Chamonix is a place that the whole family can enjoy, no matter their interests, and is unbeatable when it comes offering variety on your holiday.
If you are thinking of bringing your family here for your ski holiday the short transfer time from the airport (an hour's drive from Geneva) is a real bonus. There are five individual ski areas in the Chamonix valley, each providing good nursery slopes and excellent children's ski schools. It can be helpful to have a car at your disposal if you would like to explore more than one ski area during your stay. Whilst there are regular buses and trains that run from each village to the ski areas, these can be busy at peak times which can be unnerving for small children. Even better, look to stay in a hotel or chalet that provides free minibus transfers to the ski slopes and back, by far the easiest option!
The town of Les Houches (a few kilometres down from Chamonix) is a very popular choice with families and has its own ski area with nursery slopes, dedicated family play areas and some ski-in/ski-out accommodation.
Wherever you stay in the Chamonix valley, it's useful to ensure that your accommodation, ski hire and ski school meet-up points are all in the same locality so that getting to your ski school or the ski lifts is not too arduous - important when you are carrying more than one set of skis! Have a look at a Map of Chamonix. Chamonix sits in a valley at an altitude of 1,035m so it doesn't get as cold as some other high mountain resorts - it's a bit easier for babies and toddlers to deal with. That's not to say the ski area is low lying, with most slopes above 2,000m it is not unusual to still be skiing in Chamonix in May.
Situated just over an hour from Geneva airport, Chamonix lies in the shadow of Mont Blanc, at the border of France, Switzerland and Italy. There is a real international feel to the place, not just from tourists but from individuals and families who have decided to settle here from all over the world. Come and find out why.
Accommodation for families
Taking the family on a ski holiday can be hard work, so finding good family-friendly accommodation is essential to making life that little bit easier. Chamonix has a wide selection of hotels, chalets and apartments, most of which are family friendly.
Most of the valley's off-the-mountain action takes place in Chamonix town. This includes major events, the municipal swimming-pool, cinema, a wide choice of restaurants and more; all of which make keeping the kids "entertained" that bit easier. If you like to be close to the nursery slopes you can choose either the Savoy or Planards areas; and you've got good access to the Brévent mountain slopes, which are good for beginners and south facing (sunny!). The trade-off is that accommodation prices generally reflect being in the thick of it. Most of the accommodation in Chamonix is in apartments and hotels, with some chalets lying in the outskirts. The centre of town is pedestrianised with a great selection of shops and restaurants, and there is plenty of space to run around in.
Les Houches, Les Praz and Argentière
Les Houches has an excellent selection of chalet accommodation for families and has a very good ski area for skiers of all abilities. Alternatively, you could stay in one of the smaller villages such as Les Praz (for direct access to Flégère ski area) or Argentière (direct access to Grands Montets ski area), both have their own nursery slopes and ski schools. These villages offer a good compromise between price and things to do, whilst still being well-connected by road, train and bus services to all the facilities in the valley.
At the top of the valley are Le Tour and Vallorcine, which have great nursery slopes but are a bit more limited in après-ski and dining options.
Lift passes for families
There are various "family ski pass" rates available, essentially these are discounts if you match certain criteria. For two adults (parents or grand-parents) the first child (five to 14 years) pays full youth rate and then other children go free (limited to four freebies). Children under five ski for free; and there are special beginner and pedestrian passes available too.
You can also buy reduced price ski passes for the nursery areas, please see the Beginners Ski Pass section on our Lift Pass Prices page for all the details.
Ski schools for families
If you have designs on raising the next Shaun White or Chemmy Alcott, then getting your kids into ski school as soon as possible is going to be a priority! Ski schools will take children from three years old. If you want to teach your kids yourself, you can find out more about the nursery and beginner ski areas in Chamonix in our guide. All ski equipment (and sometime ski clothing) can be rented at the ski hire shops in Chamonix, either when you arrive or you can book everything online in advance. They will need a helmet, mittens and goggles in addition to skis (poles are not initially needed for kids), and make sure the children have enough layers on to stay warm. Remember to apply sun cream to their faces before they start and place a snack and your phone number in their pocket, just in case.
For three and four year olds, the focus is on having fun in the snow and games are used as part of the teaching process. Their ski pass is free, just go to the lift pass desk with some ID to obtain the ticket. For children aged five and above, you can enrol them in courses according to their level, from beginners to good skiers who are nearing competition level. The ski pass is generally not included in ski school so you will also need to buy a pass - ask the ski school which pass is best suited for your lesson.
There are several ski schools in the area offering ski lessons for children. The two main ski schools that cater for the three to six age group in Chamonix are ESF and Evolution2. Both companies offer full and half day sessions with English speaking instructors and have dedicated areas for your kids to learn how to snow plough, stop, turn and glide. Their first experience on skis will be in a 'snow garden' where your children can build their confidence whilst interacting with fun inflatables and characters, and by playing games. A 'magic carpet' travelator makes it easy for them to be taken up the slope, and drag lifts on the neighbouring nursery pistes will be introduced when they are ready. Three year olds and first-timers are likely to be satisfied with half day sessions, and all kids receive a medal at the end of their course.
