Nestled in the foot hills of the majestic Mont Blanc and home to the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924, the French town of Chamonix is a big white magnet for snow and extreme sports enthusiasts the world over. For a comprehensive guide on all things Chamonix, I’ve found this site to be good for information.
The town, with its old buildings, colourful markets and quirky street art, makes a visit worthwhile all by itself, but there’s no question that the vast majority of tourists come to play in the snow. The only question is: how hard do you play?
Many opt to climb Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, and known affectionately to locals by the slightly sinister name: La Dame Blanche – ‘The White Lady’. People who take her on do not do so lightly: she rivals Mr Everest in the ‘deadly stakes’, claiming dozens of lives each year.
Those hoping for a more certain outcome to their holiday – e.g. one that doesn’t involve stretchers dangling from helicopters – tend to avoid the jagged peaks of Mont Blanc, taking to the decidedly less dangerous ski slopes instead.
There are many different areas to ski and snowboard in the Chamonix Valley, so all abilities are catered for. Domaine de Balme, at the top of the valley, is an excellent place for mixed abilities, with a great beginner’s area on the Le Tour side (La Vormaine) and a variety of blue and red runs* in the main ski area.
The Aiguille du Midi run is worth doing if only for the ride up, which takes the form of one of the highest cable cars in Europe. After being plucked from the centre of Chamonix and dropped off at a staggering altitude of 3,800 metres, you can begin the world famous Vallée Blanche course – 24 kilometres of ‘off-piste’ skiing through mind-boggling scenery. Take care here, as the route is essentially a giant glacier, meaning there’s a very real risk of crevasses and avalanches. Many complete the run in a group with a guide – a sensible option for anyone who’s not an expert and who doesn’t know the area intimately.
Whatever your skiing or snowboard experience, you’ll need a bed for the night. Accommodation in Chamonix ranges extensively, so whatever your budget – big or small – you won’t have any trouble finding a suitable place.
*Ski runs are classified in colour – Green, Blue, Red and Black – according to difficulty, with Green being the easiest, Black the hardest.