A local’s guide to Chamonix

Chamonix. It’s the town that Glen Plake calls home, the gateway to many a high-mountain tour, 40° couloir and pristine peak. Just don’t count on the coffee to prep you for that daredevilish descent of the Aiguille du Midi

It’s the resort that everyone’s heard of. The classic. The Godfather of ski resorts. And talking of films, it’s provided the back-drop to many an iconic ski segment. Who can forget Scot Schmidt jump-turning his way down the 2m-wide chutes off Les Grands Montets in The Blizzard of Aahhh’s?

Ever since it hosted the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924, it has been a part of skiing history. Its position, lying in the imposing shadow of Mont Blanc and surrounded by some of the highest, gnarliest and often cruelest peaks in the Alps, has made it synonymous with hardcore mountaineers and adrenaline-hungry skiers. The kind of skiers who are pushing boundaries and paving the future of the sport. Why do they come here? Because the whole valley is dotted with heart-in-your-mouth couloirs, alluring hike-to terrain and more than a sprinkling of world-class touring options.

But it’s not all about throwing yourself off the Aiguille du Midi and hurtling down a rock-shrouded face. The valley is made up of three main ski areas. It’s fragmented, the glass-half-empty types say, but we just see more possibilities: from the glacial highs of Grands Montets to the easy-on-the-eyes, south-facing slopes of Brévent/Flégère, to the more thigh-friendly options at Balme Tour Vallorcine.

If you splash out on a Mont Blanc Unlimited pass, you can also ride the tree-lined slopes of Les Houches, or drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel to the Italian resort of Courmayeur. So with all that on Cham’s doorstep, it’s easy to see why the likes of Glen Plake, Aurélien Ducroz, Andreas Fransson, and our local, Chris Fecher, spend winter after winter here.

BEST RUN FOR A WARM-UP

Head to the Grands Montets area above Argentière. There’s a good network of well-groomed reds and blacks that will get that muscle memory working, and ease you into some of Chamonix’s steeper slopes. Plus, the snow is always reliable here, even in spring.

BEST PLACE TO FIND FRESHIES

Chamonix has lots of good stashes, some of which are a lot harder to access than others. The best tactic if you don’t want to work too hard is timing. January or March are usually the months when the planets align giving great conditions and fewer people fighting for the best powder spots. Lines from Les Grands Montets, such as Pas de Chèvre, are also well known and popular hike-and-ride options, and well worth ticking off the bucket list.

DO NOT LEAVE CHAMONIX WITHOUT…

Heading up the Aiguille du Midi. It’s a ski lift that takes you straight to Cham’s most full-on offerings. It has something for everyone. Newcomers can take a guide and cruise the classic Vallée Blanche, ?a stunning glacier adventure with many tantalising variations. Experienced backcountry skiers can look at classic steep descents like the Glacier Rond or Cosmiques couloir (which both boast hair-raising gradients of between 40º to 50º). Tinderbox (the ?ski school I run) offers full guiding services and off-piste and ?touring intros.

THE BEST THING ABOUT LIVING IN CHAMONIX IS…

Well, it’s not the coffee, that’s for sure (you’re better off heading over to the Italian side if you’re an expresso snob). But the best thing has to be the setting. I’ve spent more than 20 winters here, but I still find myself looking up in awe of the many pristine peaks that line the Chamonix valley.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT CHAMONIX?

That it’s just for hardcore skiers. Yes there are a lot of challenging lines, and a lot of people who think they’re the mutt’s nuts. But, there’s actually just a small number of alpinists and downhill mountaineers who are really pushing boundaries, and that’s the stuff you’ll end up reading about. But, with such a huge variety of skiing in the valley, it can be just as fun and inspiring for all levels of skier.

FOR MOUNTAIN BITES

The best place to head is the L’Arrêt Bougnêtte, a little restaurant at the end of the train station in Vallorcine (+33 4 50 54 63 04). It’s a toss up between the croute or savory pancakes for the best dish. Both involve lots of cheese, bread and ham. Savoyard goodness!

FOR DINNER IN TOWN

I like Le Munchie, or Munchies (munchie.eu), it’s kind of Asian/Scandanavian fusion (yes, that can be a thing). The steak and sushi are my favorites. If you want top-end French fare, try Maison Carrier (hameaualbert.fr), which is set in an old farmhouse. Don’t forgot to ask to see the pudding trolley.

FOR AN APRÈS-SKI TIPPLE

That’s a no-brainer. It has to be the Chambre Neuf; it’s super popular with the Swedish crew and really takes off at happy hour. For something different and slightly less full-on try MBC (Micro ?Brasserie de Chamonix), which is a microbrewery and often has live ?bands playing, too.

FOR LATE-NIGHT DANCING

Head down to the train station. You can start the night reveling with tanned Swedes at Chambre Neuf, and from there you can stumble to Moo Bar for a potent cocktail, or to Elevation 1904 for a more chilled-out vibe. FL

PISTES & PASSES

  • Pistes: 115km/71 miles
  • Blue/green: 54% Red: 31%
  • Black: 15%
  • 42 ski lifts
  • Day lift pass €46

@ www.chamonix.com

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