With lots of steep slopes and fantastic off-piste runs, Chamonix is a true winter wonderland for advanced skiers and snowboarders...
Chamonix ski and snowboard holidays are set in a deep valley beneath the Mont Blanc massif - which can seem a rather cold and cheerless place in the middle of winter.
But that doesn't stop skiers and snowboarders flocking there in their thousands. The reason? Scattered along both sides of the Chamonix valley are many of the most highly-rated off-piste ski routes in the world. Ease of access from Geneva airport has also made the town one of the weekend holiday capitals of wintersports, and the accommodation on offer ranges from hostels to cutting-edge luxury hotels.
Resort height: 1,035m
It's important not to think of Chamonix as a regular ski resort. It has several separate ski areas attached, but to get between them you need to come back down into the valley and commute. For intermediate skiers especially, this is a frustrating experience, and for that reason Chamonix is not recommended for a week-long ski holiday. Beginners get a pretty raw deal in Chamonix too, spending most of the time on the valley floor, wondering what all the fuss is about.
Experts love Chamonix however, because several of these ski lift systems give access to spectacular off-piste routes. The area known as the Grands Montets, above the satellite village of Argentière, is the most famous, and is home to such celebrated ski runs as the Pas de Chèvre, which should only be attempted in the company of a guide holding the UIAGM qualification.
For less agile skiers, Chamonix has one big off-piste route worth tackling: the 17km Vallée Blanche run, which starts beneath the summit of the Aiguille du Midi, and follows the Mer de Glace glacier back towards the Chamonix valley. The walk down from the cable car station is the only really dangerous bit - and in fact, skiing thereafter is pretty flat (too flat for most snowboarders). A guide is essential: both to supply the kit you'll need for that first walk, and to keep you out of the crevasses once you start skiing.
Chamonix is only an hour from Geneva airport, which is served by flights from all over the UK...
Driving is pretty straightforward too, and there's also a railway station in town, linking to the SNCF network.
If you love hurtling down red and black runs and sampling the powder off-piste, Chamonix is the place to be...
However, incredible as Chamonix is for advanced skiers and snowboarders, beginners are likely to find the steepness of most of the slopes terrifying.
Chamonix is one of the highest scoring resorts in Europe on everything from après-ski to the cost of living...
The adrenaline generated by a good days skiing gives the Chamonix nightlife plenty of zip. Bars such as the Chambre Neuf and the MBC microbrewery are the places to sample it. If it's cocktails you're after, head to the bar at boutique hotel the Clubhouse.
The shopping in town isn't bad, and there are some excellent spas (for example, at the Hotel Hameau Albert 1er). But even for non-skiers, the real attraction of Chamonix is the great outdoors. At the very least, you should ride the cable car to the 3,840m Aiguille du Midi to gaze at the majestic views, as well as try some snow-shoeing, and dog-sledding. Anyone who ever enjoyed jumping into frozen puddles as a child should have a go at ice climbing too. Smashing all those icicles is very therapeutic.
9/10 Cost of living
Chamonix can be dirt cheap if you want it to be, offering plenty of budget accommodation, and cheap places to eat and drink too. In fact, one of the most atmospheric mountain restaurants, La Crèmerie du Glacier, near Argentière, is cheap enough to attract those on a tight budget. There's also a well-developed luxury scene here too - so everyone, rich or poor, is happy.
8/10 Attractiveness of the resort
There's no arguing with the Chamonix scenery - in a word, it's stupendous. The town itself is nothing to write home about - rather scrappy and spoilt, in places, by traffic. If you're looking for something a little more low-key and laidback, think about staying up the valley in Argenitière instead.