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Chamonix

Welcome to the roof of Europe! Skiing beyond the frontiers!

Chamonix Mont Blanc has been at the sharp end of Alpine adventure since 1760, when a Genevois scientist offered a prize for the first ascent of the highest Alp. It had its first growth spurt in the Victorian era, hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and has re-emerged on the freeride wave as the capital of all-mountain skiing.

Ski instructors and mountain guides come here to qualify.

Every dedicated skier and snowboarder puts it on the bucket list to see how they’ll measure up to the challenge of what Chamonix calls simply “le grand ski”. Of course, there are nursery slopes and blissful fast-cruising pistes as well as all the rough stuff. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the famous 13 miles Vallée Blanche glacier run. But this resort town, with its ski areas spread out along the valley, is never going to deliver an effortless holiday.

Queues and bus rides are part of the package and call for patience plus planning. The reward, when you emerge from the lift, is an empty mountain and a long descent that may leave you grateful for the chance to recover in a queue. The numbers give a clue as to Chamonix’s stellar pedigree.

This is a landscape built on a heroic scale that makes other resorts seem tame by comparison.

No two days are the same in this hugely varied ski area. Chamonix’s smaller neighbors offer the same top-quality slopes but a quieter holiday.

Les Houches, Argentière and half a dozen smaller resorts all count as Chamonix, for lift pass purposes, if not after dark. Close to the Swiss border in a no-mans-land between road passes, Vallorcine is a more remote satellite.

Chamonix resort itself is a busy town of 10,000 permanent residents at the foot of Mont Blanc, just below the French entrance to the Mont Blanc road tunnel, a major transalpine freight route.

A tranquil Alpine retreat it may not be, but Chamonix’s setting beneath the cliffs and tumbling glaciers of the Mont Blanc massif is tremendous, and the bustling town doesn’t lack charm. Its old buildings have kept their sedate Victorian and more fanciful Belle Epoque look and, now that the center is traffic-free, it offers pleasant strolling, with cafés overhanging the river Arve’s torrent and a wealth of interesting shops – galleries, bookshops, and specialty food, as well as souvenirs and the latest technical snow-sports clothing and hardware.

At the center of it all stands the statue of the young hunter and collector of crystals Jacques Balmat showing de Saussure the way up Mont Blanc. Proximity to Geneva and its all-around, year-round active lifestyle appeal has made Chamonix a popular place to settle and set up shop, creating a uniquely cosmopolitan, colorful and dynamic entrepreneurial scene.

Lodging in Chamonix