THE Mountain capital of the world!Well certainly in Europe.
This place is buzzing
all year round and should be on every
boarders list of must visit places before I die. It is a short 45min
on motorway up from Geneva airport and with the
low cost airlines of today and the huge amount of places to stay
has never been a better time to plan a trip to this great town.
Chamonix has grown and spread out along the magnificent
valley as tourism has grown over the years. Anyone who had
bought property 20 years ago in the town is now
sitting on an
absolute fortune. It is not unknown for wealthy city types to
knock on the door of a property
they desire and to make the
owner an offer. Anyone wanting to buy property here now has
to move further out
along the valley. Chamonix is a town full
of real mountain people and the place does not have the same
air to it like say Zermatt or other trully great
mountain towns. It is more laid back and down to earth but
town centre with its cobbled streets has a special atmosphere
no matter which month of the year you visit. A few years
we spent a few days camping here in July and it did not stop
raining, but our spirits were certainly not
dampened. In my
view the greatest setback to Chamonix is the reopening of
the Mont Blanc tunnel to heavy vehicles.
It is such a shame
that areas of outstanding natural beauty like the Chamonix
valley should be subjected to
these huge amounts of polution.
From a skier/boarders point of view it does give easy access
through to Italy
where a day can be spent on the slopes of
Courmayeur, although if you only got 1 week in Cham I
not be heading over the border as there is
so much to do and explore here. On all my visits to this
have always had our own transport to get around
and this is certainly a great advantage in getting the most
of the area.
The slopes are spread out for nearly 25 km along the valley
from Les Houches at one end to my
favourite at the other
end – Argentiere. Having your own transport allows you to
visit other resorts on
the Mont Blanc lift pass, these include
Les Contamines and Megeve (a very pretty resort) among
the 13 areas
included in the pass. As I said earlier there are
plenty of places to stay from appartments, hotels and a lot
chalets, guesthouses(gites) to campsites. This February
we are going to stay in the Hotel Excelsior near Les Praz
by a few days at Auberge du Manoir in the town.
The Gite Belvedere at Argentiere is also worth staying at.
stayed here in May 2001 and it is a very friendly place.
Although, our visit brought home to us just how dangerous
mountains can be here. We met 4 guys over from the
states who all worked as ski instuctors or piste patrol in
They were here to finish off a great season and had
been skiing the deep and the steep around the valley. We
goodbye to them one evening as they were flying home
in a couple of days and we were heading to Switzerland to
some ski-mountaineering. On our return to Argentiere
we were saddened to here that one of them returned home
a box in the aircrafts hold! It just made me think more
seriously when I put myself into a difficult situation the
day high above Argentiere on Les Grand Montets.
This is really steep terrain and usually has good snow
mid May. To ride up here you really need the help
of a local guide to get the most out of the place. The
is huge with stunning views of crevasses and
you would be foolish to ride here on your own
without a good local
knowledge. Access to the area is
via the Grand Montets cable car which rises to 3235m,
where you might well
feel the effects of altitude so take
your time especially on a really warm day. From here you
can climb up
some metal steps to the observation platform
from where the views are some of the best you will find
giving an impressive panorama of Mont Blanc.
There are numerous runs down from here with the
Poit de Vue and
Pylones being long and fairly challenging.
These runs are unpisted. One of the best off-piste routes
Pas de Chevre which crosses over to join the
Vallee Blanche run.
I prefer Argentiere to all the other areas
but that is not to
say they have not got a lot to offer themselves.
Le Tour – has not a lot of tough terrain
but I have been
told that there are often good off-piste posibilities here
down to the village of Vallorcine
although if you
go over here you would need to get picked up.
Le Brevent – there are some steep couloirs
here and good off-piste at times. The slopes here are
mostly south facing so do suffer at times with
slush. The same can also be said of La Flegere.
Les Houches – There are tree runs here which are
A must for anyone is to take the Aiguille du midi cable-car
up to 3840m and to
do the Vallee Blanche. This is not a
difficult run and any competant intermediate will have no
it.The worst aspect is that there are a few flat
sections as well as crevasses but the scenery and views are
you will always remember. What I am going to
say next goes against what I am always telling people with
to safety. Firstly I never advise anyone to ride off-
piste without local knowledge ( a guide or experience )
without the proper equipment (tranciever/probe/shovel )
and the ability to use them, but if it is a good clear day
the forecast is good then save yourself some cash and do
this route without a guide as there are plenty
of tracks and
others around. But do be aware that there are a number of
routes down and some are quite difficult.
You may not be
able to ride the full 24km down to Chamonix if snow
conditions do not permit so you will have
to catch the
train down from Montenvers.
Chamonix has something for everyone although it is not
place for a beginner to come to, better improve
at a more suitable resort then come here with a few miles
the belt so to appreciate it all the better.
|Great expert terrain, unlimited off-piste, high and good|
snow reliability high up.
scenery and nightlife, great atmosphere in town.
Lots of places to stay, plenty of shops to buy/rent
|Several separate areas which are not linked.|
Not often able to ride back down to valley.
an ideal place for beginners.
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