When the sun is out in Chamonix you're treated to some of the best views in Europe; glistening glaciers, majestic (and massive) mountain peaks dominating your line of sight in every direction.. it's a pretty special place to be.
This weekend the weather forecast was clear and bright, with very little cloud, which made it a perfect time to head up into the skies and check out the views from a totally different perspective.. on board a helicopter tour.
I was lucky enough to have been given a voucher for a 30 minute flight for my birthday and I've been waiting for the perfect time to use it, so on Friday I called the helicopter company and waited for them to call me back with a time slot. The flights run really regularly, especially in July & August, but you still need to ring ahead a few days in advance of when you'd like to go so that they can match you up with other people wanting to do the same length of trip. Each helicopter holds 6 people, so as soon as they can confirm a full flight, they call you back with your time slot.
The helicopter landing pad is just up the road from the Cremerie du Glacier Restaurant, not far from the Grands Montets cable car in Argentiere. You're advised to get there at least 10 minutes before departure and since I was getting the bus and walking up to the base, I factored in plenty of time to allow for summertime traffic and was there a good thirty minutes early.
After a quick weigh on the scales (yes, you're weighed in before you fly) I took up a spot on one of the benches and waited for our chopper to come in. After a quick re-fuel we were allocated seats, strapped in and off we went. I thought it might feel a little unstable, but in fact it was really steady and controlled as we climbed up out of the base heading towards the Argentiere glacier.
Passing the Lognan Refuge on our right, we quickly headed up over the end of the glacier, and climbed again over the tops of the mountains in the direction of Le Tour, where more glaciers quickly came into sight. From here we climbed up and over again and our pilot pointed out that we were passing over the border of France and Switzerland, with the Italian border coming up on our left side.
Before long we were flying close to the top of the Aiguille Verte and then onwards to the Dent du Geant, where we could see climbers almost at the top of the iconic peak. After this we headed over towards the 'three monts' route up Mont Blanc where we could see groups of tiny climbers heading up and down the well trodden paths. The Gouter Refuge came into view as we did a loop around the front side of Mont Blanc and then headed on to the Aiguille du Midi, where we could almost see the faces of the people on the summit terrace we got that close.
As we started to make our way back towards base, we were treated to a very close up view of the Mer de Glace (see the video below), swooping low on the right side and then turning back so that everyone on board could get the best views. Half an hour seemed to have gone by so quickly and before long we were touching down again on the landing pad.
I could have honestly stayed up there for another hour; seeing the mountains, glaciers, crevasses and seracs in so much detail and so close up was really breathtaking and awe inspiring. It's definitely an experience I'm not going to forget in a hurry.
Shorter flights are also available for 10, 15 and 20 minutes, but I'd definitely recommend the 30 minute tour for the most spectacular views and the chance to take in some of the biggest mountains & glaciers in the area. Prices start from 75 euros per person.
Take a look at the route we flew on Strava and find more photos above.
How to get there
Bus: From the centre of Chamonix take bus line 2 in the direction of Le Tour and get off at Les Chosalets. Walk through the car park to the left of the base of Grands Montets cable car and follow the signs up the dirt track for about 5 minutes until you reach the heli base.
Train: Take the train to Argentiere and walk through to the Grands Montets car park. Follow the signs to the left of the lift station up the dirt track.
Car: Drive or take a taxi to the Grands Montets car park. Go past the front of the lift station and follow the signs up the dirt track to the heli base.
Location: Chamonix - Argentiere
Activities: Helicopter Tour