Best Pistes in Chamonix
Hidden Gems and All Time Favourites
The ski area is so vast it can be difficult to know where to start skiing. So we have put together some of our favorite runs throughout the ski area. Whether you're into moguls, steep and long descents or simply beautiful, quiet pistes with great snow, we hope that these suggestions will hit the spot.
Les Grands Montets On Piste
Looming above Argentiere, the Grands Montets area is made up of several high altitude and north-facing bowls that make for good-quality snow from December through to May. Access to the pisted skiing area for Les Grand Montets is by either the Lognan cable car which departs from the main car park at Argentiere, or by the slow four-man chairlift to Plan Joran and either Tabe or Plan Roujon chairlifts after that.
Personally we prefer the chair route (weather permitting); although it is considerably slower (and much colder as it’s usually shaded), it’s less of a squeeze as the queues flow much faster. It also offers a great ride up through the woods. In April 2010, the Compagnie du Mont Blanc announced that this chairlift will be replaced by 2012 which should ensure that access to the area is speeded up considerably, especially during peak times.
The Lognan area is where you need to be for access to the highest runs. From here you can take the Bochard gondola (2765m), the Herse chair(2595m), or even head straight for the very top on the main Grands Montets cable car (For holders of the Chamonix Le Pass lift ticket), there’s an additional charge ‘per ride’ on this one, however, if you have the full Mont Blanc Unlimited pass then access is included. Traversing high into the Lavancher bowl and heading as far skiers-left as you can opens up a huge area for you to enjoy.
If you have purchased a Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass, or you have paid the additional fee to take the Grand Montets cable car to the very top then there are a couple of pistes that start from the lift station that are definitely worth checking out. The Point de Vue and Pylônes pistes passes close to the Argentiere glacier and gives great views over the area towards Mont Dolent (3823m). As a top tip if you decide to do this run it is best to go early morning as the light reflecting off the séracs is pretty impressive. These runs are marked on the piste map and controlled by the local ‘Security de Pistes’ however they are not groomed and therefore require a good technical standard of skiing. Both runs are also on an area classified as ‘high mountain glacial terrain’ so you need to make sure that you don’t stray from the piste markers unless you are appropriately equipped to do so.
The Marmottons area is accessed by taking either the Tabé or Plan Roujon chairlifts. This is really the centre of the Grand Montet ski area and from here beginners can find their ski legs and perfect those wide carving turns or the more daring can dip off into the board park which is situated just to your left at the top of the Tabe chairlift.
If you are interested in hearing more about our off piste and skiing adventures we can offer you some indication of which months (historically, at least!) have enjoyed bumper snowfall as we have made our entire archive of Snow reports available for you to read online. Why not spend 5-10 minutes before you come out browsing through the reports to see what conditions were like in seasons gone by. Although we can't guarantee the same weather or conditions, at least you'll be able get a feel for what to expect and if nothing else, it’ll give you plenty reading in the interim until our snow reports kick off when the season starts!!
Brevent & Flegere On Piste
In general the Brevent-Flegere skiing area is excellent for those of intermediate ability or above and has enough runs at different levels to keep mixed ability groups happy all day long. Mostly it’s necessary to take the cable cars back to the valley floor although when the snow conditions are good lower down there are some very scenic runs through the forests from the main ski areas back down to the valley. There are generally black runs though and in the main tend to be cat tracks. Whilst one or two of the classified black runs aren’t very steep and even flat in places, they may not be for everyone as they are fairly long, narrow and require some precise control!
Le Brevent is perhaps a little harder than La Flegere, but as an intermediate rider if you stick to the front bowl in La Flegere, you shouldn't get into any trouble. Le Brevent offers some steep skiing off the top with some exhilarating hikes along the ridge line with lots of gnarly descents down the mountain face. From the Col Cornu, there are some traverses that get you into all sorts of fun, and down the backside towards Flegere, the runs are steep, as is the off piste.
