Perched high in the French Alps, Chamonix is one of the finest ski destinations in the world. It’s famous for its adrenaline-charged, off-piste opportunities; incredible scenery; and a smorgasbord of après-ski offerings. With so much going in its favour, it’s easy to see why Chamonix is widely considered the mountain sports capital of the world.
Part of the Mont Blanc range, Chamonix has been at the pinnacle of Alpine exploration and adventure since the mid-18th century. In those days, a Swiss scientist offered a reward to anyone who could successfully ascend the highest mountain in the Alps. Overnight, a daring spirit of Alpine adventure was born.
The resort area saw considerable growth during the Victorian Age. Then, in 1924, it hosted the world’s first-ever Winter Olympic Games. At this point, Chamonix had secured its title as the capital of all-mountain skiing. Even in today’s much more competitive global market, many avid skiers continue to insist that Chamonix reigns supreme. To be fair the other resorts, it’s difficult to improve upon perfection.
The energy at Chamonix is contagious, and it’s easy to get carried away on a quest for adventure and greater challenges. Combine this with the relatively laid-back approach the local snow patrollers take to policing the slopes – or, more importantly, your ability to handle them – and you’re left with a competitive atmosphere of one-upmanship that can lead to accidents and injuries. Fortunately, there are slopes to accommodate every skill level, and ski instructors and mountain guides abound.
Chamonix is nested in a steep-sided valley crowned with rocky spires and clad in rivers of glacial ice slowly stretching their fingers down into lower elevation. It’s an equally appealing destination for ice-mountaineers, skiers and snowboarders – and attracts all in droves.
Ski enthusiasts can expect nothing short of challenging (some would say ‘breakneck’) powder-filled terrain. The trails are groomed here, but they aren’t meticulously manicured as with many other ski resorts in France.
You can expect to find each of the following:
- Endless powder fields
- Steep and narrow chutes
- Long linking runs for intermediate skiers
- Enormous moguls
- Spectacular cliff drops
- Glacial skiing
- Nursery slopes for beginners
The best thing about Chamonix is that there really is something for everyone. Groups of friends with varying skill levels can all enjoy what this resort has to offer – each finding terrain to suit their comfort level, whilst finding just the right level of challenge to sharpen their skills where appropriate.
Furthermore, ski instructors flock here in order to qualify, and there’s certainly no shortage of highly capable and qualified guides available. With that in mind, the best way to get the most out of the terrain is to sign up for an off-piste course or even enrol in a ski school. Likewise, professional guides are on hand to find the best terrain to suit your precise skill level and abilities.
Restaurants and Nightlife
Given its broad, international appeal as one of the top places for luxury ski holidays, it’s no surprise that Chamonix has such a spectacular line-up of après-ski options. The resort has upwards of 100 restaurants serving everything from classic French cuisine to Japanese sushi. Pubs, cafés, bistros and a variety of family-friendly offerings fill out the list.
One of the on-site highlights is the Michelin-starred Restaurant Atmosphere, which features candlelit dinners and a set menu showcasing the local Savoyard cuisine. The restaurant itself is built up over the river and – true to the name – it offers truly atmospheric dining.
Following a morning on the slopes and an afternoon on a sundeck admiring the view and enjoying the local specialties, many skiers are ready for a night out. Whether in search of an intimate evening of cocktails and conversation or a late and raucous night at the club, you’ll find a venue to suit in Chamonix.
The resort town features a variety of pubs, bars and brasseries for après-ski drinks and snacks. The town also hosts two nightclubs that stay upon during winter until the early morning hours. Expect themed nights, live music and international DJs.
How to Get There
Chamonix is well-connected to Geneva and the rest of continental Europe by road, rail and air.
Chamonix is about 100 km from Geneva airport, making it all the more desirable as a relatively easy-to-reach destination with absolutely stellar skiing and snowboarding opportunities. It takes about one hour and 15 minutes to complete the drive.
As a rule, you won’t need chains to access the resort or to get around the general area. However, it’s worth noting that some of the local resorts – including Verbier, Vallorcine and Lavancher – may be inaccessible without the proper gear.
Finally, some skiers drive in from much farther afield. Bourg en Bresse, Troyes and Reims are all less than 1,000 km away, and it takes roughly eight hours to complete the drive.
For those who would rather not fly, riding by rail to Chamonix is a relatively comfortable alternative. It’s also highly affordable if you book at least four months in advance for the Eurostar line to Paris. Chamonix is a stop on the line that connects the French and Swiss rail networks – either at St Gervais Le Fayet or Martigny.
There are a few different options available. By day, the fastest option is via Bellegarde. Meanwhile, the night train from Paris to St Gervais will arrive in Chamonix in time for you to hit the slopes in the morning.
Finally, you can also ride the train directly into Geneva from Paris or Lille, and then arrange onward transport from there. Bus transfers from the airport are cheap, though many find it worth it to hire a car and drive themselves in. This certainly affords a bit more freedom during your stay.
The easiest way to connect to Chamonix is, of course, by air. Flights arrive from all over Europe, and some even offer free ski carriage. One of the most airlines for Chamonix-bound skiers is EasyJet, which also offers a highly competitive shuttle transfer to Chamonix.