Premier Skiing and Hiking amid Mountain Scenery
No wonder Chamonix was chosen to host the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Long before it was heralded as Europe’s best resort for advanced and expert skiers, Chamonix was a serious mountaineering center and summer capital for climbers. Glacier-wrapped Mont Blanc rears up straight over town, and on a clear day you can see the Matterhorn, 40 miles away. “I never knew—I never imagined what mountains were before,” said Percy Bysshe Shelley after a visit in 1816.
The Chamonix Valley cuts through Europe’s highest mountains and glaciers, providing stunning views and terrain that make for peerless summer hiking and radical off-piste skiing that’s steep, high, and long. The outstanding run—and not just for experts—is the celebrated Valine Blanche, a rugged, uninterrupted 12-mile glacier run of breathtaking scenery.
Even farther aloft is the 12,000-foot needle-pointed Aiguille du Midi, reached by the world’s highest cable car ride, a heart-stopping experience for siding and nonskiing altitude lovers. A cog train accesses the glorious 6,300-foot summit of the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), the second-largest glacier in the Alps, another alpine wonderland that must have held Shelley in thrall.
In the midsummer months, the region is host to seasoned hikers, many of whom undertake the lovely Tour du Mont-Blanc. The point of the tour is not to make it to the top of the highest mountain in Western Europe, but rather to follow a circular route through France, Italy, and Switzerland and their ever-changing panoramas of glaciers, peaks, and meadows.
Following roads once used by the Roman legions and crossing through a succession of seven valleys (each with its own scenery, cuisine, and culture), you encounter remote villages and customs unchanged for centuries. Take a picnic lunch for the wild- flower-covered meadows.