Chamonix-Mont-Blanc or, more commonly, Chamonix is a commune in the Haute-Savoie département in the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. It was the site of the1924 Winter Olympics, the first Winter Olympics. Situated near the massive peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges and most notably the Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France.
As the highest European mountain west of Russia, Mont Blanc holds a special allure for mountain climbers, and Mark Twight described the town as “the death-sport capital of the world” because it is a base for almost all types of outdoor activity, especially their more extreme variants, such as ice climbing,rock climbing, extreme skiing, paragliding, rafting, and canyoning. Chamonix is famous for its spectacular cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi (3,842 m (12,605 ft)). Constructed in 1955, it was then the highest cable car in the world. Together with a cable car system going up to the Pointe Helbronner (3,462 m (11,358 ft)) from Entréves in the Aosta Valley (Italy) it is possible to cross the entire Mont Blanc massif by cable car (the latter is only open during the summer).
Don’t worry: Chamonix doesn’t consist only on impossible walls of snow. Beginners won’t be neglected: 49 percent of the trails are suitable for them, and there are some nice bunny slopes to boot. (Greens are the easiest trails, followed by blues.) For the very first timers, the nursery slopes at La Vormaine, Les Chosalets, Les Planards and Le Savoy are perfect: no dangerous teenagers or speed addicts. Le Tour, at the top end of the valley, is an ideal place for novice snow surfers with its long blue and green runs, it’s the easiest resort Chamonix has to offer, with only one chair lift (the other being “tire-fesses”). The only problem is that it’s always exposed to the sun, which can make the snow very slushy. Fortunately, this area benefits of a high snow fall during all winter. In Argentière, beginners usually start on the Chosalets, conveniently situated near the Panda ski kindergarden. The Planards and Glacier du Mont-Blanc lifts both have snow-making, so you can ski on the bottom of the mountain even when the snow comes to lack, but it’s only a two runs resort, just good enough for beginners. Les Houches offers very easy trails too, but the snow is often icy due to the exposure of the mountain. The Brevent has a good number of easy runs for beginners, and the snow is good, even in late season. One of the drawbacks is that beginner slopes are separated from the rest: it can disturb the transition to real runs and make lunch meetings quite hard. You’d better learn ski in a more quiet and adapted resort and come in Chamonix when you’ll be able to appreciate its high-mountain marvels.
Chamonix is a paradise for intermediate skiers: quality, quantity, and variety, divided into five ski areas, with 500 kilometers (312½ miles) of pistes available on the full lift pass, all with an excellent range of high altitude blue and red runs. The total makes 39 percent of trails suitable for intermediate skiers. For the less bold, the two areas at the extremities of the valley (Les Houches and Le Tour) offer cruising blues and reds. In Les Houches, the slopes of Prarion and Bellevue are gentle tree-lined blue and red runs, without any traps or bad surprises, ideal to warm your legs and improve your style. For the boldest skiers, the three main areas are: Les Grands-Montets, Le Brevent and La Flégère. Le Brevent offers easy trails, except perhaps the famous red “Mur du Brevent” (“Brevent’s wall”), but there’s now a blue trail swiveling around it. La Flégère consists in a mix of blue and red, with long pistes that can be tiring. Les Grands-Montets attracts a lot of people and is often crowded because of its quality, it lies at the limit between intermediates and experts. Last but not least: if the weather is good, take a guide and try the descent of the Vallée-Blanche; the slope is accessible for good intermediates, and it’s quite worth the outing. The scenery is breathtaking, but don’t be too adventurous, it can be dangerous…
Chamonix offers undoubtedly some of the most impressive challenges to be found for expert skiers, with 12 percent of the pistes. This is really the place to be for experienced skiers, above all those who are keen on off-piste. Expert pistes are red and black ones. Les Grands-Montets offers all types of skiing, like moguls with La Herse, a red-black run of five kilometers (3,125 miles) of moguls, or La Pendant, a big mix of rock cliffs and powder. The off-piste is wonderful: try the mythical Pas de Chevre that leads to the Mer de Glace. The black pistes Point de Vue and Pylones are long and delightful for people who need to be stimulated. The most part being made on a glacier, pistes are large but can be dangerous or icy, be sure to have a reliable guide. The off-piste seems also endless, with so many ways to take from the summit. At Le Brevent, the off-piste is pretty limited, but nice behind the Cornu lift. Or you can also make a show under the lifts where there are some off-pistes corridors, but very narrow and steep. At La Flégère there are several good off-pistes routes like the Combe Lachenal. From the higher point of Le Tour, you can escape over the back towards Vallorcine or into Switzerland. As for the Vallée-Blanche, there are a myriad of ways to conquer it. Watch your step, though: three quarters are on the glacier of the Mer de Glace, so mind the 150-meter (492-foot) crevices. Don’t attend it with a bad weather.
The Mont Blanc valley is a great area for families, as there are plenty of ski schools and private instructors that provide ski lessons for children at reasonable prices. Among the ski schools of the valley, the Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) is the most famous as well as one of the most reliable. There are discounts for children on lift tickets in most of the resorts, and those under four years ski for free. There is also a wide range of activities other than skiing that are offered in the resorts around Chamonix, as well as in the town itself. The vast majority of the resorts have daycare centers near the pistes. Moreover, almost all of these nurseries have English-speaking staff, since they cater a lot of British tourists. The already well-known Panda Club located in the lovely little village of Argentière (about eight kilometers (five miles) further along the valley from Chamonix) welcomes children from six months to 12 years old. Qualified and experienced nannies that are never short of ideas for non-skiing activities and games will take care of the little ones between six months and three years of age. There is a skiing kindergarten for those from three to 12 years old, located about five minutes from the beginners’ slope Le Savoy. Children can go to the Panda Club on a half- or full day basis. Lunch is included in the price for full days. The only drawback is that the location of the center is not very convenient for parents who go skiing in the other resorts around Chamonix. During the summer, the Panda Ski Club becomes a pony club. There is also a municipal day nursery in Chamonix open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. It’s quite cheap but absolutely necessary to book in advance. The library lends board games and your children are free to come here to play with friends or borrow books. There is always someone present to keep an eye on the little ones and answer their questions. It’s also possible to have a nanny or baby-sitter come to your accommodation to mind your children; ask either the Tourism Office, the staff at the Panda Club, or at one of the day nurseries, as they will be able to tell you who to contact.
The Tourism Office will also be happy to tell you what kind of excursions to go on with your children when you don’t feel like skiing.
Information Courtesy of Ski Europe
“Official Website“ of Chamonix
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