Sunday, March 12, 2023

Skiing in Chamonix, France - A Guide for Americans


We recently got back from a bucket list experience, a ski trip to Chamonix, France.  Two quick observations: 

1: It was as charming an experience as we had hoped and imagined. It's a small village of about 10,000 people that is nestled in the French Alps with many skiing options. 

2: It was actually less expensive to travel and ski for a week in Chamonix, France than it would have been for us to ski in Colorado.  This is mainly do to the cost of lift tickets in the US; $200+ a day for the US vs $60 dollars a day for Chamonix.  More on this later.

There was so much information on line about Chamonix that I found a bit confusing, that I thought I could share a few tips that might make your planning and visit easier.

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Chamonix is to fly into Geneva, Switzerland. Geneva is about an hour drive to Chamonix.  

From Geneva to Chamonix there are a variety of shuttles that will take you directly from the airport to Chamonix. We used a company called Mountain Drop Offs, which we booked online before our visit. Mountain Drops Offs has an easy to find booth in the airport, to connect with your driver, which helps you by pass the number of drivers that are holding up signs looking passengers.

Because they are all part of the European Union, getting from Switzerland to France is as easy as crossing from one US state into another. Once we got out of the airport, we didn't need our passports at all. 

I might recommend staying a day or two in Geneva on your way back to the US.  Geneva is a stunning city situated on a beautiful lake and we enjoyed our final day of the trip discover this Swiss gem.  Ask you hotel concierge about Geneva's Old Town. 

Lodging - Where to stay

Chamonix has a wide variety of hotels and Airbnb's for rental at all different price points.   I might suggest staying closer to the actually town of Chamonix rather than one of the many small towns in the valley.  The town is very walkable and has an excellent free bus system to all the different ski area. 

The small towns in the valley are quite charming, but they are also limiting with entertainment, shopping and dining options.  Also, staying in a smaller city has limited transportation options. If you are staying in Chamonix, you do not need to rent a car because of the town's walkability and the number of free transportation options to various ski areas.  

We stayed at an airbnb that was actual more affordable than ones we've rented before in Utah and Colorado. I encourage you to check out those options as well 

Buses in Chamonix - Chamonix has an excellent public transportation system and renting a car often isn't worth the time. Parking can also be a challenge.  The buses to the 4 Chamonix ski areas are free (more below) and are both convenient and frequent.  Almost everyone rides the bus and it's a great way to meet other skiers and get info about the area from other tourists.  You might hear about needing a free Guest Card to ride the bus. We had one but never saw a bus driver ask for it. 

The are three main bus stops that every tourists should know.  

Chamonix Sud Terminal (Chamonix South) - This is the main bus terminal in town, and just about every bus passes through here. You can also catch buses to other resorts and towns outside of Chamonix. 

Chamonix Central - This large stop is the on the north side of downtown. This is a very convenient stop for trips to Brevent ski area, so you don't have to walk up the hill. 

Place Mont Blanc - This large plaza in the middle of town is also a convenient bus stop to head out to La Flegere, Grand Montets and La Tour ski areas. 

But I Don't Speak French

Chamonix is a town that caters to tourist. Though a majority of the tourist are French, I encountered only a handful of town's people who didn't speak English.  I have a small knowledge of French and every time I attempted to use it, I was kindly interrupted with, "That's okay, I speak english"

We actually met a Irish driver on our way back to Geneva who worked in Chamonix for three years and never learned any French. So of he can get by, you can too. 

Skiing in Chamonix

Passes - There are different passes that you can get to ski in Chamonix and the surrounding areas. Both are very affordable as compared to US resorts.  My 5 day Chamonix LePass was over $700 cheaper than a 5 day pass in Colorado. 

Chamonix LePassThere are four different ski areas that your Chamonix LePass pass will allow you to visit, plus the beginners slopes in town. 

The four resorts of Chamonix are Brevent, La Flegere, Grand Montets and Le Tour.  For most skiers, this pass will suffice and allow you to experience Chamonix.

Brevent - Brevent is located right above the city of Chamonix.  You can see the easily cable car that goes to the top of the mountain.  You can walk to the lift, but it is all uphill and few people choose this.  Most hop on the free bus that takes to gondola.  

BUS TO BREVENT:  Catch the Brevent Bus (Number 14)  at either the Chamonix Sud station or the Chamonix Central Stop.  You are supposed to show a guest card to get on the bus, which your hotel can give to you, but honestly I never saw anyone ever show it.  Everyone just crowds on the the bus. 

Brevent is probably the most popular resort.  It connects to La Flegere by cable car, so you can easily visit both in one day.  Most people refer to this as Brevent - Flegere, as if it one large resort. At the top of the mountain there is an additional cable car that will take you to the very top for spectacular views.  The runs on the top of this cable car are the most challenging, so most just travel for the view and ride back down. 

There is also a beginners area at the base of the main Gondola if you have never skied before. 

La Flegere - Connected to Brevent by cable car,  Le Flegere offers a variety of terrain just outside the city center.  Like Brevent, you need to take a cable car to the top of the mountain, where the resort is located. 

Getting to La Flegere - There are two ways to get to La Flegere, the first is the free bus.  You can catch the #2 La Tour Bus from either the Chamonix Sud station, the Chamonix Central stop or at the Place Mont Blanc, the large open plaza in the middle of town.  The bus comes frequently so you won't have to wait long.  It will most likely be packed with skiers as this bus stops at both Grand Montets and La Tour. 

You can also get to La Flegere by simply skiing to the resort from Brevent.  There is a cable car you ski to that connects the resort. The cable car between the resorts is free with your lift ticket

TIP - If you intended to ski both Brevent and La Flegere on the same day, which most people do, it might be easier to start in La Flegere depending on where your hotel / apartments located.

