Remember the scene in The World Is Not Enough (1999), where the rather dashing Pierce Brosnan is showing some serious skis skills (okay so it might not actually be him, but that is not the point I’m trying to make here) during a high speed chase through some breathtaking scenery?
Well maybe this will refresh your memory: James Bond skiing Chamonix in ‘The World is not Enough’
Yes that’s right, that amazing landscape is not knee deep powder covered Vail Mountain, it’s not the fresh trackers favourite Whistler Blackcomb either, its far closer to home in the form of the French mountain town of Chamonix.
Here’s a clue right away on how to blend seamlessly into the hard core ski masses, call it “Cham”. Locals do, so let’s follow their example. If you do feel the need to use its full name, remember that it used to be spelt Chamouni, it has one of those cheeky little silent “x’s”. Only Parisians call it Chamonix, pronounced like Asterix, and they also wear jeans and gaiters … and snowblade. Enough said.
So you can forget jumping on a 9 hour plane journey to another continent and just hop on a flight after work and get to Chamonix in time for dinner (or après, there is plenty of both). Nowhere else in Europe is there such a diversity of peaks, domes, needles, pyramids, mounts, and glaciers.
Admittedly having been a bit sceptical myself before I bit the bullet and took myself off there for a 10 day holiday (yes, a definite perk of the job), I am now a total convert.
Chamonix’s scenery is so spectacular you would be forgiven for thinking Alaska had suddenly sprouted trees and raised its temperature several notches. The Aguille du Midi cable car ride will literally have you pressing your nose against the glass trying to take in the panoramic views, of the deep crevasses, the snow frosted trees. So even if you don’t fancy the 24km off piste down the glacier (if you don’t perhaps you should stop reading now) it’s well worth it just for the ride, and maybe a mountaintop picnic, plenty do…
So, what are you waiting for, a ski holiday in Chamonix is for everyone. For those who like to get up at the crack of dawn and be the first ones on the mountain for those euphoric fresh tracks. Those in the know it’s well worth pre booking your cable car to ski the Valley Blanche, then you can be the smug skier who saunters past those long queues to board to the Aiguille du Midi cable car.
For the diehard park rats who may be complaining that just two parks isn’t worth their time, and Davos is “waaaay steezier”, well ever heard of Natures playground? Yep, that’s Chamonix. Just because they aren’t man made doesn’t mean you can’t hit the natural jumps, quarter-pipes, and gullies, particularly in Le Tour and La Flegere. The latter is also home to the popular (and delightfully named) Big Tit Jump, which is the largest natural kicker in Europe (and I’m sure you can guess what it looks like).
It’s a free riders paradise, so get yourself a pair of skins and tackling heroic descents of more than 6,000ft from top to bottom where you can encounter mind-blowing scenery along the way – deep crevasses, ice falls, cliff tops and caves.
Beginners and the more nervous of you, don’t despair I can see you already going “no thanks darling, I think I’ll stick to Les Gets again this year”, stop right there. The cruisy blues are plentiful, particularly in La Flegere and Les Houches and due to the spread out nature of the Chamonix mountains it means generally they are pretty quiet so you can practise your pole planting in peace.
The town itself is a real working town, runs all year round and is actually busier in the summer with the abundance of climbers, spandex clad bikers and people throwing themselves down the river rapids on essentially what is an airbed with a paddle.
Once you are off the mountain and before you climb into that well deserved hot tub with an icy cold beer it would probably be rude not to check out the pretty legendary après ski.
Chambre Neuf is the place to go for cover bands, raucous après-ski drinking and Swedish blondes dancing on the tables, the music is loud, conversations louder and the happy “hour” lasts for about 4.
The live bands are generally some of the best in the Alps playing covers of well known favorites, encouraging everyone to get up on the furniture and dance and sing all together in a lets-all-swing-from-the-rafters kind of way, literally. I met one fairly respectable gentleman with a large hole in his jumper, courtesy of getting hooked on the chandelier.
The more respectable of you might like to take a break from the relentless partying to enjoy the sunset visible from the terrace outside Elevation 1904 across the road from Le Neuf, or head downtown, tucked away in Chamonix Sud to the Monkey bar. For what is probably the biggest, cheesiest and most deliciously rewarding plate of Nachos after what has I’m sure been the most thigh burning day of your ski life. (FYI the cocktails are HUGE here by theway, oh yeah and they are 241, rude not too?).
For those who want to dance into the wee hours then wiggle on over to Amnésia Club or the Le Tof for some proper old school euro trash night clubs: mirrored pillars, lots of chrome and leather, and strutting Frenchmen and scantily clad Swedes. Weirdly though, they remain pretty excellent in spite of all this. Or perhaps because of it.
So, I could tell you more about where to eat or where to stay, but that’s where me and the rest of the Alpine Answers team are better in person, give us a ring and let’s see what we can find you. With over 40 catered, luxury ski chalets and 14 hotels we can personally recommend, I’m pretty sure there will be something right up your street. Did anyone say “luxury chalet in Chamonix with a hot tub?”.
What can I say? If it’s good enough for Bond, it’s probably worth a try. I’ll see you on the mountain…
Chamonix, France. 08th – 18th April 2012