel: 04 50 54 00 58
Wide open pistes and generally excellent snow conditions make this the easiest way to start your holiday or to learn a new discipline such as telemark or snowboarding. The area is at the head of the valley and is invariably exposed to the wind, it can be decidedly chilly even on a sunny day ! There are vast beginners slopes (La Vormaine) at the foot of the area which help to make this a good choice for mixed (lower) ability groups. A high speed quad chair-lift has opened a large area of pisted & off piste skiing on the North facing area descending towards Vallorcine.
During the high season, it is usually best to access the ski area from Vallorcine thus avoiding the bottlenecks at the bottom of le Tour. The train offers a convenient and comfortable link to or from Chamonix (Free upon presentation of the guest card / Carte d'hote). This is even more valid if you are driving as it is always easy to park in Vallorcine & queuing for the lift is unheard of ! However you need to have a minimum intermediate level to be able to cope with the slopes that must be skied once leaving the Vallorcine sector.
LES HOUCHES Tel: 04 50 54 40 32 or 04 50 54 42 65
This area is extensive and the closest in the valley to Austrian style skiing with wide, predominantly easy pistes cutting through the forests with some more traditional resataurants on the slopes . Complete beginners can ski on the small areas at Bellevue or Prarion, advanced skiers will make up for the lack of technical difficulty by going fast without stopping, particularly on the downhill competition run, intermediates will have a great time. The trees provide shelter and enhance the visibility on bad days but because the area is comparatively low it sometimes rains here whilst it is snowing on the higher areas such as Argentiere. The bus service to Les Houches can be even more irregular than in most other areas of the valley. Not included on the Chamonix le pass , included on Mont Blanc Unlimited.
AIGUILLE DU MIDI Tel: 04 50 53 30 80
This lift accesses the amazing Vallee Blanche area which starts off with a skis off descent of a knife edge ridge and follows up with some of the most amazing glacial scenery a skier can ski through. There are a variety of different descents that can be made but even the easiest requires a good skiing ability and a reasonable degree of fitness(reasonable parallel turns and the ability to stop instantly !), the most technical reserved for expert skiers only.
A mountain guide will whisk groups of up to eight down the Vallée Blanche with what seems like no worry of danger - do not be fooled, the guide will know the route intimately but will nevertheless be surveying the terrain with great attention. Apart from ensuring safety , a good guide will be a friendly and informative host; bringing the Vallee Blanche to life with his detailed knowledge of the run and its surrounding mountains. A descent usually takes most of the day and lunch can be taken at a mountain refuge or if the weather is good there are plenty of good picnic spots. Expert skiers can descend one of the more testing routes and combine this with another descent. If the weather is poor the guide will make the decision to cancel the trip as at best it spoils the fantastic scenery and at worst it can be dangerous in poor weather conditions. Vallee Blanche descent: ax 278€ for a mountain guide or as part of a made up group from 73 € / person. Fit & experienced skiers may benefit from taking a guide for the whole day (ax 305 €) so that they may make numerous descents of the Vallee Blanche in the same day.
Due to the importance of the Mt Blanc massif, Courmayeur often benefits from completley different weather conditions to the Chamonix Valley. Snow in Chamonix can make for sunshine in Courmayeur and vice versa so its always worth checking the webcams. Courmayeur offers mainly treeline skiing that works well for intermediate to expert skiers. Charming and relatively affordable mountain restaurants are always a hit with visitors to Courmayeur.
Its easiest to take the first cable car (from Entreves) with its free parking rather than descending into the town of Courmayeur itself but skiers need to be of at least lower intermediate ability to ski the blue run away from the cablecar. There is also a new gondola (Dolone) from the valley floor opp the town but parking is not for free.
The Chamonix lift company offers a limited number of places to Mt Blanc Unlimited ski pass holders on a daily bus service to & fro Courmayeur but you must reserve in advance via their website.