Summer in Chamonix

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France is beautiful in the summer. This is especially true in Chamonix, where John and I just spent a few days searching for the perfect chalet to rent for a few weeks next winter. Chamonix Mont-Blanc contains more quaintness and charm in this deep “commune” of the Haute-Savoie than all the ski towns in North America. No joke.

A Mont-Blanc Unlimited season’s pass with access to the entire Chamonix Valley, Courmayeur, Italy plus 6 days in Verbier, Switzerland costs € 780 (about $1100) pre-season. That’s 139 lifts, and over 500 km of skiing. Compare that to Whistler/Blackcomb’s pre-season price of $1,199 with 37 lifts and 3,307 hectares (or less than 1 kilometer). Do the math. That’s more skiing for less money than anywhere on this side of the pond. In spite of the great deal, locals complain about the price. Go figure.

With spectacular mountains and unparalleled access, it’s a wonder more people don’t live here. Perhaps it’s the crowds, which whittle away one’s personal space until it’s a sharp little nub of jaded localism. At the height of summer, a.k.a. last week when John and I were there, the line for the Aiguille du Midi tram can be hours long. The walking-only streets of the town are jammed with strollers stopping at every souvenir shop brimming with postcards depicting glaciers that poke their icy fingers into the center of the deep valley. It’s jaw dropping. But, it’s crowded.

We can see ourselves spending our winters there someday; perhaps not in the busy tourist-soaked center of town, but perhaps up-valley in Les Praz or Argentiere, where the pace is slower.

Still, traveling makes me appreciate Crystal, with our terrain and lift system and reasonable crowds. I love the familiar peaks and the knowable backcountry. I enjoy the familiar unpredictability, the secret places where I can escape the crowds, the little open gash between the trees that stays fresh days after a storm, the distant couloirs that with a little effort and a little local knowledge offer a smooth respite even on the busiest days.

I’ve had my summer fix now—my summer vacation. I’m ready for winter to start again. I long for that first healing layer of snow that covers over all the rough places with its uniform whiteness. Bring it on.

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17 responses »

  1. Kim, your plan sounds wonderful. My husband and I once skied in the Austrian Alps and loved it. So much more expansive (as you said) than Whistler. Love the photo, by the way.

  2. They say Washington isn’t much of a “destination ski area” kinda place. As a skier, that’s fine by me, I think it’s fantastic and would love to keep the slopes to myself. But I suppose as a ski area owner, I’d want people to know how great it is here.

  3. I enjoyed reading this! When you live here, you find your own quiet spots 🙂
    Did you find somewhere for winter? We’d be too big for you, but I can send the word round local networks if it would be helpful. You’re right, Les Praz to Argentiere is the best area (also check out Montroc) – I have a blog post here, most of which you’ve probably figured out but might be handy
    http://www.chaletlaforet.com/blog/where-to-stay-in-chamonix-in-winter
    Send me a tweet when you’re around in winter 🙂
    M

    • Martha!
      Thank you. Yes, I would love any information you have on rentals. We checked out a few immobliers but of course spent more time looking than making any decisions. Thanks for the link to your post. I will check it out right away. And yes, I will definitely ping you when we are there. Are you kidding? A local you knows all the quiet spots? That’s like gold where I come from.
      Best,
      Kim

    • Great blog post on Chamonix, Martha. If you ever fancy writing a guest post, on Chamonix, for our skiing blog – please drop us a line!
      Hope you get to do your time in Chamonix, Kim. I also love Switzerland..if you want to talk about quaintness.

  4. Pingback: Weekly High-Five Report | Kim Kircher

  5. Gorgeous photos! Wow, I was in Chamonix many years ago when I was in college (sigh, ’tis been too long), it seemed busy but nothing like you describe. I’m old enough now to have seen major changes in the world around me, places I visited at a college student and young backpacker have transformed into chic resorts from sleepy towns, discovered (I’m talking beyond Chamonix now). I digress, would be awesome if you got to stay there next winter for a spell!

  6. Thank you Kim for this post. I am originally from France and lived many years in the French Alps. Since Chamonix was so close to our house, I used to go often and it stayed one of my favorite place. I live in LA that I like a lot but I miss the Alps sometimes… Since you are such a skilled skier, you might know the writer Roger Frison-Roche, from Chamonix (there is a website run by his family with some nice black and white photos: http://www.frison-roche.com/), who wrote many novels about the mountain and the guides and so on. Unfortunately, it is hard to find an English translation.
    Thanks again!
    Raphaele.

    • Thanks for the link. Indeed I wish I could read French, but the photos are beautiful. I can’t imagine being French and NOT living in the Alps. My new mission is to find translations of Frison-Roche’s work.

      • Thanks Kim. My Mom told me that her siblings and her grew up reading his books while spending their summer vacation in a cottage very close to the Glacier D’argentiere and Chamonix. Can you imagine? Maybe when I am very very old and nostalgic I will start working on a translation…

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