Chamonix is not really a ski town so much as a winter-sports hub; an old school Alpeniste’s town of 10,000 people (double that in high season) replete with top-end gear shops, patisseries, bars and restaurants and a satellite of ski areas, hamlets and villages surrounding it.
Dealing with Chamonix’s sprawling and diverse downhill adventure options can be tiresome on a budget – lots of queuing for crowded buses, schlepping around with your boots slipping on ice to catch one of the free minibuses the locals call mulets (little mules) – so to maximise enjoyment of the vertiginous challenges set by Les Houches, Le Lavancher, Argentière, Le Buet, Le Tour, Les Bossons etc, you need to invest in some meticulously organised Alpine luxury.
First, you need somewhere to stay. Away from the rowdy ski bums in town, but well-connected to the ski lifts and téléphériques, preferably with a clear view of the surrounding Mont Blanc massif.
GQ chose Amazon Creek, eight minutes’ drive from Cham-central and billed as “the most luxurious chalet in the Mont Blanc valley”. It sleeps ten and has a private chef and a concierge service.
There’s a private swimming pool, cinema indoor Jacuzzi, an outdoor tub and a sauna. Decor is appropriately Heidi-marries-Swiss-banker luxe: sturdy wooden farmhouse construction, a vast and handsome reception room, an open fire, leather sofas that swallow you and your post-ski- day champagne flute whole and beds you won’t want to get out of – until the sun streams into your room, you clock the soaring Aiguille du Midi peak in the distance and hear the gentle rustle of the chef preparing your scrambled eggs, that is.
After a couple of flat whites, a morning dip and a fresh juice, you pull on your Patagonia, climb in Amazon Creek’s Mercedes bus and head off for the most sublimely thrilling adventure in the Alps – the Vallée Blanche.
This world-famous and truly spectacular 20km – long run with a vertical descent of 2,700m is, officially, an off-piste run, which means that even the voie normale (regular route) is an ungroomed, unpatrolled wilderness bereft of markers to steer you away from its chasm-deep crevasses. (Just the route’s start at the top of the Aiguille du Midi – a precarious ridge edge with a 50-degree pitch on both sides, tackled with skis slung on shoulders and gloved hands death-gripping a guide rope can be a bit of a test for the faint-hearted).
So, while the views are staggering and the ride utterly exhilarating, you are definitely going to need a guide. Good job then that Amazon Creek has Michel Fauquet of ENSA (L’École Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme) on its books. GQ’s advice is to stop halfway down the glacier for a baguette and beer lunch at the rocks they call La Salle à Manger (“the dining room”).
As you munch your jambon et gruyère sandwich mixte, admire the amphitheatrical splendour of the surroundings, then point your skis downhill and follow your guide home. If you avoid the crevasses, there’ll be a cake, a pot of tea, a roaring fire and massage waiting for you back at your chalet.