Thanks to the size of Chamonix, there is enough diversity in the after-ski department to cater for every price range and pretty much every taste. The always-busy apres scene is traditionally centred on the Rue des Moulins, a cobbled pedestrian street which offers five bars, four restaurants, two cafes and a night club – but the rest of the town has an almost limitless choice of crowded sports bars, welcoming local pubs, riverside cafés, or whatever takes your fancy. You won’t be bored.
Chamonix’s best – and worst – aspect is its skiing. Its reputation for steep, unforgiving runs is well deserved, and there is enough on-piste challenge to provide a workout for even the most advanced skiers. There is also plenty of intermediate level skiing, enormous off-piste opportunity and ample provision for beginners. By name the 4 areas are Le Brevent, La Flégère, Les Grands Montets, and Le Tour. Only Le Brevent and La Flégère are linked, so if you are staying in Chamonix the only way to Les Grands Montets and Le Tour is by road.
Almost everything about Chamonix is different from a typical ski resort. It is renowned for being the extreme skiing capital of the world – and indeed much of the steepest, narrowest and most dangerous skiing in the Alps can be found in the valley – but there is far more to Chamonix than that. While the surrounding mountains make it a Mecca for climbers and mountaineers as well as skiers and snowboarders, there is plenty of on- and off-snow activity for those less inclined to danger.
Perhaps the truest thing that can be said is that people do not go there to be seen – they go there to have been. Chamonix has few pretensions, and the fashion is more for Dakine backpacks than for Prada ski outfits. While it is expensive it does not even approach Val d’Isere or Courchevel prices, and while you can stay in a luxury 4* hotel you can also stay in a E12/night dormitory.
There are some excellent restaurants and the most diverse apres ski in the Alps (click here to see a selection of bars in Chamonix), but people go there to ski. That said, Chamonix is not for everyone. The skiing is not gentle, the view from the town is as intimidating as it is spectacular, there is no ski-in/ski-out accommodation, the valley’s ski areas are separate and the only way between them is by road but Chamonix has a charm quite unlike anywhere else. Whether you are drinking coffee by the river, practising turns on the pistes, or skiing the VallÈe Blanche, there is something compelling about being under the gaze of Mont Blanc. And people either like it or they don’t.