by: tom travis - 3rd February 2007

  • 5
  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced/Expert
  • 5All-Mtn. Terrain
  • 5Family Friendly
  • 5Aprés Ski
  • 4Terrain Park
  • Overall Value

Full review

I have skied twelve times at Chamonix, for good reason. The town is charming, with traditional French architecure and squares adorned by sculptures, and has a variety of very good restaurants and and bakeries. It is a real French, lived in town, and not a non-descript chalet village that could be anywhere like at Val D'Isere or Les Trois Vallees. There are some unfortunate modern condos or apartments outside the center that mar the harmony, but overall Chamonix and the other valley towns have an authentic look. The scenery is spectacular, rivaled only by Zermatt, with views of the Mont Blanc range with its many spires and glaciers. Skiing is varied, with five major ski stations along the valley, four of them included in the valley ticket. On the south side are the interlinked areas of Le Brevent and La Flejere, with a variety of bowls and slopes above timberline from the mid-stations and fantastic views of the Mont Blanc range and glaciers on the other side of the valley. Vertical drops here from the summits to the mid-stations range from 1600' to 2500,' but with sufficient snow at lower elevations one can ski all the way down to town with verticals of nearly 5000.' My favorite runs are Piste de la Combe, Piste des Crochures, and Combe de Lachenal. The latter, curving down a vast bowl, with incredible vistas, is one of my favorite runs anywhere. My favorite ski station in the world easily is Les Grands Montets. From the mid-station are a variety of runs through vast bowls that can interest a skier for weeks. The piece de resistance is skiing the pistes from the summit tram, with their 4,000' vertical down to the mid-station. The fantastic runs, Point de Vue and Pylones, drop quite steeply down the mountain through vast snow fields and bowls, the top half on the glacier. On the Pylones, you can chart your own way down a variety of paths, through different bowls, making the descent endlessly fascinating and challenging. One can also ski the off-piste glacier run, half of which descends quite steeply along a huge snowfield, and the other half more gently along the lower glacier, passing crevasses. The views from all these pistes are magnificent. The summit is also the start of the famed off-piste, super-expert route, le Pas de Chevre, which drops, sometimes very steeply, into the Mer de Glace, with more than a 5,000' vertical. Other runs include the sweet, advanced intermediate Bochard, with a vertical of 2500,' the diverse routes down the Pendant bowl with its 3100 vertical, and the varied paths down the lower half of the Lognon bowls, with a 2100' vertical accessed from La Herse lift. From the mid-station, one can ski down to the base on the twisting, intermediate Pierre a Ric trail with a 2400' vertical. If you started from the summit and skied to the base, you will have skied an incredible 6,700' vertical. The skiing at Les Grands Montet is not easy; the runs range from advanced intermediate to expert, but the runs challenge one's mind and body. At the end of the valley is le Tour. In a week I would only ski there once. The runs generally are too easy for me, with the exception of the several trails down the north side of the mountain. However, the views up the valley of the the Mont blanc range are different and gorgeous. At least one day, you should ski the Vallee Blanche, which is a true mountaineering adventure. The run begins from the top of the Aiguille du Midi at 3842 meters. The vistas from this peak of peaks and spires are sublime, with the Weisshorn and Matterhorn visible to the east and the Mont Blanc and mightly glaciers in close view to the southwest. From the summit one hikes down a sharp ridge, holding onto ropes, and then skies through vast snowfields, at first fairly steeply and then more gradually down the glacier for twelve miles and a 9,200' vertical. The views are absolutely incredible and the skiing very interesting. The excursion takes a half a day or more from start to finish. With abundant snow, you can follow the path made by other skiers and do it alone; in leaner snow conditions you should take a guide because the route is over a glacier with dangerous, hidden crevasses. Chamonix has so many positive aspects. which is why I keep returning. The negatives are that the town is very crowded during holidays, and that other than Le Brevent and La Flejere, the ski stations are not interlinked. If you don't have a car, you have to take the Chamonix bus between the areas. The bus system is efficient, but if you miss a bus, the wait can be 20 minutes for the next one, and sometimes one has to stand on a crowded bus.
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