Chamonix Snow and Ski

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Chamonix Snow and Ski
For years, Chamonix has been synonymous with the finest skiing in Europe, if not the world. While well-groomed slopes cater to beginners and intermediates alike, the X factor is the sheer amount of unmarked, and often untracked, terrain.
By Simon Willis, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by age fotostock
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    Ski the Slopes at Night
    After an arduous day on the slopes, a choice has to be made. Either you settle in with a glass of red and watch the snowflakes kiss the window, or you strap on your boots and head out for floodlit skiing. Those opting for the latter should make their way to Les Houches, where on Thursday evenings the Tourchet piste is open with no cover charge (and with hot chocolate and mulled wine on hand to keep you warm). Riders also dip into the Vallée Blanche for one of the best moonlit runs, while on Les Planards' ski slopes, the night slalom events are free to watch.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Test Your Endurance on the Haute Route
    Traversing vast trails, tackling steep slopes, and crossing glaciers are what make the Haute Route the most renowned ski-based endurance adventure on Earth. Beginning in Chamonix and ending in Zermatt, Switzerland, this 112-mile journey was first conquered on skis in 1911; nowadays a ski tour of the route takes about seven days. People from around the world come to enjoy the dramatic scenery, the challenging nature of the tour, and the gratifying finish at the iconic Matterhorn. Guides offer navigation and avalanche training during the day, while nights are spent snuggled up in huts. Those wishing to take on the Haute Route should be in good shape physically and should have some touring experience. The services of a guiding company, such as SkiAscent or Adventure Consultants, are also required.
    Photo by Simon Willis
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    Off-Piste Skiing at Its Very Best
    When it comes to untouched, vast, and varied off-piste skiing, Chamonix is, quite simply, one of the greatest destinations on Earth. While the abundance of easily accessible yet demanding terrain will entertain you for weeks, a few spots cannot be missed. The Aiguille du Midi cable car not only offers arguably the best view of Mont Blanc, but also winds down the Vallée Blanche—the longest off-piste descent in the world. But before you tackle the 13.5-mile journey down, make sure you grab a bite to eat at Le 3842—one of the highest restaurants in Europe. Grand Montets' enchanting magic forest is great for weaving in and out of trees, and its changeable topography ensures every run is unique. "Steep deeps" such as Pylones, which travels underneath a cable car, also offer challenges for even the most advanced of skiers.
    Photo courtesy of David Ravanel/Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
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    Refine Your Skills at Ski School
    Whether you're looking to master your first snowplow turn or land your first 360, an array of high-quality ski courses can be found in Chamonix. The Panda Ski School in Argentière offers instruction for children up to 12 years old and also has a kindergarten for toddlers (advanced bookings are advised). For adults of all levels, École du Ski Français (ESF) is the leading school, with over 250 teachers, many of whom speak excellent English. Meanwhile, Off Piste Performance is a company run by award-winning instructor Alison Culshaw, who prides herself on tailored, one-on-one training for children and adults of all levels.
    Photo courtesy of Monica Dalmasso/Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
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    Chamonix Cross-Country Skiing
    Chamonix has in its midst some of the most stunning Alpine scenery around, and a great way to fully appreciate it is to traverse some of its 36 miles of cross-country-skiing trails. Circuits are split into blue (easy) and black (intermediate/difficult), and are mainly situated in Argentière and Les Praz. Argentière is the place to head to if you're looking for a challenging journey, as its trails tend to be steeper. A bit farther out, through the Mont Blanc tunnel, is Val Ferret in Italy, where serene routes wind through the mountains and provide fantastic opportunities to enjoy an Italian coffee while admiring the south face of Mont Blanc.
    Photo by Simon Willis
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    Toboggan Your Way Back to Childhood
    Sometimes it's great to get back to basics, and sledding fits the bill for both children and adults. Sledding is possible throughout Chamonix, as you can grab a sled and hurtle down any slope you find. In Les Houches, however, you'll find specially designed runs that form fun and safe spots for this entertaining activity. The 262-foot run in the Prarion area, located at the top of the gondola, is devoted to sledding and tobogganing, meaning there's no worry of impeding skiers and snowboarders. Les Chavants is oriented in particular toward toddlers. The sledding run in Servoz is another popular place for this activity. Sleds and toboggans are available to rent or buy in many stores.
    Photo by Jan Greune/age fotostock
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    Combine Skiing with Paragliding
    Skiing and paragliding are two exhilarating Alpine activities; put them together and you get speed riding (or speed flying), a sport that combines the sensation of flying through the Alps with the crunch of snow beneath your skis. Speed riding has really taken off in recent years, and lessons are taught in Grands Montets and Le Tour. Schools include Chamonix Parapente, Les Ailes du Mont Blanc, and Absolute Chamonix. Instructors will teach you how to maneuver the kite, deal with wind surges, and keep it flying. At least intermediate-level skiing skills, on- and off-piste, are required. Don’t forget your helmet camera if you want to document the action.
    Photo courtesy of David Ravanel/Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
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    Snow Park Freestyle
    Though it's best known for its extreme off-piste skiing, Chamonix also boasts several snow parks for fearless freestylers. The Grands Montets Summit Snowpark stands out, with a variety of kickers, tabletops, rails, and rollers for all levels. Scan your lift pass to have your run filmed, and relive that perfect flip or smooth landing on the big screen at the bottom of the slope. You can even request that a copy be sent to you. Over in Les Houches, the Bellevue Snowpark offers a great introduction to freestyle riding for beginners, as well as facilities for experienced riders. Oh yeah, and the unwritten rule for all freestylers is to share their stories over mounds of nachos and jugs of beer at Chamonix's après-ski hot spot—MBC bar.
    Photo courtesy of Office de Tourisme de Chamonix
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    The Alpine Calm of Snowshoeing
    It’s easy to forget the spectacular Alpine scenery when you're hurtling down a mountain at breakneck speed. Snowshoeing, however, allows you to enjoy the serenity of deserted valleys and seemingly endless mountain peaks. So peaceful are some of the areas that the only sound you'll hear might be the crunch of snow under your feet or the scampering of deer in the distance. There are many companies offering full- and half-day trips, or even night trips, on trails between Chamonix and Argentière. For those visitors who already feel confident navigating around the valley, snowshoes (imagine a squashed tennis-racket head fixed to your feet) are available to buy from shops in the town, and trail maps are available from the tourist office.
    Photo courtesy of Patrice Labarbe/Office de Tourisme de Chamonix