Six different lift systems giving access to the beautiful Chamonix mountains
There are six separate lift systems spread throughout the Chamonix Valley, all offering a wide variety of activities. Familiarise yourself with the lift system by taking a look at our articles on the lifts themselves, access and restrictions, and the current status of the lifts. Ski, piste and activity maps can also be found here.
The comprehensive lift system in the Chamonix valley consists of cable cars, gondolas, trains, trams and chairlifts (and a couple of drag lifts at Le Tour and in the beginner's areas). The granddaddy lift of them all is the Aiguille du Midi cable car, which whisks you up to 3842 m from Chamonix town in around 20 minutes. The Vallee Blanche starts at the top of this lift, and it is also a starting point for mountaineers ascending Mont Blanc. The Flegere and the Grand Montets areas are also accessed by cable car, whilst Brevent and Domaine de Balme (Le Tour & Vallorcine) are served by gondolas and Les Houches is serviced by both a cable car and a gondola.
Included in the Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass, is the Montenvers train, which takes you past the Mer de Glace to the Montenvers site at 1913m, and the Mont Blanc Tramway, that takes you from Le Fayet or Saint Gervais (further down the valley), to the Nid d'Aigle at 2372m.
Open in both the winter and summer season you can use the lift system to access all the different areas of the Chamonix Valley, giving you the opportunity to enjoy all the winter and summer activities the mountains have to offer.
In the summer the lift pass prices and the options are slightly different, with some lifts open to pedestrains or mountain bikers only and others open to both pedestrians and mountain bikers it is worht checking the which lifts you can use before setting off. Paragliders also have access to a number of lifts throughout the summer. Have a look at the summer lift options for more detail.
Alpinism from the summit, skiing, parapenting, mountain-biking
Theme trail, museum, Ice Grotto, walk to Plan de l'Aiguille (Aiguille du Midi mid-station)
Walking from the Plan de l'Aiguille (Aiguille du Midi mid-station), Alpinism and access to the Mont-Blanc from the summit
Alpinisme from the Nid d'Aigle - access to the Mont-Blanc, hiking, mountain-biking
Aiguille du Midi Lift in Chamonix
Highest point in the valley, stunning views & access to the Vallee Blanche
At 3842 m the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix offers a 360 degree viewpoint over the French, Swiss and Italian Alps and is the highest point accessible by cable-car in the Chamonix valley.
This high mountain area is fully equipped for your safety and comfort and offers breath-taking views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding massif. Access is by two cable car journeys, each taking 10 minutes. The Aiguille du Midi is well known as the start of the famous Vallee Blanche off-piste ski run over the glaciers; and is also one of the access routes to climbing Mont Blanc (4811m).
The cable car ride is easily planned and is suitable for all ages (except for those who are advised to avoid altitude, and children under two years of age). It is advisable to book in adavnce during the high tourist seasons. You will be given a departure time for which you should arrive 10 minutes beforehand. If you are doing a return trip, you will also be given a boarding card specifying your return cabin number.
At the top of the cable car, there are number of viewing terraces, a cafeteria and a souvenir shop. Wrap up warm – even in summer, the temperature at the summit can be as low as -10 C. Sunglasses and sun cream are also recommended.
From May until the end of September, it is possible to extend to this trip by taking the Panoramic Mont-Blanc gondola from the top of the Aiguille du Midi, to Helbronner in Italy. This amazing 5 kilometre gondola journey passes over the Geant glacier, giving you spectacular views over ice-falls, crevasses and the Mont Blanc massif. A one-way trip takes 30 minutes in a 4-person gondola. The operation of this line is very weather dependant – if the wind is too strong, or if there is poor visibility, the gondola will close.
Details on the lift system connecting these two ski areas
The Brevent gondola was replaced in 2008 with a fabulous high speed 8-10 person gondola. It takes you from Chamonix itself up to Plan Praz (2000 m) from where you have direct access to the pistes or can set off on a number of beautiful hikes (Grand Balcon Sud, Lac Cornu, Lac Noir).
Plan Praz is also where you catch the cable car up to the very top of Brevent at 2525 m, where you will be treated to 360 degrees of breath-taking views including Mont-Blanc, the Aiguille du Midi and most of the Chamonix valley.
The remainder of the lifts on Brevent (which do not open during the summer) consist of of 4-man chairs, the high speed Cornu 6-man which was new in 2007, and the Stade drag lift - a good way to avoid the bottleneck that occurs at the Parsa chairlift at the end of the day.
Flegere (1894 m) lies adjacent to Brevent and is accessed directly by a cable car from Les Praz, the small village a couple of kilometres up the valley beside the golf course. It is a freeriders paradise in winter but this lift can be prone to long queues during high season so it is often quicker to access the area from the Brevent side via the Plan Praz Gondola, the Cornu or Sources chairlifts and the Liason cable car. The Flegere cable car will also close during high wind.
The remainder of the area is all chairlifts - 3 and 4-man and the high speed Index 6-seater - with the exception of the Floria button lift which takes you up to a couple of great red & black runs and some awesome off-piste. Beware - the drag lift has a bend in it about 3/4's of the way up but it doesn't normally pose much of a problem.
