Situated between the Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve and Mont Blanc, at the crossroads between France, Switzerland and Italy, the Chamonix Valley has 14,000 year-round inhabitants and more than 80,000 tourist beds.
In 1921, the town of Chamonix was renamed to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, and for good reason. Wherever you are in the valley, you cannot miss the majestic Mont Blanc, which dominates its surroundings from an altitude of 4,810m. It is the highest peak in Western Europe, earning it the nickname "the roof of Europe".
There are a total of 16 towns, villages and hamlets in the Chamonix Valley. The four administrative communes of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, Vallorcine, Servoz and Les Houches, together, make up the Community of Communes of the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc Valley.
Chamonix, World Capital of Mountaineering and Skiing
Since two Chamoniards completed the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786, Chamonix has become the world capital of mountaineering and skiing.
Today, with 6,000 primary residences and close to twice as many secondary residences, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is a year-round holiday destination. In winter, beginner skiers are well catered for with several ski areas dedicated to them - Les Planards and Le Savoy in Chamonix, La Vormaine in Le Tour, and Les Chosalets in Argentière. More experienced skiers can take the Aiguille du Midi cable car up to 3,842m before tackling the famous 24km Vallée Blanche off-piste descent.
The Chamonix Valley Ski Area
Depending on your skiing ability and preferences, you can choose from a number of ski areas in the valley, all of which are linked by the ski bus.
Situated 10 minutes from Chamonix centre, the ski area in Les Houches is ideal for families and is particularly suitable for beginners and intermediate skiers. The majority of pistes are not especially steep, however, one exception is the "Verte des Houches" black run which has been used for World Cup downhill races since 1948. At 3,343m in length with a vertical drop of 870m, it is the only World Cup downhill course in Haute-Savoie.
In Les Houches, in addition to four green runs, five blues, 12 reds and the above-mentioned black run, there are also 10km of cross-country skiing trails as well as good snowshoeing terrain.
Le Brévent / L’aiguille du Midi
The Aiguille du Midi cable car is one if the highest in the world - it reaches 3,777m from where an elevator takes you up to the summit at 3,842m. The Aiguille du Midi is a purely off-piste area, reserved for the most experienced skiers. Le Brévent is the closest ski area to Chamonix town centre and has the best views of Mont Blanc, especially from Le Panoramique at 2,500m.
Since 1997, the Brévent and Flégère ski areas have been interlinked by a gondola lift, and since 2000, they have been officially combined under the name Brévent/Flégère.
The Flégère ski area is in the commune of Les Praz, less than 2km from Chamonix town centre. The altitude ranges from 1,030 to 2,525m, and there are 56km of pistes suitable for all levels of skier. There is a beginners area which is accessible on foot from the town centre, whilst more experienced skiers can amuse themselves on the black run down through the forest, with its vertical drop of 800m.
La Flégère also offers off-piste skiing along with numerous ski touring trails, especially towards the Aiguilles Rouges massif.
Les Grands Montets
Les Grands Montets is the largest ski area in the valley, starting from the commune of Argentière, only 8km from Chamonix. With a maximum altitude of 3,295m, the ski area is made up of three zones - the forest between Argentière (1,252m) and Logna (1,972m), mixed alpine terrain between Lognan and the top of the Bochard gondola (2,765m), and the glacier, accessible via the Top des Grands Montets cable car (3,275m).
There are pistes suitable for beginners at Les Chosalets. For the more adventurous, there is a snow park and two black runs. The area is also ideal for off-piste.
Les Grands Montets also offers numerous summer activities - climbing and abseiling on the ice waterfalls (which become ice walls in winter), the 2,500m2 snow garden, hiking trails, mountain biking, tandem paragliding at an altitude of 3,220m. From the Argentière glacier, there are spectacular views over the whole valley.
Le Tour / Balme / Vallorcine
The main ski area of Le Tour/Balme/Vallorcine has 19 pistes (11 blue, seven red and one black), accessible via the Charamillon gondola lift at Le Tour or the Vallorcine gondola. In Vallorcine, you can also enjoy off-piste skiing near the Swiss border.
In the commune of Le Tour (1,464m), the Vormaine beginners area is the valley's largest, with two green runs, one blue run, a freestyle area, a fun park and three drag lifts.
Just five minutes from Chamonix town centre, the Planards area is best known for its amusement park with toboggans, trampolines and merry-go-rounds. There is also the 1,300m Luge Alpine Coaster, unique in the area and open all year round to ages 3 years and upwards. In winter, there are also five beginner ski slopes.
The Chamonix Valley, More Than Just a Ski Area
Historically, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc was primarily a summer holiday resort. Today, summers here are as popular as ever with numerous activities on offer such as hiking, mountain biking, mountaineering, paragliding, canyoning, rafting, via ferrata, golf, horse riding, paintball and swimming in pools and lakes.
Guided tours are organised in the surrounding area to discover the protected fauna and flora within the Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve. You can also rent a tablet computer at the tourist office and use the Itinerio app to help you discover the valley. The app will take you around seven geo-guided trails and 110 points of interest. Don't miss the view of the Mer de Glace from the famous Montenvers rack railway.
In winter, needless to say, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc offers all the activities you would expect to find in a world-famous ski area - alpine skiing (including off-piste), ski touring, cross country skiing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, speed-flying, skating and tobogganing.
And whatever the season, the town has an abundance of amenities for visitors to enjoy including spas, shops, bars, restaurants and nightclubs.