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Headed to Chamonix...what is the "least I need to know"?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

Hi All,


I'm checking off one of the resorts on my bucket list--Chamonix. I'm headed there 12-19 March.  I'm a strong skier with a group of good skiers.  We will get an a guide at least 1 day...maybe more.  I've skied Europe many times (Austria, Switzerland and more) so I am familiar with some of the general differences between Europe and North America but if anyone has any Chamonix-specific insights, I'd be most appreciative: places to ski, can't miss restaurants etc. 



post #2 of 13

The Grand Montets is generally considered the best of the domaines, and has some very fine stuff. Much of the goods are off piste, and a guide would be quite useful.


The Vallee Blanche is the standard guided route for most tourists/intermediates. The scenery is spectacular and it's probably worthwhile doing just to say you did. I didn't until my third trip there, and I ended up doing it solo, unguided. It was anti-climactic after much of the more serious stuff; when they say intermediate or better, they are not pushing the envelope of intermediate.


The descent from Grand Montet to mer du glace is more serious. The argentiere is also worthwhile. For me the best runs I got in were the Hellbronner to Italy, but it is most definitely not intermediate level descents.


Watch the weather as well. Mont Blanc is big enough that sometimes the snow is good on the Italian side and not on the french side. If so, spend a day over in Courmayeur; it's a big enough area to keep you occupied for several days as well, and has oppotunities for all levels.The food is freaking awesome on both sides as well.

post #3 of 13

Pas de Chevre is a classic descent from Le Grand Montet and it ends on the Vallee Blanche. iWill's recommendations save me from saying them myself.


I did a trip report for my Courmayeur trip. We went to Cham for a couple days. Mer de Glace (Vallee Blanche), Pas de Chevre, skiing from Hellbronner into Courmayeur.


Courmayeur, IT, February, 1998


FWIW, the Mer de Glace is a glacier so unguided tours can be risky, especially if there is fresh snow.

post #4 of 13

Chamonix has a number of nearby areas which, unlike some Euro mega resorts are NOT interconnected.  I spent a week at the Club Med on the edge of town/slopeside to one of the less challenging areas in March 2004 and my favorite area was Grand Montets, about a 20 minute bus ride.  While the snow was very slushy near town and at lower elevations, it was mid-winter quality off the Gondola at Grand Montets.  IIRC, you had to pay a supplement or get some sort of extra tix to ride it.


Agree with iWill re Vallee Blanche- nice scenery but the most technical part was getting from the Gondi to the start of the run (on the route we took with a guide).

post #5 of 13

A ride up to the Aiguille du Midi on the tram would be on my list. If you do the Vallee Blanche from the French side, I believe this is how you start. We did the Vallee Blanche starting from the Hellbronner so we never did the tram.

post #6 of 13
Originally Posted by MastersRacer View Post

A ride up to the Aiguille du Midi on the tram would be on my list. If you do the Vallee Blanche from the French side, I believe this is how you start.

Correct and the walk across the ridge to where you put your skis on was the only time we needed our climbing harnesses (as none in our group fell into any crevaces).


One other point about the Grand Montets tram- it had a pretty fair line and may have even required reservations or tix for a specific tram- our Club Med instructor handled this, so I am not positive.


Cham gets its reputation from the off piste (and mountaineering) NOT pisted resort skiing, so get a guide more than 1 day if you can.




post #7 of 13

The upper lift at grand montets has two options - you can buy for the ride or for the day. If your plan is to make a few trips, you get the full day ticket; if you plan to adventure to the col or down to the mer du glace, you buy a single ticket.



post #8 of 13

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 Summary

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



Have fun.


post #9 of 13

Also, the Unlimited Pass typically includes Courmayeur (buses depart from the town each morning and take you through the Mont Blanc Tunnel) as well as Verbier, about 64 km away in Switzerland.

post #10 of 13
There is a bar on a small side street. It is kind of modern and across the road from an Irish bar. In this bar there is a table made out of a Burl from a tree. The Burl has a hole in it. If you drink enough, drinks can be dropped in the hole and won't reappear under the table. Magic.

There is a hotel called Albert somthingorother. Nice hotel, very euro. The have some wicked good bourbon. Say you want Prrivista. It really means "private stock" in frenchie frenchie. They have a Bosnian accordion player there named Samir. He is good at playing the accordion and will show you really cool stuff on The Montets. Samir is good.
post #11 of 13

Just learn what "crevasse" means, and you're good to go.

post #12 of 13
Originally Posted by sinbad7 View Post


    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



Have fun.


Chiecco is very good, as are Petit Mt. Blanc in Val Veny and the Maison Vielle at the top of the Maison Vielle chair. In town both the Bar Roma and the Guides Bar were good evening spots.


post #13 of 13

If you are heading a good skier's party consider hiring a guide to ski the Couloir Cosmiques or Glacier Rond off the Aiguille in case they are in condition.

Much more rewarding than the classic Vallee Blanche but can be no-fall zones at times.


Also, Punta Helbronner above Courmayeur has plenty of challenging steeps to offer. You can bypass the stairs of the classic descente on the left (short

pitch of 54°) or far left thru a 45° couloir. Also from the last before the top great couloirs are spilling onto the Glacier du Toule.


I used to stay either at the Richemont or Morgane, both in walking distance to the Aiguille du Midi tram and town center.

Conditions improved again lately so seems as if you luck out. Have fun.



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