Our first day in the French ski village of Chamonix we were itching to venture up into the mountains but before we could hop into a cable car we had to go about arranging the needful. It was a rather expensive morning indeed involving purchasing a ski pass, hiring equipment, buying some mountain clothes and booking a ski lesson for myself. Having never skied before it was unavoidable really, compulsory entry costs into this luxury sport.
Father and son admiring the mountain peak
Town of Chamonix
We purchased the access all areas Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass for 242€ from one of the ski lifts located on the edge of Chamonix’s town centre. As first time visitors to the area we had no idea which ski field would suit and so the unlimited pass seemed to be the best choice, allowing us total flexibility during our 5 night stay. Surrounded by mountains there are a number of ski fields and sightseeing attractions all very close to Chamonix’s town centre as well as ski fields further down the valley, a mere 10 minute shuttle bus away. The pass also allowed access to an Italian ski field named Courmayeur but we never made it to the other side of the French Alps into Italy as we had plenty to see and do in Chamonix itself.
The boundary of the two ski passes (red line is the unlimited Mont Blanc Ski Pass)
When we were not skiing (or in my case tumbling down the mountain side) we would use the pass to visit famous attractions like Aiguille du Midi and Montenvers, all non skier friendly activities. We kept the pass in our pockets and the electronic chip would scan automatically as we walked through the gates. The unlimited Mont Blanc Ski Pass allows access to most of the must see places in the French Alps. There are a number of restaurants perched on several of the mountain summits with incredible views and offering a unique environment of being miles away from traffic, cities and masses of people.
Snow scene at Rue Docteur Paccard, Chamonix town centre
There are a number of ski boutiques and we headed to the budget friendly Technique Extreme, it is one of the biggest winter sport stores in Chamonix. Technique Extreme also offer ski hire options upstairs from a seperate store entrance. I purchased ski pants, gloves, beanie and a scarf for under 100€. Ski hire for 6 days was 50€.
My private ski lesson with Ecole Du Ski Francais was scheduled for the afternoon at a nearby bunny slope called Le Savoy (1049m). Le Savoy is located at the bottom of Le Brevent mountain (2525m) and was very easy to reach from the town centre with no need to utilise the lift system. We were able to walk to the area from our accommodation with our ski boots on. Dk being at an intermediate level left me at the Bunny Slope and continued onto the cable car to Planpraz (2000m) for some snowboarding.
Lift system map on Le Brevent (red = closed and green = open)
Le Brevent – Le Savoy
The private one on one lesson was very interesting, particularly the language barrier between myself and the young French instructor. He sometimes struggled translating instructions into English. By the end of the ski lesson I learnt that skiing was indeed difficult and required the use of a whole different set of muscles, leaving me a tad exhausted. Before setting foot on the snow I envisioned after the ski lesson I would be able to ski from the tops of the mountains, well that was not exactly the correct outcome. In two hours I was introduced to snow etiquette, how to actually stay on the drag lift without toppling over as it drags you up the mountain, moving down the hill, stopping, managing to stay stationery on skis whilst on an incline, turning and walking on skis up the slope.
Le Savoy at 1049m above sea level is not very high with two drag lifts and a rolling carpet, all very necessary for a first timer on the snow! It is the only beginners area in the centre of Chamonix and as a result can be quite crowded with parents and children. There are four other beginner areas very close to the town centre and all easily accessible by the shuttle bus. It does takes a lot of courage to dive into something totally foreign and be surrounded by kids that appear to have been born into skiing. It does not help when they barge past you and the parents seem to laugh as you snow plough down the entire run stiff as a board! The truth is Le Savoy is a good introduction to someone that has never worn skis as before you can even ski you need to learn how to walk and manoeuvre the skis with your body. My recommendation is to only spend one or two days at Le Savoy and move on as there are better areas with more space to develop those skills. I found the 2nd run at Le Savoy steep and narrow and I was having some trouble turning and reducing my speed whilst sharing the run with others. Towards the end of the day, the experienced skiers come flying down from the mountains passing through the 2nd run at swift speeds and I felt this to be a little unnerving at first.
