Chamonix for Families

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Chamonix for Families
Chamonix's action-packed activities entice not only experienced skiers and climbers, but also families with young children. Try not to miss the dogsledding tours, floodlit ice-skating, and a two-person roller coaster.
By Simon Willis, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Pierre Raphoz/Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
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    Ride the Luge Roller Coaster at the Parc de Loisirs
    Chamonix's visitors usually find their speed thrills in either scaling up or shooting down its mountainsides. There is one man-made attraction, however, which also gets the adrenaline flowing. The Parc de Loisirs is a great alternative activity for the family, and its range of attractions includes slides, electric motorcycles, and trampolines. The highlight is definitely the huge luge roller coaster, which winds down more than 4,000 feet of rails, including two 360-degree loops and a few hair-raising drops. Two people can go at once, with the person in the rear controlling the brakes.
    Photo courtesy of Pierre Raphoz/Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
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    Mush through the Snow
    Whether you are a dog lover or not, it is difficult not to be enchanted at the sight of four panting huskies whisking you along a perfect white canvas of snow. These animals are not only affectionate and talented; they're also incredibly beautiful. Various dogsledding tours are available here, including self-drive sleighs which allow you to mush the dogs yourself. Otherwise, drivers or mushers can be hired, leaving you free to wrap up and stay warm under a blanket while admiring the Mont Blanc backdrop. Mountain Lifestyle is one company offering trips for adults and children. Twilight rides, with the only light coming from your own headlamp, are particularly atmospheric.
    Photo courtesy of Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
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    Explore the History and Development of Chamonix
    For a journey through the intriguing history of what is now one of Europe’s most desirable ski resorts, visit the Alpine Museum, in the early-20th-century Chamonix Palace. Exhibitions and galleries at the museum present information on the development of the resort and on skiing in general. Highlights include two Englishmen’s earliest records of Chamonix in 1741; an installation about the creation of cable cars; and a look at the first-ever Winter Olympics, held here in 1924. Elsewhere, the Musée des Cristaux (Museum of Crystals), located inside the Espace Tairraz exhibition hall, displays an array of minerals from Mont Blanc and around the world.
    Photo by Tommaso Di Girolamo/age fotostock
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    Ice-Skate the Day Away
    Watching the sun descend behind the picture-perfect mountains while twirling and gliding around the ice is a fantastic way to spend an evening. While Chamonix has a few ice-skating facilities, the outdoor rink at Les Houches is one of the most popular. Located on the main road near the train station, the floodlit rink fills up late in the day with patrons who come to skate along to music until 11 p.m. It’s also free to use—apart from the skate rental, which will set you back just a few euros. Elsewhere, the Centre Sportif Richard Bozon has two rinks: an Olympic indoor and an outdoor. The tiny village of Vallorcine also has a small outdoor one as part of the Residence & Spa Vallorcine Mont Blanc.
    Photo courtesy of Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
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    Fine Family Fondue
    While Chamonix takes pride in its diverse gastronomy, there is one legendary dish which is eternally synonymous with Alpine skiing: Fondue is simply a must, and La Calèche, located downtown, is one of the most popular places for indulging in the gooey, bubbling cheese. Excellent bilingual service coupled with delicious set menus make this a great choice for a family lunch or dinner. Elsewhere, off the piste and through the trees at Argentière, is a wooden chalet also serving fantastic fondue. La Crèmerie du Glacier is not easily found—especially at night, when headlamps are needed to navigate your way through the forest—but this magical adventure is one that children will love. For a more chic experience, check out Le Sérac. Situated on the town's main road, this spot specializes in traditional French classics and fine modern cuisine.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Indulge in a Night of Italian Cuisine
    One of the charms of Alpine skiing is the ease with which you can cross over to another country to ski, eat, or explore. Various outfitters in Chamonix provide all this in one package. Known as "the Italian Job," it means you get transported through darkened Alps on a snowmobile and into Italy for a night of fine Italian food and wine. The return journey can be even more exhilarating, as guests have the option to leave the restaurant on skis and burn off some of their meal by navigating down a slope with the aid of a headlamp. (The less adventurous can take a snowmobile back to base.) Prestige Outdoor Specialists is one company which offers this trip.
    Photo by Andreas Strauss/age fotostock
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    Outdoor and Indoor Pools
    Chamonix is not just about skiing. Several lakes and the Centre Sportif Richard Bozon are wonderful places to enjoy a swim. The latter has two pools; one is indoors, and the other is a heated outdoor pool. It also has a waterfall, waterslide, and rapids, which keep children entertained as adults grab some much-needed rest and relaxation in the sauna, Jacuzzi, or solarium. Lac de Passy is a 15-to-20-minute drive from Chamonix, and is a popular summer destination for picnics, barbecues, and swimming. A beach also skirts one side of this clear blue lake, while the backdrop is that of magnificent Mont Blanc.
    Photo by Vladimir Zhuravlev/age fotostock
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    Venture inside a Glacier
    If the experience of seeing, walking, and skiing on the surface of a glacier isn't thrilling enough, the Mer de Glace gives visitors the chance to venture inside a glacier's icy center. A 25-minute ride on the Montenvers train will take you around France’s largest glacier and to the man-made ice cave. Then, board a gondola to a set of more than 400 stairs that head down into the depths of this receding glacier. Here, you will be able to touch the smooth surface of this spectacular formation, see ice bubbles and insects trapped inside its walls, and enjoy the ice sculptures and artifacts. Be warned: The descent on the steps is quite arduous. Also, check beforehand to ensure the glacier is open.
    Photo by Henrik Trygg/age fotostock