Chamonix couldn’t be much more different than the archetypal French ski resort. For one you won’t be based in a high altitude, purpose built concrete monstrosity; and unless you base yourself on one mountain and stick to it you’ll either have to catch a bus or drive to the slopes each day. In fact, Chamonix breaks every rule when it comes to a French resort, it not only a dislocated ski area but you can’t even ski back into town. And, on top of that, the terrain in very steep and very challenging, with more to interest the expert than anyone else – and even then a mountain guide is required for much of Chamonix’s most famous and spectacular skiing.
But although Chamonix is neither convenient, nor conventional, it is special. Chamonix is without doubt the spiritual home of alpine mountaineering and one of the top ski resorts in the world. The views are quite simply breathtaking as the Chamonix valley cuts deep between the Aiguilles Rouges and the Mont Blanc Massif; with Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, looking serenely on. The ski runs are steep and committing, high and long, with some of the best vertical descents in the world. So if you prefer your skiing wild and steep Chamonix may be the place to ski. But be warned, there are those who never leave.
Chamonix has long been established as a tourist town and has a rich heritage as an alpine center. Chamonix is a bustling town with scores of restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels. The center is pedestrianized with cobbled streets and squares, beautiful period buildings and the river Arve flowing through it. Not everything is perfect. Unsightly modern buildings have been built on the periphery of Chamonix but these are largely in Chamonix Sud, away from the historic center. But where there were once lovely old buildings falling into disrepair a renewed effort has been put into smartening up the center of town and efforts are under way to try and ease the traffic which skirts around the pedestrianized center. Chamonix’s shops once dealt solely in high tech mountain equipment and tacky souvenirs, and whilst both still abound there are now plenty of fashionable boutiques for the visitors; and the squares and cafes are often full with shoppers and sightseers gawking at the tumbling glaciers and snow capped peaks.