Last week I was over in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc catching up with some of our Cabinista partners and testing the resort’s suitability as a long-weekend destination. The snow was yet to fall in town but the place was in full pre-season mode getting ready for the winter ahead – ‘le calme avant la tempête’ they said (the calm before the storm)!
What always strikes me when I visit Chamonix is the strong community there. Unlike other purpose-built ski resorts, Chamonix harks back to a time when ‘explorer’ was a job title and people came here to scale the peaks, instead of shoot down the gullies. That all changed in 1906 with the town’s first winter season, followed by the first ever Winter Olympic Games held here in 1924. This spirit of the extreme and the desire to test the boundaries of human physicality has continued blazing a trail through the heart and soul of the place ever since. And you can feel it everywhere you go.
For starters, there are 5 ski areas to choose from, spanning 114 kilometres of piste and immeasurable off-piste terrain. There are 2 glaciers descending down towards the town, jagged mountain peaks on both sides of the valley and a vertical drop of 2233 metres from the highest peak to the town centre.
The world-famous Vallee Blanche gives intermediate-advanced skiers the opportunity to take a high-mountain guide and descend 20 kilometres across a glacier, navigating around real life-threatening crevasses. And to get up there, you can take a 20 minute breathtaking ride up in the Aiguille du Midi cable car to the top, classed as the highest mountain peak accessible by a lift. And if all of that wasn’t enough, you can pop over to Italy or Switzerland for a day’s skiing (topping it up to 870 kilometres of piste) or soar off one of the many peaks with a parachute attached to your back.
The word EPIC gets banded around a lot but Chamonix embodies it like nowhere else in the Alps.
I always think that the fact you can see Mont Blanc from anywhere you are in resort helps put things into perspective and serves as a gentle reminder that you are there to take pleasure from the mountains, but you must never forget that they are in charge.
This blend of deep adoration and admiration for the mountains is something that keeps the 9000 year-round inhabitants of this pretty alpine town there year after year and draws adventurous people from around the world to join the growing community.
I got chatting to a Hawaii native out walking her dog on one of the small patches of snow in town. She spoke of her retirement search for a welcoming place to live with her partner, a community of outdoor enthusiasts that still functioned as a great place to live during the shoulder seasons. Chamonix was a no-brainer and they’ve been there for 10 years ever since.
Although the mountaineering scene was the town’s primary industry until the end of the 19th century, tourism has taken precedence over the past century as thrill-seekers and alpinists come from around the world to enjoy this mecca for the outdoors in both summer and winter.
The town’s proximity to Geneva airport (under an hour) means that the everyday skier can enjoy what Chamonix has to offer, without needing to commit to a week-long stay. This has led to a brilliant variety of private rental properties popping up around town with owners eager to cater for the 3 or 4 day trippers.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with a number of different long weekend ski break options below, currently still available in Chamonix*…
+ many more!
*Prices and availability correct at the time of writing