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Monte Blanc – Chamonix Piste Maps and Guides

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Very fragmented

There are several low beginner areas dotted along the Chamonix valley but there are five main areas.

The gondola for Le Brévent departs a short, steep walk or bus ride from the centre. There are runs on open slopes below the arrival point and a cable car above takes you to the summit. There is lift link to La Flégère, also accessible via an inadequate old cable car from the village of Les Praz. Both of these sunny areas give stunning views of Mont Blanc.

Up the valley at Argentière a cable car or chairlift take you up to Les Grands Montets. Chairs and a gondola serve excellent steep terrain above mid-mountain, but much of the best terrain is accessed by a further cable car of relatively low capacity, not covered by the basic valley pass (Chamonix Le Pass). This shady area can be very cold in early season.

A little way further up the valley, the secluded village of Le Tour sits at the foot of the Balme area of mainly easy pistes. A gondola goes up to mid-mountain, with a mix of drags and chairs above. The slopes are also accessible from Vallorcine (right by the train station). It is also the starting point for good off-piste runs, some ending in Switzerland.

Les Houches is the only major area down-valley of Chamonix. This low, wooded area is accessed by a gondola or cable car from the village. The lifts are not covered by the basic pass.

Chamonix piste map


Not enough

Cable cars and gondolas serve each sector, but many need upgrading to be fully efficient. The handful of fast chairs are widely scattered.


Ancient lifts, serious queues

The overdue replacement of the Brévent gondola a couple of seasons ago was very welcome, and reporters find it a huge improvement. But this was only one of the valley’s problem lifts. The ancient Flégère cable car can generate queues of an hour or more – to go down as well as up. The lifts out of Argentière build queues, and the chairlift appears to be on its last legs – it no longer operates from the main station, but starts a short way up the slope. At mid-mountain, the top cable car is a famous bottleneck. You can book slots in advance (at the ticket office or online) and it’s ‘best to do this the day before as places tend to sell out early’, says a reporter. Instead you can join the ‘stand by’ queue, which we’ve found to be an effective alternative. A 2010 reporter suggests going to Vallorcine and taking the gondola to miss queues at Le Tour if skiing La Balme.

At Les Houches the two access lifts are widely separated, and it’s worth going for the modern gondola rather than the inadequate Bellevue cable car. Both of these lifts build queues in poor weather when woody Les Houches gets crowded. Expect queues on the hill, too – all the chairs here are slow.

Crowded pistes are also reported to be a problem in places – most notably at Lognan on Grands Montets.


In outlying areas

The experienced HO5 crew, responsible for parks in several other French resorts and headed by ex-international pro Nico Watier, has been working hard to fine-tune the 800m long Snow Bowl park on the Grands Montets. It features a good range of obstacles including eight tabletops, four rails and a step-up, step-down feature. The Fun Zone is designed for beginners wanting their first taste of air time. And there’s a boardercross too. You can check the latest details at

There are also two terrain parks at Les Houches, one of which is floodlit twice a week.


One of the great resorts

Chamonix is renowned for its extensive steep terrain and deep snow. To get the best out of the area you really need to have a local guide. There is also lots of excellent terrain for ski-touring on skins. See the feature panel for more on off-piste possibilities.

The Grands Montets cable car offers stunning views from the observation platform above the top station – if you’ve got the legs and lungs to climb the 121 steep metal steps. (But beware: it’s 200 more slippery steel steps down from the cable car before you hit the snow.) The ungroomed black pistes from here – Point de Vue and Pylones – are long and exhilarating. The former sails right by some dramatic sections of glacier, with marvellous views of the crevasses.

The Bochard gondola serves a challenging red back to Lognan and a black to either Plan Joran or the chairlift below. Shortly after you have made a start down the black, you can head off-piste down the Combe de la Pendant bowl (‘excellent, so much space, always great snow’).

At Le Brévent there’s more to test experts than the piste map suggests – there are a number of variations on the runs down from the summit. Some are very steep and prone to ice. The runs in Combe de la Charlanon are quiet and include one red piste and excellent off-piste if the snow is good.

At La Flégère there are further challenging slopes – in the Combe Lachenal, crossed by the linking cable car, say – and a tough run back to the village when the snow permits. The short draglift above L’Index opens up a couple of good steep runs (a red and a black) plus a good area of off-piste.

Balme boasts little tough terrain on-piste but there are off-piste routes from the high points to Le Tour, towards Vallorcine or into Switzerland.


Plenty of better resorts

Chamonix is far from ideal for intermediates unless they relish challenging slopes and trying off-piste. If what you want is mile after mile of lift-linked cruisy pistes, go elsewhere.

For less confident intermediates, the Balme area above Le Tour is good for cruising and usually free from crowds. There are excellent shady, steeper runs, wooded lower down, on the north side of Tête de Balme, served by a fast quad. A lovely blue run goes on down to Vallorcine but it is prone to closure.

The other areas have some blue and red runs. Even the Grands Montets has an area of blues at mid-mountain. The step up to the red terrain higher up is quite pronounced, however.

If the snow and weather are good, confident intermediates can join a guided group and do the Vallée Blanche (see feature panel).

A day trip to Courmayeur makes an interesting change of scene, especially when the weather is bad (it can be sunny there when Chamonix’s high lifts are closed by blizzards or high winds).


Head for Le Tour

Chamonix is far from ideal for beginners too – there are countless better resorts in which to learn. There are nursery slopes either side of Chamonix itself, but they are limited, low and (in the case of Les Planards) dark and cold in mid-winter. They are separated from the other sectors of slopes, so moving on to longer runs is a major upheaval. La Vormaine, at Le Tour, is a much better bet: extensive, relatively high, sunny and connected to the slopes of the Balme area, where there are easy long runs to progress to. But it’s 12km from Chamonix itself.


The undisputed king of freeride resorts, Chamonix is a haven for advanced snowboarders who relish the steep and wild terrain.

This means, however, that in peak season it’s crowded and fresh snow gets tracked out very quickly.

The rough and rugged nature of the slopes means it is not best suited for beginners, but for more experienced adventurous riders, willing to try true all-mountain riding. If you do the Vallée Blanche, be warned: the usual route is flat in places.

Check out former British champ Neil McNab’s excellent extreme backcountry camps at Most areas are equipped mainly with cable cars, gondolas and chairs.

However, there are quite a few difficult drags at Balme that cause inexperienced boarders problems – though you can avoid these if you can hack the cat tracks to take you to other lifts, says a reporter.

There are terrain parks on Grands Montets and at Les Houches.


A decent network of trails

Most of the 40km of prepared trails lie at valley level in and between Chamonix and Argentière. All the trails are shady and often icy in midwinter, and they fade fast in the spring sun. Catch the bus rather than ski between the Chamonix and Argentière areas, suggests a reporter, as the link is by ‘steep and difficult trails’.

Chamonix Piste guide source

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