Situated on the Italian border, this 4,000 metre mountain is the only peak in Europe to offer guaranteed snow. First timers, be prepared to spend some time horizontal. There are a few ski areas for beginners.
Most of the skiing is best for people at intermediate and advanced levels, who can spend the morning in Switzerland and the afternoon across the border in Cervinia, Italy. The 29 mountains offer plenty of runs.
If you are not the best on ski’s then avoid die-hard runs, like Torah, in one of the resort's two snowboard parks. Down from the slopes, after a scenic aerial tram ride to thaw out you can visit the beautiful village of Zermatt and just sit back, have a hot chocolate and watch the world go by.
A word of warning; don’t expect this to be a ‘bargain’ break. The cost of living is quite expensive but the trade off is that you can expect a ski or snowboarding trip with the wow factor.
Although living costs are quite expensive you can still search for a bargain snow villa with Bargain Villas.
Search Bargain Villas for a cheap accommodation in the Swiss Alps
So you think you're a good skier? you can handle a couple of moguls? and that one time you went so fast that your bobble hat 'almost' fell off?...well I hate to break it to you but you suck....compared to Ben Hedley
When speed skier Ben Hedley starts his run the 33-year-old accelerates to 100mph in as little as four seconds. Ben, from Clapham, south London, said: "You plunge straight down and accelerate from nought to 100mph in four to five seconds.
"That's as fast as a Formula One car. Except the likes of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have brakes. And a steering wheel of course."
Now if you do want to brush up on your skiing skills then you can always take a ski break. Search Bargain Villas for you next cheap ski villa
But a word of caution: a thaw is expected in some parts of the Alps this week, with rain falling below 2,500m and most resorts still yet to open. If you're planning a trip before or over Christmas and new Year, it'll be wise to stay high.
I'm just back from Val d'Isere and Tignes, which are both skiing at their January best. Not all runs are open - but that's due to an absence of people rather than snow. Last weekend, the temperature on the Grande Motte fell to a dismal minus 28C. Base is now 28-58cm. Courchevel is not yet open, but in mid-week there was even more snow than in Val.
Les Deux Alpes is 30 per cent open and has 125cm on the higher slopes. the Grands Montets sector of Chamonix opens this weekend with 64cm at valley level and 130cm up on the glacier.
More snow has been falling across the country. In Solden, the glacier on the road up was closed briefly because of avalanche danger. nassfeld in Carinthia caught 30cm in the same storm. The base is now 80-125cm.
In Zermatt, you can't yet ski down to the valley floor, although snow depths range from 70-173cm on the Gornergrat and Rothorn. In Davos, some pistes on the Parsenn and the Jakobshorn have opened with snow depths of 28-103cm.
The Dolomites have done particularly well, with regular snowfalls in recent weeks. Madonna di Campiglio (45-145cm) has the best of it along with San Cassiano (50/130cm).
The Spanish resort of Formigal has opened with 25/75cm, and the picture is similarly attractive in Andorra.
Breckenridge got off to a great start with huge dumps of snow and has 100cm base mid-mountain. Vail has 60cm but is skiing well. Snowbird heads the table with 147cm after 60cm this week. Jackson Hole has 119cm.
In Canada, Whistler had 46cm of fresh snow earlier this week and now has a base of 100cm.
Now you know the best places to find the finest powder this Christmas all you need to get things moving is a place to stay. Search Bargain Villas for a great deal on a ski villa and ski apartment.
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Glenshee sells itself as the most extensive skiing in Scotland, with 25 miles of downhill runs over four mountains.
Although it was open for business earlier in the season, all the lifts were closed yesterday, with conditions "pretty foggy". There is "plenty of snow for sledging", but not for skiing or boarding until things get colder. A day pass costs £25. For more information, visit ski-glenshee.co.uk or call 013397 41320.
Runs at Scotland's "original ski area" were closed although the access chair lift was "opening", according to updates on glencoemountain.com. The site also reported that, "Ski runs are filling up well. Good cover across the mountain. We are ready to open for snowsports when snow conditions are suitable." January day passes for adults start at £15.
The Scottish resort is said to be great for beginners and is currently operating four runs with man-made snow. The plan is to open more lifts as conditions improve; at lunchtime, staff reported that an inch of snow had fallen in an hour. An adult day pass costs £25. Go to lecht.co.uk or call 01975 651440.
The Nevis range
The resort has 12 lifts and 20km of on-piste runs. There's no skiing at the moment, but the snow is expected to arrive soon. In the meantime lessons are available on the artificial slope. A full day pass is £26. Go to nevisrange.co.uk or call 01397 705825 for more information.
The funicular railway and four lifts were open but, according to cairngormmountain.com, skiiing was for "experts only". "Visibility is 200 metres and temperature is -3C ... there are still a lot of icy areas around." A one-day ski ticket costs £29.
Raise, Helvellyn, Cumbria
Raise can hardly compete with the Alps, but it now boasts a permanent button lift. There was "insufficient snow for skiiing" yesterday. Contact 015395 35456, or go to ldscsnowski.co.uk. (Skiers must first join the Lake District Ski Club; adult membership costs £23. The daily tow fee is £7.)
Yad Moss, Cumbria
A recent lottery grant has funded two piste bashers and a new slope-side cafe at Yad Moss, which also has a permanent button tow, but as of yesterday there was not enough snow to ski. Day membership is £15. Go to yadmoss.co.uk or call 01228 561634 for for more information.
Harwood Common, County Durham
This south-facing slope has two parallel rope tows and operates at weekends, during school holidays, and whenever there is sufficient snow. There is a 500-metre run, and you can just turn up on the day and pay your £10. The slope was open for about five days earlier in the season, but there was no snow yesterday. Call the Harwood Ski Federation on 01748 850415 for updates.
The ski area is operated by the British Norwegian Ski Club, with two permanent tows. There was no up-to-date information on snow conditions available yesterday, but in good conditions there are around 500 metres of skiing. Annual membership is £25. Go to ski-allenheads.co.uk or 01670 715719 for more information.
Swinhope Moor, Weardale, County Durham
There was no skiing in the second half of December, but when the snow does arrive this is as close to alpine conditions as you're likely to get in England, with runs of more than 1km entirely possible. There are two linked button lifts operated by the Weardale Ski Club. Day membership is £15. Call 01388 527527 or 01388 527125 for more info.
So you have the top spots now all you need is somewhere to stay so why not have a quick search through Bargain Villas for your next cheap UK ski accomodation.
Looking for a Chamonix Piste Map?
Check out the following link for a huge selection courtesy of Google Maps - Chamonix Piste Maps from Google Maps
EXTENT OF THE SLOPES
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.
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 www.ho5park.com.
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 www.mcnabsnowboarding.com. 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.
FOR CROSS COUNTRY
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
Chamonix is one of the most beautiful Ski resorts in Mont Blanc France. search Bargain Villas for a bargain Ski Villa in Chamonix
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