In Le Brevent, highlights include the red intermediate piste run from the top of the Cornu and the Charles Bozon black run descent from the top of the Brevent. The Charles Bozon is a black run that is accessed from the top Planpraz-Le Brevent cable car and is a definite ‘goodie’ for testing your techniques. Because of its high altitude, the snow on the Charles Bozon run usually remains in superb condition throughout the season.
Nants is a winding cat track that leads through the forest back to Chamonix town centre. Nants is a long run that on a sunny day, offers some beautiful views across the valley towards the Aiguille du Midi, Mont-Blanc and the snow covered Chamonix valley below. Although this is classified as a black piste is actually not very steep, but it is quite narrow in places so you need to beware of other people skiing on the run. Passing slow skiers can be quite tricky if they’re moving to and fro so take care. On this route you’ll also often see people taking more direct lines between the zig zags of the run. If you’re tempted to follow watch out for rocks! The bottom of the run brings you out at the top of the Savoy beginners’ slope; from here it’s easy to head back up on the Chamonix-Planpraz gondola or down the Savoy run if it’s the end of the day. We recommended you avoid doing Nants at the end of the day though as it can get busy. Instead, do it in the morning after it’s been freshly groomed and is quieter and then take the gondola down at the end of the day.
Le Flegere La Flegere is known to the locals as 'riders paradise'. Lots of fun runs, mostly fairly easy, with Cat tracks to jump off and big open off piste sections for letting rip on a powder day. This year Flegere will host a speed zone area where regualr skiers will be able to test themselves against the clock and other speed junkies.
La Flegere bowl whilst now being pisted is still challenging and fun, and after some fresh snow it opens up a world of possibilities. Also all down the front side there are kilometres of open ground, but be aware, light snow cover can obscure rocks, and heavy snow cover can bring a high risk of avalanches. Some of the tops of the cliffs can also become very windswept and icy making it very difficult to stop before you shoot over. Best to ride with a local and remember, if you can’t see over it, don’t ski over it.
The Index chair in this area used to be pretty ancient but it was completely replaced for Winter 2005/06 - it’s the key to the Flegere area giving access to some of the longest runs here. Lachenal piste is a red run that’s almost black giving good intermediates a technical challenge with its physically demanding, consistently steep upper section. After a fresh snowfall the whole Lachenal bowl offers exceptional off piste but can also be avalanche prone so if it’s closed it’s for a very good reason; don’t ignore the signs!
If you take the little Floria draglift from the top of the Index Chair you’ll find the Crochues and Floria pistes which are great runs for long steep skiing, with the Crochues the less difficult of the two, often groomed to perfection they’re great for carving on first thing in the morning. The shorter Chavannes chairlift gives access to some easier blues runs and some gentler off piste to the skiers left for those trying powder for the first time.
Domaine de Balme (Le Tour & Vallorcine) On Piste
The area of Domaine de Balme is a great mixture of 22 easy and intermediate runs and is a popular destination for the ski schools. The gentle terrain and beginners area at La Vormaine is perfect for getting those out of practice ski legs back into action before taking on the tougher runs elsewhere in the valley. Generally this area is the quietest of the Chamonix Valley as everyone tends to rush to Les Grands Montets when they first arrive or to an area closer to their accommodation.
The Autannes Chair at the front gives access to some good intermediate runs on the front, Ecuries being the most obvious as it runs below the lift. The Autannes chairlift is the best option to get up the mountain as it avoids having to use any draglifts. Additionally, as your confidence grows there are numerous small jumps and gullies that you can get your first air on! Because the geology of Le Tour is different to that of the other areas, the front of Le Tour is littered with gullies, which during the winter fill in with snow and form themselves into natural halfpipes. From the Autannes chairlift you’ll notice one right next to the Ecuries piste.
A five-minute walk to the Col de Balme from the top of the Autannes chair will take you to the border with Switzerland where there’s a restaurant hut that is sometimes open for a refreshing cup of chocolat chaud.
