Chamonix hosted the first ever winter Oympics in 1924 and remains the go to destination for expert skiers, mountaineers and climbers to this day, it's name synonymous over the world with challenging steep runs, extreme off piste terrain, and striking alpine scenery - often considered the premier freeride resort in the world.
The Chamonix Valley comprises a number of resorts that spreads for miles along the valley in the shadow of Mont Blanc. At the top of the valley are the villages of Argentière, beneath the Grands Montets and Le Tour, at the foot of the Balme slopes (with an alternative base at Vallorcine). Down the valley is Les Houches, with the most sheltered slopes in the valley but its lifts are not covered by the normal Chamonix pass. In the middle sit La Flegere and Le Brevent, closest to Chamonix town centre. Chamonix is a long-established, year-round working town, with a permanent population of around 12000. This in turn means it's well catered for in terms of apres, restaurants, shops and accommodation.
As a ski resort, Chamonix could not be more different from the archetypal high-altitude, purpose-built French model.It hasn't been designed to deliver the smoothest possible experience to the widest possible market, geared neither towards families nor beginners. Expect to do some waiting, for example for the buses linking the villages along the valley. There are also hourly trains along the valley, free with a guest card, and many visitors recommend using this route. Renting a car will also be beneficial.
For those who are prepared to accommodate these inefficiencies however, you are rewarded with some of the best, most challenging terrain in the world, justifying Chamonix' place on every expert skier's bucket list. Much of this is accessible from the lift systems and includes descents of over 2,000m, including the legendary 20-kilometre (12-mile) Valley Blanche - the longest off piste run in Europe. The home to Ski Club's second chalet in the Alps, Chamonix sees Freshtracks holidays return again and again for the unbeatable powder, with the Instructor Led Guiding, based in Argentière the perfect way to explore the region's endless off piste.
The Mont Blanc Unlimited lift pass covers not only Les Houches but also Verbier in Switzerland and Courmayeur in Italy. The first is a major expedition; the second is of more practical use, not least because the weather can be good in Italy when it is lousy in Chamonix. And there are buses through the Mont Blanc tunnel several times daily. Having a car is useful in lots of ways, and makes that outing to Verbier a more practical proposition.