Both crowned and dwarfed by Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and its gigantic collection of attendant glaciers which tumble into the Mer de Glace - the second longest glacier in Europe - Chamonix is regarded by many as the “cradle” of climbing. It also has some of the most dramatic, and, for the true extreme skier or snowboarder, scarcely believable challenges in the world. The slopes in the Chamonix Valley are scattered among half a dozen areas, few of which actually link. Brévant and La Flégère are the two areas most intermediates will head for. Between them they have plenty of relaxed, enjoyable skiing, with some more challenging runs thrown in. Many strong skiers and boarders head straight for Argentière’s vast Grands Montets, with some of the finest skiing and boarding in Europe. A two-stage cable car takes skiers and boarders to the “sharp end” of the mountain at 3275 metres (10,745 feet). Apart from two serious off-piste routes which should only be attempted with a high-mountain guide, there are only two ways to start the long 2035 vertical metre (6677 feet) descent from the top: the tough black ungroomed runs of Point de Vue and Pylones. The highlight of your visit to Chamonix is likely to be the cable-car ride to the impossibly steep and spiny Aiguille du Midi. At the top, the exit is linked by a short causeway to the beginning of the legendary Vallée Blanche. There are three or four principal routes down it, all of which involve a rather hair-raising trudge down a ridge to a flattish plateau, carrying your skis and probably roped together. The main “tourist” route, contrary to rumour, is easy, and the only reason – albeit a good one – for a guide is to avoid the very real threat of crevasses. The scenery on the way down – myriad granite spires, steeples and towering, jagged peaks – is truly astonishing.
Written by Arnie Wilson.