During summer, the Index chairlift also runs, whisking hikers up to 2396m, saving your legs if you're en route to Lac Blanc.
Both areas are south facing and provide an excellent range of pistes for skiers of all abilities. As mentioned above, in summer, many of the classic hiking trails can be accessed by these lifts and from this side of the valley you will also get some of the best viewpoints of the main peaks and surrounding glaciers.
The Domaine de Balme area is situated at the top end of the Chamonix Valley where a gondola based in the village of Le Tour brings you to Charamillon at 1856 m and a new cable car from the Vallorcine side brings you up to the Tete de Balme at 2770m.
The Charamillon area consists of rich alpine meadows in the summer and is transformed into wide and varied slopes in the winter, great for beginner/intermediates but with steeper slopes and some great off piste on the tree-lined Tete de Balme area. Le Tour has a higher proportion of drag lifts than the other areas in the valley, but these can mostly be avoided by taking the Autannes or the Tete de Balme chairlifts.
As well as the two gondolas, the Autannes chairlift also runs in the summer, taking hikers and mountain bikers up above 2000m, just a short distance from the border with Switzerland. All of the summer lifts accept bikes and in winter, it can sometimes be quicker to access this area by driving (or taking the train) to Vallorcine instead as the majority of skiers head to Le Tour.
Access to the wonderful off-piste glacier skiing & Ski area
Access to the Grand Montets area is from the town of Argentiere, about a 15 minute drive past Chamonix (regular buses and trains also serve this route - free with a Carte d'Hôte guest card).
A cable car will take you up to the Lognan plateau at 1972m and in the winter you can alternatively take the Plan Joran chair lift to 1923m. From Lognan, there is a further cable car that takes you to the Aiguille des Grands Montets at 3300m, where you can see incredible panoramic views of the Mont Blanc range, the Mer de Glace and the Chamonix valley. This is also the departure point for mountaineers heading to the Aiguille Verte.
The ski area is extensive and varied, renowned for its challenging black runs and it’s huge off-piste areas. The summer offers hiking, mountain biking and paragliding. It is also the departure point for climbers and mountaineers for the high peaks in the Argentiere basin.
Get the tram from Le Fayet up to the Nid d'Aigle viewpoint
The Mont-Blanc Tramway runs from the bottom of the valley in Le Fayet all the way up to the Nid d'Aigle at 2380 metres.
The rack and pinion train stops at St-Gervais-Les-Bains, the Col de Voza and Bellevue before stopping at the Nid d'Aigle (eagle's nest) viewpoint, from where you get a fabulous view of the Bionnassay glacier.
There are a number of lovely hikes in the area and mountain bikes are permitted on the tram subject to space. During the winter, the train stops at Bellevue and provides access to the Les Houches ski area.
The little red Montenvers train takes you up to the Mer de Glace and the ice caves via an old rack and pinion railway track, first constructed in 1909. The main interest here is the high alpine environment, the scenery and the glacier.
The ice caves go deep into the glacier itself and contain impressive ice carvings. New caves have to be carved out each spring as the glacial ice moves, but it is still possible to still see the entrances to the previous ones.
Other points of interest at Montenvers are the Crystal Gallery, the Museum of Alpine Fauna, various nature trails and the famous Hotel du Montenvers. Built in 1880, the hotel is an integral part of Chamonix’ history. It was well renovated in 2003 but still retains its rustic charms and authenticity.
The restaurant serves a variety of traditional dishes either indoors or on its impressive terrace and it also has a 33 bed dormitory that is still a popular stop off for hikers and mountaineers today.
Chamonix has a long history of crystal collecting in the surrounding mountains and you can get a taster of the types of gems that have been found in the Crystal Gallery. Hewn out of the rock, the gallery was completely redone in summer 2007 and inside you will now find a wonderful collection of rare and beautiful specimens (quartz, amethyst, pink fluorite etc) which, for the main part, have been found in this area. You can also read about some of the greatest crystal hunters of the region to complete the exhibition, but if this subject is of particular interest to you, then a trip to the Crystal Museum in Espace Tiarraz (behind the church) is a must!
The Museum of Alpine Fauna has an interesting display of many of the local birds and animals that you can expect to see in the area – chamois, ibex, marmots, foxes, pheasants, grouse and various birds of prey etc. Although some of the exhibits are perhaps a little tatty around the ears, it’s still a nice way to help you identify some of the wildlife you may encounter if you’re both lucky and quiet enough.
Leading on from the museum are a number of beautiful walks and hikes; Forbes Signal – for truly spectacular views of the Mer de Glace (approx: 1hr up and 30 mins back down – 300m total ascent), Grand Balcon Nord – leading from Montenvers across to the Plan d’Aiguille (approx: 2h30 – 3hrs) or the descent back to Chamonix through larch and pine forests, via the original Mule Trail (approx. 1h45).
There are a number of other walks in the area, one of the most impressive is the hike between the Mer de Glace and the Plan de l'Aiguille. This can be done in either direction, allowing you to take the train up or down and the cable car at the other end.
The Montenvers train runs all year round (except for an annual closure in October) and leaves from the station just behind the main Chamonix SNCF railway.