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Review Detail

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

drive,mostly on motorway up from Geneva airport and with the

low cost airlines of today and the huge amount of places to stay

there 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

sophisticated air to it like say Zermatt or other trully great

mountain towns. It is more laid back and down to earth but

the town centre with its cobbled streets has a special atmosphere

no matter which month of the year you visit. A few years ago

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

certainly would not be heading over the border as there is

so much to do and explore here. On all my visits to this

place we have always had our own transport to get around

and this is certainly a great advantage in getting the most

out 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

of chalets, guesthouses(gites) to campsites. This February

we are going to stay in the Hotel Excelsior near Les Praz

followed by a few days at Auberge du Manoir in the town.

The Gite Belvedere at Argentiere is also worth staying at.

We stayed here in May 2001 and it is a very friendly place.

Although, our visit brought home to us just how dangerous

the mountains can be here. We met 4 guys over from the

states who all worked as ski instuctors or piste patrol in

Utah. They were here to finish off a great season and had

been skiing the deep and the steep around the valley. We

said goodbye to them one evening as they were flying home

in a couple of days and we were heading to Switzerland to

do some ski-mountaineering. On our return to Argentiere

we were saddened to here that one of them returned home

in a box in the aircrafts hold! It just made me think more

seriously when I put myself into a difficult situation the

next day high above Argentiere on Les Grand Montets.

This is really steep terrain and usually has good snow

until mid May. To ride up here you really need the help

of a local guide to get the most out of the place. The

Glacier 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

anywhere 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

is the 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 to attempt

here and good off-piste at times. The slopes here are

mostly south facing so do suffer at times with ice and

slush. The same can also be said of La Flegere.

Les Houches – There are tree runs here which are good

for intermediates.

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

problems with it.The worst aspect is that there are a few flat

sections as well as crevasses but the scenery and views are

something you will always remember. What I am going to

say next goes against what I am always telling people with

regards to safety. Firstly I never advise anyone to ride off-

piste without local knowledge ( a guide or experience )

and without the proper equipment (tranciever/probe/shovel )

and the ability to use them, but if it is a good clear day and

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

the best place for a beginner to come to, better improve

at a more suitable resort then come here with a few miles

under the belt so to appreciate it all the better.
Great expert terrain, unlimited off-piste, high and good

snow reliability high up.

Brilliant 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.

Not an ideal place for beginners.
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