Chamonix is a town that you can easily fall in love with. It has a certain French charm about it, whilst also retaining its reputation as one of the adventure (and risk) capitals of the world. After living here for a winter season, the different ski areas that are available begin to form into a favourites list. So here are the top ski areas in Chamonix, with some tips to help you shred.
5. Les Houches
Les Houches is last on this list as it is probably one of the least adventurous of ski areas within the Chamonix area. As it is also the lowest in the valley there can also be some issues with snow here early or late in a season.
In saying that, Les Houches has a number of redeeming qualities. Firstly, because the trails tend towards the beginner to intermediate range, it is a great area for beginners or those looking to get back into skiing and boarding. This also means that for families this may be the go to choice as it also has beginner areas and is a bit less to handle compared to some of the other areas. Also, a lot of the time when there is bad weather, Les Houches will be the pick of the bunch with better visibility. Finally, don’t underestimate how fun their park can be. As the whole area is meant for beginner to intermediate riders, the park also caters to this and is great for learning new tricks and skills.
4. Le Tour
Le Tour is another area that caters quite well for beginners, and as it is the highest area in the valley it can also have some pretty decent snow coverage. This is but one of the reasons why it beats out Les Houches.
Le Tour is a step-up from Les Houches in that whilst beginners will feel welcome here, so will the intermediate to advanced group. There are plenty of wide open spaces here but there is also something here that you don’t often find in European resorts – tree skiing. Head over to the back on a powder day and have some fun. Another bonus to this area is that often you can come here a day or two after a powder day and still find some fresh lines. This is mostly because other more popular areas get skiied out first, leaving a small amount on Le Tour to search for it!
One of the more popular things to do on Le Tour is to make your way over the back-end and keep on going over to Vallorcine. This small town just outside of Chamonix is great for a drink and lunch before making your way back to the main resort. And if you know where to go, you can make your way down to Vallorcine through the backcountry for some even more fresh lines!
3. Flegere / Brevent
I know that Flegere and Brevent are two separate areas, but because they are connected by lifts I’ve decided that they should be treated as one. Also, a full day starting on one area never really seemed complete unless you transitioned over to the other for a short stint.
These two areas are an underrated option on powder days, when a lot of people will flock to Grand Montets the runs here will be just as fantastic and often less crowded.
Some tips for Flegere:
– Skiers left at the top of Floria opens up a lot of terrain and some ‘slackcountry’ leading you back to Trappe lift. Wide open bowls are accessible where you may have to traverse a little bit but the reward is worth it
– Similarly, skiers right of index provides another open bowl if you traverse enough leading down to Evettes lift. You can also access this bowl by going down ‘pic janvier’ run for a short while and then hooking up to the right to get up and over the top of the hills.
Some tips for Brevent:
– There are many options from the top of Cornu to find some great powder lines. Keep an eye out!
– Coming down from the top of Brevent lift gives you some options for some short hikes which end up depositing you above Stade and Parsa lifts. There will usually be some trekked out paths by the early-comers, but the entrance is usually signposted with warning signs (and in this case, heed them but also use them to guide you to the pow!).
2. Grand Montets
Grand Montets will always hold a special place in my heart which is why it nears the top of this list. I may be biased as I lived in Argentiere (where Grand Montets is), but even friends would race their way up the valley to make first lifts on a good snow day.
The terrain in this area is insane (insanely good) and is definitely more suited to the intermediate to advanced group. That being said, there are some small areas where beginners can learn so don’t let that put you off if you want to give this area a try.
On a powder day, you better make sure that you’re up nice and early as the lines for the lift here will be full of anxious skiers and boarders wanting that ultimate first line. On one of these days, you will often see two groups, those who want to head to the very top of the glacier (and will wait until the top lift opens, sometimes taking a while), and those content with the mid-range runs (that are still quite high) for their powder. I am an advocate of both. Here are some tips that should help you out to find some great lines:
– If you’re heading to the top of the Grand Montets lift, turning right at the bottom of the stairs (instead of to the main runs on the left) will give you the best runs in pow. That being said I would highly recommend having avalanche gear here as you are skiing on a glacier and the risk of crevasses are prominent. Runs back to Herse and Bochard are popular and offer many options
– From the top of Herse, turning left at the top of the lift opens up a few options off-piste which all ultimately funnel either back to Herse or lead you to the bottom of the mountain. Be careful of hidden rocks if the snow cover isn’t great!
– The top of Bochard gives you MANY options for fun. Heading back under the lift and traversing across as far you can go puts you at the bottom of the glacier-fed runs from Grand Montets, leaving you with some safe pow. Turning right at the the top of Bochard leads you towards one of my favourite bowls which goes to Retour Pendant chair. Depending on how far skiers left you go you may also find one of my favourite runs down Lavancher bowl which eventually takes you to Le Lavancher bus stop (for a ride to Chamonix town or back up to Argentiere)!
1. Aiguille Du Midi
Despite this not looking like an area that you would ski or snowboard on, it gets the top spot because it provides some of the most extreme runs available in the area (there are others though of course). Two that I have been exposed to are the Vallee Blanche, and the run down to the village from mid-station (Plan De L’Aiguille). These runs were some of the most fascinating of my season, and from what I’ve heard some other lifts have also now opened at the top of Aiguille du Midi opening up even more terrain over to the Italian side of the alps.
I would highly recommend trying both of these runs, and as many as you can from these lifts. I would also highly urge you to obtain guides for these as the Vallee Blanche is entirely on glacial terrain (and therefore dangerous without gear and knowledge), and the mid-station run whilst fun can provide some easy wrong turns if you are not careful.
If you do manage to get onto this part of Chamonix, you will come across some amazing seracs and terrain like in the picture below. It truly puts everything into perspective!