We have plans to go there, so I've been doing some reading and jotting down notes. Note that some of the threads I was reading are years old, so restaurants and cafes are not guaranteed to be still trading. So, in no particular order, here you go -
There are 5 ski areas around Argentiere and the Chamonix Valley, one of which, Les Grands Montets, is located in the village of Argentiere. Each of the ski areas has its own character. They are not particularly joined up by skiing, but they do join up by the local resort buses. Each ski area has plenty of scope for a good full days skiing, with each resort offering different types of terrain to ensure that wherever you ski, it is a bit different than the resort you had went to the previous day.
Brevant – accessible from the town centre, and with a shiny new access lift. Generally quite wide slopes with beginner and intermediate grades, along with a couple of good steep runs suitable for off-piste & advanced skiers. The ski area faces south so is excellent for sun early season, but late season can get a bit slushy in the afternoons.
Flegere – accessible from Le Praz and also linked to Brevant. Wide slopes with quite a few grades – nice reds, blues & greens. Lots of possibilities to ski in amongst the trees, so an excellent place for advanced / off-piste skiers in bad weather. Scene of chest deep powder skiing during 2007/8 season. The cable car access can get quite crowded so it is well worth getting there before 09:00 in the morning. South facing so good for sun, but high enough that snow stays really quite good. Access to some great ski touring in the Aiguilles Rouge via the Index lift.
La Tour (La Balme) – offers a huge area, great for all levels. There are good beginners slopes at the very bottom as well as high up. Intermediates appreciate the wide open runs; cruisey blues & reds. Advanced skiers have access to some excellent off-piste, although some areas are highly avalanche prone. The area links into Vallorcine, with some really nice tree runs on that side. Possibility of skiiing off the back into Switzerland before returning on the train.
Grands Montets – probably the best off-piste skiing in Europe, possibly the World. There are huge areas accessible from the Bochard Lift (or "the bubble") into Lavancher Bowl and of course from the Grands Montets top lift skiing down the Grand Mur or onto the Argentiere Glacier. Many parts of this area are on glaciers and / or have significant avalanche risk. Within the marked & patrolled pistes there are excellent reds & blacks well suited to intermediate & advanced skiers.
Les Houches – last year was included in the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass and is excellent for beginners & intermediates. Generally wide, open pistes, with plenty of green, blue & red slopes. Plenty of tree runs so a good option on whiteout days. Also home to the Kandahar Downhill course – easy enough to ski with plenty of turns, but straight line after it has been iced for the race it is best just to spectate !
Beginners - there are several dedicated beginners areas (Planards, Les Chosalet), and also beginners slopes in all the ski areas other than Grands Montets
Intermediates - will enjoy the La Tour, Flegere and Brevant areas with good blue and red runs - you might find the red runs a bit steeper than reds in other resorts.
Experts - will love the vast off-piste areas of Grands Montets as well as excellent routes on the Flegere side. There is a good snowpark at Grand Montets for freestyle.
Argentiere is a compact village with just a few hundred permanent residents. In the winter and summer seasons it becomes vibrant & busy with a reasonable selection of shops, bars & restaurants for a small village. If you are in need of a bigger town experience and fun, Chamonix is just a 15 min bus ride away. The main advantage to Argentiere is that the Grands Montets ski area is just a short walk away.
Argentiere has been a popular destination for the period of "modern skiing" over the last 50 or so years. Previously it was popular as an alpine retreat within a rural farming community.
Argentiere offers a few fun bars:
Rusticana – Pop your skis/ boards onto the back patio and warm up inside into a relaxed and chilled environment with great staff and food. Posh John and Jerome will take care of all your beverage needs!
The Office Bar - Popular après-ski venue also does "gastro" pub grub. It usually has live sports on two, large screen TV’s and offers live music a few nights a week.
The Stone Bar – Italian restaurant and bar, great place for a hand tossed pizza and homemade pasta sauces. They have a pool table and darts in the back.
Savoy Bar- A small, lively bar that hosts a fabulous après-ski on a daily basis.
Argentiere has a great après-ski but not much of a busy nightlife so if you would like a busier night out, just pop onto one of the buses to get down into Chamonix. Night buses run till fairly late, and a taxi can always take you back if you’ve found yourself in Les Choucas and are very late!
Getting there - a number of taxi/bus operators will drop you to your door from the Geneva airport. About 90 minutes - a bit more to Argentiere. Sort of 25-30 euro per head. A quick search should find you a handful of them.
Getting around - Since the various slopes aren't connected (except for Brevant and Flegere) buses can get you around the valley - it's large, with Argentiere about nine miles up the valley, and La Tour further again. I've had varying reports about the last bus between the two towns, but 11:45pm seems to be popular. We're staying in Argentiere, so that's relevant to us, but perhaps not you if you're staying in the main town.
Passes - In general there are two options (not including season passes, the locals pass etc.); "Le Pass" and the "Unlimited Pass". The Unlimited Pass gives you access to the Aguille du Midi lift as well as the top lift at Les Grands Montets. Everything I've read indicates you'll likely need to book a spot on the top lift at Les Grands Montets, and your guide will arrange that if you hire one. The map I'm looking at also excludes Les Houches from Le Pass, so if you want to ski there think about the Unlimited Pass. From memory the cost differential between the two passes is getting up towards 10 euros a day.
Here's a couple of good places to start researching:
Bit of a spiel about the Vallee Blanche.
I once read about a cool way to demo Dynastar skis for free at the bottom of Les Grands Montets - not the valley floor, the bottom of the runs. From memory you pick up a coupon or ticket from the sports shop next to the valley lift station in Argentiere and use it to demo up on the hill. Ask around.
In busy periods the upload from the valley to the slopes can be a long wait - best to get going early.
Various tidbits found on forum posts about cafes and restaurants about the place.
- Buy the Vamos guide to off piste, touring and backcountry - available in most Tabac stores
- Refuge de Lognan - access via a black run from the top or from the Herse and leave via off-piste through the trees
- La Cremerie du Glacier (off the run down to Grand Montets lift) is good
- There is a great little restaurant beside the Chalets de Balme drag lift at La Balme (Le Tour). Can't recall it's name but it's obvious. You almost certainly will need to book.
- L'eTape North (Savoy) end of the Chamonix main drag - small cafe/bistro with good food and coffee
- La Potoniere - Chamonix centre - worst meal for a loong time
- Both Indian places (Tigre, Tigre and Annapurna) are good if a little pricey
- Chambre Neuf in the town is a cool, buzzy apres bar and is open quite late
- Le Grenier in Argentiere is good
- Alain Peru (fusion) and Bivouac in the town are good
- Good small bar about half-way up the main road, just set back off the road in a little shopping complex (Grand Roc I think).
- La R'mize a Revanel was very good years back (if it's still there) - right side of the road heading into Argentiere
Le Bistrot in Chamonix used to be out of this world. It may still be.
Best restaurant in the Alps - Our new favourite, "Chiecco", Courmayeur. Just awesome, awesome, awesome - http://www.chiecco.com
Just above the gondola base station on the left looking up, next to the drag lift for the beginner's slope