Aiguille du Midi, the world’s longest and highest tramway, is well worth the price of admission. The views from the top of the Chamonix Valley, and of Mt. Blanc and the nearby mountains are spectacular. This natural rock spire is pictured in numerous places in Chamonix. Tourist shops sell paintings of it, postcards, and photographs. It is situated at about 12,600 feet in the shadow of Mount Blanc which rises another 3000 feet or so higher.
If one is susceptible to altitude sickness you may feel a little light-headed at the top, especially after zipping up 9000 feet from the valley floor in a matter of minutes. The halfway point is located at 7,554 feet and passengers can get out here, as the tram does make a quick stop. It takes 9 minutes to reach this halfway point from Chamonix.
Several pricing options are available for taking this tramway. Visitors can purchase a one and a half trip which means one must get off at the halfway point when returning back to Chamonix (and then walk the rest of the way back to town).
You can purchase a round trip from Chamonix to the top and back. Or you may want to purchase a round trip ticket from Chamonix to Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner on the Italian side, and then back again to Chamonix. If you can afford the rather steep price I recommend taking the tram to the Italian side and then back to Chamonix. If your time is somewhat limited (a one way trip from Aiguille du Midi to the Italian side takes 40 minutes) then purchase a round trip to Aiguille du Midi and back to Chamonix. You will still have spectacular views of the mountains and glaciers.
Prices: Round trip from Chamonix to the Aiguille du Midi costs about 60 euros. Its about 80 euros to go to Helbronner Point in Italy and back to Chamonix which can only be done in the summer months. The price to ride to the halfway point on the mountain is about 30 euros. Children’s rates are available. For more information visit the pricing page on the Aguille du Midi website, or call PHONE NUMBER 04 53 30 80.
Boarding takes place at the station which is located at the south east part of town. You can’t miss seeing the trams as they ascend and descend the mountain all day at regular intervals. The trams run all year round from 8am to 4:45pm. During July and August the earliest tram leaves at 6am and the latest leaves Chamonix at 5:45. The trains leave every 10 minutes.
The top of the tramway at the spire of Aiguille du Midi tends to be very cold even in the middle of summer. I was there at the end of July in mid day and the temperature was 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring something warm as it tends to also be windy at the top. A camera is a must. Thge top features some excellent photographic opportunities, especially with Mount Blanc in the background. Tourists seem quite giddy and friendly at the top. Perhaps this is a result of the extreme change in altitude.
A small restaurant and gift shop are also located at the top. When you first reach the top and get out you will see a walkway connecting the two tramways. It is an additional cost to visit the top of the spire via an elevator built into solid rock. As you ascend you will see a red digital sign that shows the elevation in real time as it changes. Note the nice array of solar cells at the top. I recommend taking the tramway fairly early (9 am should be fine in the middle of summer) to avoid all the crowds. Later in the day, there will be lines to get on the tramway or to take the elevator. If you travel later in the day there will also be an increased possibility of thunderstorms and lightning.
From the top take note of the very sharp snow covered ridge to your left. There may even be climbers precipitously balanced on the top of this ridge. Several days before I took the tram, someone told me that an amateur climber ventured out on this ridge without ropes, crampons, or an ice ax. He promptly fell down one side and slipped for several hundred feet. You will see how dangerous this ridge is as you travel up the tramway. One side drops off into jagged cliffs that drop several thousand feet. This amateur climber was extremely lucky. He tried climbing this cliff towards mid afternoon and the snow was melting and was slushy. Because of this reason he was able to stop easier and just missed falling to his death by 50 feet. A helicopter had to rescue him.
If you take the tram from the top to Helbronner Point in Italy, you will pass over some very impressive ice fields. This is also a good place to take pictures. Helbronner Point is located at 11,355 feet. If you leave the station on the Italian side you will need your passport. There are several more cable cars that descend from Helbronner Point to the village of Courmayeur. The cable car from Aiguille du Midi to Helbronner Point operates only from mid May to mid October.