Grand Montets - Grand Montets is the largest and most challenging of the 4 Chamonix resorts. It was wide open bowls that attract hearty skiers after a fresh snowfall. It is located about ten minutes away from Chamonix in the town of Argentière.  

Getting to Grand Montets - You can catch the #2 La Tour Bus from either the Chamonix Sud station, the Chamonix Central stop or at the Place Mont Blanc, the large open plaza in the middle of town.  The bus comes frequently so you won't have to wait long. The buses are modern and have a video display on what the next stop is.  It's pretty obvious though when you are pulling up to the resorts. 

La Tour - La Tour is the last stop on the #2 Bus and the final of the four Chamonix resorts to visit.  It is the most friendly to intermediate skiers.  It features gentle wide open bowls that are fun for both the intermediate and the advanced skier.   La Tour has two entry points, and if you choose you can ski or take the cable car down to the small town of Vallorcine. 

Ski into Switzerland! - The last chair of the resorts (on the very left of the trail map) follows the border of Switzerland.  If you care to, you can take the off piste open bowl run off the the left of the chair,  you  will be in Switzerland.  I caution you to plan your way back to the main run before you hit the tree line. 

Getting to La Tour - La Tour is the final stop on the #2 La Tour Free Bus. You can catch the #2 La Tour Bus from either the Chamonix Sud station, the Chamonix Central stop or at the Place Mont Blanc, the large open plaza in the middle of town.  The bus comes frequently so you won't have to wait long. The buses are modern and have a video display on what the next stop is.  It's pretty obvious though when you are pulling up to the resorts.  

Getting to La Tour by Train - There is also a wonderful train that takes you to the town of Vallorcine that is also free with your Guest Card or 5 Euros without. You can buy a ticket from the conductor. Vallorcine is a very small town with a gondola lift to the ski area.  Coming home by train - the train leaves at :10 after the hour.  If you miss the train, you must wait another hour for it to return or ski back through the resort to La Tour.  The bus does not stop in Vallorcine.

Waiting for the train in Vallorcine

Mont Blanc Unlimited Pass - This pass is slightly more and will allow you to visit a number of areas outside of the Chamonix area. It also allows you to take advantage of some really great attractions such as the recreation center and the indoor pool. 

Additional Ski Areas -

Les Houches -  The Mount Black Unlimited Pass allows you to ski at all the resorts and beginners areas in Chamonix. It also also you to ski at  Les Houches, which is a great family area.  Bus #1 from the Chamonix Sud station or Chamonix Center station will take you there

TIP - Les Houches is pronounced; "Lai Zouche", with a silent 'H' and the 'S' from Les forming a 'Z' sound. I pass this along because I was mispronouncing this for several days trying to find information about the resort and no one knew what I was talking about. 

Courmayeur - Courmayeur is an extensive ski area just across the border in Italy.  Your Mont Blanc Unlimited Pass allows you to ski here also. The trip by bus takes about an hour and travels through a tunnel under Mont Blanc.  The bus is not free, but can be booked online and caught at the Chamonix Sud station. 

Other attractions: Aiguille Du Midi - This lookout high atop the alps within shouting distance of Mont Blanc is an attraction in itself. At over 12,000 feet, the view is spectacular.  There is a cluster of lookouts, shops and restaurants at the top and in the summer you can take a gondola into Italy across the glacier.  Your Mont Blanc Unlimited Pass allows you to take the 2 cable cars that reach the top.

Atop the Aiguille Du Midi

Montenvers Mer De Glass - This small rail line (starting in its own train station across from the main train station) takes you up the mountain to see the famed Mer De Glass glacier, (translation: Sea of Ice)  The glacier has melted significantly in the past 40 years and one must now take a gondola down to the ice cave that is built into the glacier. It's a fun daytime excursion.

The Ice Cave built into the glacier

Skiing the Vallee Blanche - 

One of the true adventure and lures of Chamonix is a trip down the Vallee Blanch, a 20K trip from the Aiguille Du Midi to the Montenvers station. This off piste trip is one of the reasons many go to Chamonix. It's not the most difficult off piste runs, mostly feeling like a long blue run, but there were a few parts that had moguls and your speed needed to be checked. Skiers attempting the Vallee Blanch will need the following.

A Guide:  A guide can be reserved for yourself or your group before you leave for Chamonix.  A guide is a necessity because of the number of ice crevices, lack of signage and multiple paths down the mountain.  The Guide company has been a fixture in Chamonix for over 100 years and are wonderful part of the local flavor. Your guide will call you the day before your trip to co-ordiante at meeting place. 

Time - Plan for your trip to take most of the day.  We left at 9am and spent about an hour getting to the top, checking out the view from Aiguille Du Midi and preparing ourselves for the trip down.  The beginning of the trek includes a short, hair raising hike with crampons along a narrow ridge to a plateau where you can strap on your skies. You will be roped to your guide for this portion of the trip.  From the plateau, we spent about two to three hours making it down, not rushing but enjoying the experience. 

Passes - Having the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass comes in handy because it allows you to ride the cable cars up to Aiguille Du Midi and at the end the Montenvers railroad back into town.  The cable car to the top is located a few blocks south of the Chamonix Sud bus station. 

Equipment -  The only special equipment I need was a small backpack that had multiple straps to attach my skis and poles while traveling to the top.  Water and snacks are also welcomed. Other than that, your regular kit for skiing is appropriate.  Your guide will supply you with crampons for the hike and avalanche safety gear. 

It took me a few days to  figure out how to get around the Chamonix valley and how to take advangtage of everything the town offers.  I hope this answers a few questions you may have about a trip to Chamonix.  It's one of many ski trips I have taken to Europe and it was one of the most enjoyable and most accessible.  If you have further questions, you can e mail me from my website,

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