Chamonix sits almost in the shadow of western Europe’s tallest mountain, Mount Blanc at 15,780 feet in the far southeastern part of France. The town is nestled in the middle of a narrow valley surrounded on both sides by the towering peaks of the Alps.
Chamonix is located at about only 3400 feet but it has the feel of being much higher because of the large mountains, glaciers, and snow fields that surround it. The Chamonix Valley stretches about 20 miles. The valley is a deep “U” shaped and was carved out by glaciers beginning several million years ago. At some point over 3000 feet of ice covered present day Chamonix. Currently the town has about 10,000 permanent residents.
Most of the town is located on both sides of the Arve River. The population of Chamonix swells seasonally, especially during the summer and in the winter skiing season. This town has long been a haven for the tourists and outdoors enthusiasts. There are numerous outdoor activities to enjoy including paragliding and hang-gliding. In the summer the skies are a brilliant display of multi-colored paragliders swirling and climbing high, caught in the warmer thermals.
Summer is ideal for glacier climbing and walking. Several hundred excellent hiking trails are located at many different elevations; some reach all the way from the valley floor to about 9000 feet. These hiking trails are by far some of the most spectacular in the Alps! The views of Mount Blanc are inspiration and become even more riveting during the “golden hour”, in the early mornings and late evenings. At times the mountains near Chamonix remind us of our trips to the Himalayas and the Canadian Rockies. This part of the Alps almost seems to be a cross between those two visually impressive mountain ranges.
Winter activities are very popular including snow skiing. More on all of these actives will be discussed in greater detail later in this guide.
People have been coming to Chamonix to enjoy summer time activities ever since the late 18th century. Winter activities have been popular since the early 1900s. In fact the first winter Olympics were held at Chamonix in 1924. The 12 mile Vallee Blanche run is known worldwide in skiing circles as being one of Europe’s best and longest ski run.
During the summer one can expect some cloudy days and some rain, and even cool temperatures. Those who plan to spend only a day or two in Chamonix may be sorely disappointed because of the weather. However, chances are if you stay for at least several days the clouds will part and will reveal the incredible mountain scenery.
I arrived in Chamonix in the middle of the summer, to an overcast sky, cold temperatures and a mild drizzle. The weather made me wonder why people flocking to the region this time of year. I could not see any of the high peaks as they were covered in a thick layer of clouds and fog. However, by the next morning the sun shone through brilliantly and all the mountains and glaciers were revealed and my mood turned into excitement and curiosity.