Skiing challenged me over the days to follow and one afternoon I had a really bad run, I just could not ski without falling and my confidence was slipping and not to mention my patience was already retreating off to the nearest Après-ski (French: after skiing) bar. I honestly felt like throwing the skis down in a tantrum. One of the guys was seeing my troubles and was about to come and rescue me which was nice to see from the staff at the lift. I was tired and looking back now I really should have called it a day, sometimes you have to do just that, you need to regroup and recoup. On the brighter side, the next day I had a better run and progressed even further, all I needed was some rest!
I am in the midst of finishing the rest of my Chamonix posts, I will say now by the end of the 5 days I was skiing down the beginners slope on another field. I came to Chamonix never having set foot in skis or even on a mountain and I left as a beginner. I am happy with that!
Le Brevent – Planpraz
As I mentioned Dk ascended to a higher ski run on the Le Brevent mountain (2525m), he said the mornings were the best with the fresh snow and the views of the alps, well, incredible! On a clear day there were views all the way down to the town centre from Planpraz (1999m). The ski lifts were not too crowded and the Après-Ski mid way up offered welcomed nourishment and refreshments. The walk back into town from the start of the ski lifts is not too far even still wearing snowboard and ski boots.
Advanced ski school at Planpraz
Snowboarders on Planpraz
Les Grand-Montets – Les Chosalets
On the very last day, following five days of practicing my newly acquired skill we caught the free shuttle 7kms out of Chamonix to another part of the valley called Argentière. The ski field was called Les Grand-Montets. The highest mountain to ski from is Grand Montets and the summit stands at 3,275 metres above sea level.
Les Grand-Montets ski map
Les Chosalets Beginners Slope
Les Chosalets beginners’ area (1252m) is located on the valley floor and consists of two slopes with drag lifts. It offers a wider area than Le Savoy. My biggest regret was not getting to this ski field earlier as I really excelled and felt confident at Les Chosalets, I skied faster and incorporated more turns as progressed down the hill. The slopes were higher then Le Savoy, long and wide which meant I spent more time skiing then lining up for the drag lift. I absolutely loved it at Les Chosalets and really enjoyed myself. The scenery was also much nicer with smaller mountain peaks in the background.
The beginners slope is 500 metres from the cable car so Dk went off to snowboard at Lognan (1972m). The Grands Montets has fantastic intermediate terrain and scenery, there are also runs that go through a glacier.
Les Chosalets Beginners Slope
I learnt alot whilst in the French Alps and here are my tips for first time beginners;
- You need to be fit and have a good level of endurance.
- Rollerblading and ice skating are great way to practice if you do not live near snow
- Do some pilate exercises at home targeting the legs and abs
- If you fall, get up again and try to remember that it is only the ego that gets bruised
- In the ski lesson you will learn a few tricks to purposely falling, it does not hurt and is good if you are starting to get scared. I used it a few times when I thought I was going too fast
- Be confident
- Be loose and lean with the turn. I know it is hard as you may find that you become stiff due to concentrating too much.
- If you have time spend a day on the slope before the lesson just playing and getting used to the boots. Observe the surroundings. Practice the side step up the hill.
- The rule of practice makes perfect and is definitely applicable on skis. Confidence is also key to being able to master the art of skiing. Never give up, especially when you see little kids speeding past you.
Returning back to the village
612km from Paris
328km from Milan
84km from Geneva
960km from London
Shuttle – www.taxi-chamonix.fr
Bus – www.chamonix-bus.com
Shuttle from Geneva – www.chamexpress.com
3 covered car parks in Chamonix
My French Chalets provides self contained apartments and chalets http://www.myfrenchchalet.com/ http://www.myfrenchchalet.com/
Hotel opposite the Le Savoy ski area www.lesbalconsdusavoy.com
200, Av de L’Aguille du Midi – BP 56- 74400
Ecole Du Ski Francais
Maison De La Montagne
Tel. : +33 (0)4 50 53 22 57
Fax: +33 (0)4 50 53 65 30
33 (0) 4 50 53 22 57
Cost of private ski lesson for me was 118€ for two hours
Leisure and Shopping
View my previous Posts relating to Chamonix
Part 1 of Chamonix Trip – Arrival in Mountain Town