Located on the border of France, Switzerland and Italy, Chamonix is the original home of alpine sport. Since the 19th century, thrill seekers have sought adventure amongst its towering peaks, and tales of their daring climbs and first descents are the stuff of local legend. When entering the famous valley, views of flowing glaciers, steep mountain walls and of course Mont Blanc (4810 m) will not go unnoticed; this is a resort that looks like no other.
- Highest Point: 3,568m
- Descent: 2,298m
- No. lifts: 248
All sense of decorum goes right out of the window when there is a powder day, however. If you want to get fresh tracks you had best sharpen your elbows for the queues and not wait too long surveying your line, as one moment’s hesitation will mean some nutter leaping over your head from a rock above, and stealing it. There is plenty of fine off-piste only a short traverse from the lifts however, and once the obvious stuff is tracked out, hire a guide or a heli and head off into the awesome backcountry.
Having hosted the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924, Chamonix developed a vast lift system operated by the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc Chamonix (or just ‘The Company’ as it is more ominously known) and now offers the full spectrum of riding, from easy to very extreme terrain. That said, many of its lifts are long in the tooth, and it is the gnarly side of Cham – epitomised by an insanely steep cable-car that sweeps you up a pinnacle of rock known as the Aiguille du Midi – for which the place is rightly famous. You know a resort must have some pretty special steeps when freeriders like Neil McNab and James Stentiford call it home.
What’s new for 2019/20
Despite ‘The Company’s reputation for limited spending, recent years have seen a turn in the tides. A €447M 40-year investment plan has been rolling out over the last couple of seasons and has, so far, included the new Plan Joran lift at Les Grand Montets. This season’s big news comes in the form of a brand new 10-seater cable car at Flégère, which will come as a Godsend to those who experienced queues in the morning that regularly exceeded an hour just to get to the rideable terrain.
A further €1M has been invested in the Bochard lift station – not in terms of its speed or capacity – but it’s reliability, so it should run smoothly for the entire season this year.
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The Parks – 2/5
Unlike places like Avoriaz or Breckenridge, Chamonix is not known for its freestyle. In recent years, however, Les Grand Montets has played host to the valley’s first snowpark. Maintained by H05 parks, it features some small and medium sized boxes, gaps and rails. You might call this an intermediate park as opposed to a pro park.
There’s also a small park at Bellevue Les Houches, and another on the Brevent area. In reality that one is little more than an airbag, but they do claim to have a small 5-rail set-up as well. No matter what the park situation is, the bottom line remains; if reliable, cutting-edge freestyle facilities are your priority, Chamonix probably isn’t for you.
“If reliable, cutting-edge freestyle facilities are your priority, Chamonix probably isn’t for you“