The Tete de Balme chair on the back offers fast access to some steeper runs and excellent off piste through trees. If the snow is good there’s always the possibility of skiing right down to the village of Vallorcine and riding back up on the high speed gondola which was only opened at the start of the 2004/05 winter. With some great access to powder even a few days after a dump the backside of Le Tour is one of our favourite areas in Chamonix. Unfortunately though there is a fairly long flattish Cat track to get there, but once there has some good steep sections, though nothing too difficult.
Don’t forget the Aiguilette des Possettes draglift as it gives access to some great open powder fields skiers left down towards the Esserts piste. Make sure you don’t take the skiers right though, although it may look tempting, this area is highly prone to avalanches!
This year a permanent slalom course has been installed where skiers input a special code upon entry and then can have their run filmed in HD and made available for download to share with friends.There is also a fabulous little mountain restaurant located at the base of this drag lift – the Alpages des Balmes – which serves one of the best vin chaud’s in the valley!
Les Houches On Piste
There are two access lifts to the main Les Houches ski area. A small cable car at Bellevue takes you from the centre of town up to the far left of the ski area, at 1800 metres. Once at the top, the immediate area is pretty flat – perfect for beginners, but not so great for snowboarders looking to get to the snowpark (but Bellevue is still the lift you should take if you want to go straight to the park). Car parking is limited at Bellevue and it can be easier to head about 1km along the road to the Prarion gondola, where parking is plentiful and the new and efficient gondola whisks you up to the centre of the ski area. The top of the ski area at Les Houches gives you a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, and is bathed in sunshine. The downside is that you are on a plateau, and there is some schussing required for both boarders and skiers to access some of the pistes. From the top of both the Bellevue and the Prarion lifts, you need to head across the flat plateau to access the runs at the back of the ski area. From Prarion, it is not too bad and you’ll soon be heading downhill, but it requires a little more effort from Bellvue, particularly for those on a board.
Beginners will enjoy the nursery slopes of Mont Blanc at the top of the Bellevue lift, and Ecole at the top of the Prarion, before progressing on to the nice and gentle blue runs of Abbaye and the top section of Aillouds. Once you’re feeling ready for a longer challenge, you can follow the Aillouds piste all the way back to the bottom of either the Bellvue or the Prarion lifts. With a 900 metre descent down a lovely tree-lined piste, it’s a very long and satisfying run for leisurely skiers. Be careful if there hasn’t been any recent snow as this run is served by snow cannons and can suffer from being hard-packed and icy.
The Col de Voza is a lovely red run for intermediates to play on and for advanced riders to start their day. Fontaines red run takes you around the back and through the trees - just remember that the start of this run off the Crozat chair is pretty flat and you’ll need some speed to get you over to the main section of the piste. There are two other red runs down the back towards Saint Gervais that also take you through the trees. Plan du Cret is a sweet run that is generally quiet, and finishes up on a track that takes you to the Plancerts draglift, so speed merchants and boarders may prefer to come down the wide and fast Plancerts piste instead. The view from Plancerts is pretty special as you can see right along the valley towards Sallanches and Domancy in the distance. The Plancerts draglift is one of the least friendly drags in the area, as it has a rough and jerky start. Down the front of Les Houches, the Table D’Orientation which leads on to the Maison Neuve, and the Mur des Epines are long runs back down to the village. These front runs are sheltered by the trees, and so have minimal sun damage on them. However, because Les Houches lies at quite a low altitude, the snow here is supplemented by snow cannons, so these runs can be hard-packed and icy if it hasn’t snowed for a while.
For the advanced skier, no trip to Les Houches would be complete without a ride down the Verte des Houches, or as it’s more famously known, the Kandahar. This World Cup black run is accessed from the top of the Voza-Prarion or Kandahar chairlifts, and takes you straight back down to the village. The pro’s do this in less than 1 minute, 30 seconds if you want to take a time trial! Weather conditions permitting, the race takes place at the end of January and the run is watered to make it especially icy for the racers, so it can be a real challenge trying to keep your edges. Moguls are in short supply at Les Houches – your best bet is to head to the Grand Bois red runs, and play on the moguls next to the draglift.