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Chamonix, France

Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France, and is rightly thought of as the home of extreme skiing and mountaineering.  Chamonix’s famous cable car, the Aiguille du Midi, takes you up to 3842m and plunges you directly into serious mountain terrain.  From the top you can ski down the legendary 20km Vallee Blanche off-piste glacier route, begin a multi day ski tour in the haute montagne, or in the summer, start an assault on Mont Blanc, the Aiguille du Dru, and the Grandes Jorasses; the terrain has something on offer to satisfy every thrill seeker’s appetite.  If you’ve seen the classic ski film, Steep, you’ll know how even the greatest skiers from North America, blessed as they are with copious terrain and snow, still rightly hold Chamonix in high regard and view a pilgrimage here as a right of passage for serious skiers.  The place oozes snow sports history and the rocky white-topped mountains either side of the steep sided valley are ever-present and very imposing.  Chamonix was the natural choice for the inaugural Winter Olympics in 1924.  Chamonix’s competitive atmosphere encourages challenging and rewarding skiing, and unless you’re already a skiing hero the best way to make the most out of this amazing place whilst not killing yourself is to hire a guide.

Aiguille du Midi Arete

 image courtesy of chamonet.com

Whilst Chamonix’s selling points are more suited to the extreme end of the ski market, it still has hugely extensive pistes for a wide range of abilities.  With the resort at around 1000m and the highest lift over 3800m the on-piste terrain on offer varies from low altitude cruisers through the trees to steep, cold, and fast runs on glaciers above the clouds, and at the highest altitudes snow is pretty much guaranteed.  However as the resort is strung out along a valley and navigating it tends to involve tedious bus rides and queues with impatient pushy regulars, it’s not the easiest resort to enjoy.  The villages can be quite busy with road traffic and it feels like fresh snow stays white for a maximum of about 10 seconds before a bus pulps it to brown, although the centre of Chamonix is traffic free and retains a charming feel.  There is some good nightlife – stay in Chamonix itself or face a fight for a taxi (or a long walk home) at closing time.  Chamonix is just over an hour from Geneva by car.

 

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