Nestling in the shadow of Mont Blanc – Europe’s highest mountain at 4807m -Chamonix lives and breathes mountain history. Chamonix has long been hailed as a mecca for climbing and mountaineering with bearded mountain men striding around town and regaling listeners with tales of leaping crevasses, dodging rock falls and climbing peaks. There’s Mont Blanc to be summited, the north face of Les Drus to be tackled and Les Grands Jorasses to inspire. Indeed, Chamonix first came to prominence as a summer tourist destination in the 19th century and the first cable car opened at Le Brevant for summer walkers.
Now Chamonix is just as famous for its winter activities as one of the most challenging ski resorts in the world including the world famous Vallee Blanche – Chamonix’s most well known off piste adventure. Starting from the Aigille du Midi -one of the most visited and stunning panoramic view points in the world – and with the services of a guide, you can ski an uninterrupted 22km past blue ice formations, yawning crevasses and tumbling glaciers. A 2.8 km vertical descent through some of the most amazing alpine scenery. Then of course there’s Les Grands Montets with its legendary off piste and glacial variants, the Aiguilles Rouges and the Pas De Chevre.
But perhaps Chamonix’s reputation now deserves a rethink. Chamonix now combines its internationally renowned ski area with an elegant, cosmopolitan and bustling town center. With its cobbled streets, majestic old buildings, rich heritage and open squares Chamonix is much more than just another ski resort and has kept much of its original mountain charm and retains a very French , very friendly and very alpine atmosphere. Indeed, Chamonix is quietly transforming from an enclave of wizened climbers and skiers into a much more international, elegant and varied resort.
Yes, the climbers still flock to Chamonix in the summer and unwashed skiers bustle to be the first up the mountain to carve their tracks in the snow; but now Chamonix attracts a far more eclectic crowd. You’re just as likely to find Channel opening up opposite a local climbing shop as the local spit and sawdust transforming into a swanky bistro. That’s not to say smoky local French bars crammed to the rafters with burly mountaineers aren’t to be found, it’s just that now they?re jostling for attention from a mixed clientele.