Ski schools offer mainly weekly courses, so if you are here for only a few days then you will need to enquire when you arrive to see if there is any space for your kids on the days you are in resort. The alternative is to hire a private instructor for your dates.
Ski areas for families
There are five separate ski areas in the Chamonix valley. They are not linked to each other, so what most people do is choose one area to stay in for the whole day. The 'Unlimited' lift pass covers all the areas, and 'Le Pass' covers Brévent/Flégère, Grands Montets and Le Tour/Balme. You can also just buy a local pass for Les Houches.
Many families choose Les Houches for their ski holiday, mainly because it can be better value than Chamonix, the ski area is well set up for children and beginners, and there are some ski-in/ski-out chalets to stay in. There are nursery slopes both in the town centre (Le Tourchet, two button lifts) and at the top of the Prarion gondola (magic carpet and chairlift to access green piste). From here, Les Houches has some lovely tree-lined blue runs you can enjoy. For more advanced skiers in the family, you can whizz down the World Cup black ski run, the Kandahar. There is also a snowpark and a boarder cross area to practice your tricks. And one of the nicest things about skiing in Les Houches are the lovely mountain restaurants you'll find hidden away in the forests.
There are two nursery areas accessible from Chamonix town. Planards is just by the Montenvers train station and has two drag lifts servicing short green runs and a magic carpet run by the ESF ski school. The Savoy nursery area is slightly bigger and has two drag lifts and a magic carpet (free of charge). The Savoy area links into Brévent ski area which has a wide range of runs from green to black that the whole family can enjoy. There is a boarder cross area, a 'big air' bag, and slalom courses. It's also south-facing so benefits from being in the sun all day - it also gives the best views on to the Mont Blanc mountain range.
Les Praz/Les Tines
If you are staying in Les Praz, La Flégère is the closest ski area for you. It has a lovely green nursery slope, probably the longest one in the valley, as well as more challenging red runs for the more advanced skiers. Flégère is linked to Brévent, so there will be plenty to keep you occupied.
Further up the valley is the famous Les Grands Montets ski area. Argentière is the village that sits at the bottom of the ski lift and from here you have access to nursery areas at Les Chosalets. Evolution2 children's ski school is based here and they have their own snow garden with magic carpet that is ideal for first-timers. The Grand Montets ski area itself is best suited for more advanced skiers as the runs are long and fairly steep. The snow park here has two boarder cross tracks and is equipped with video recording systems.
The final ski area suitable for families is at Le Tour. It has the gentlest ski runs with wide cruisy blue runs and a lovely nursery area at La Vormaine (button lifts). There is also a small snow park next to the nursery area, and another larger one on the main ski area. On the other side of Le Tour ski area is Vallorcine and Le Buet. Le Buet has its own family ski area called La Poya which has two drags and two pulleys for kids.
Activities for families
During the winter if the kids are only skiing for half a day, then there are plenty of other activities available in Chamonix to keep them happy.
On the snow
If you want to stay on the slopes, there are two areas which have 'fun parks' for toddlers and above. The first is the most excellent Ski Camp and is located at the top of the Prarion gondola in Les Houches. Here you will find a snow tubing track (which is amazing fun!) sledging, zip wire, curling, igloos and tepees and other entertainments - all for free (although you will need a pedestrian lift pass to access the gondola). The second place with a dedicated family area is the Mont Blanc Legend at Flégère. This is a little winter village by the Trappe green run. You'll find snow slides and activities, treasure hunts and a BBQ. You can also go snow tubing at the Moon Tine Café at Le Buet near Vallorcine on a dedicated slope (the train from Chamonix also stops at Le Buet). Take a look at the piste maps to help you find your way around.
Sledging is not allowed on the piste, but if you head back down to the villages you will find dedicated sledging at most of the lower nursery slopes. Try the Savoy or Bois de Buchet in Chamonix, Le Tourchet in Les Houches, Les Chosalets in Argentière, or in Vallorcine, there is one just behind the tourist office. Most ski shops in town sell sledges (or your accommodation provider may have some you can borrow). In addition, at Planards in Chamonix there is the winter luge. This is a 1,300m mini roller coaster - you board at the bottom of the hill and are pulled up to the top before the track loops you back down through the trees. Each sledge has room for two passengers, seat belts are fitted, and it's suitable for children aged three and upwards.
Just next to Planards is the traditional Montenvers cog railway that takes you up into the mountains to the Mer de Glace glacier (1,913m). This charming red train is an attraction in itself, and once you get to the top you will find wonderful views, a glaciorium (an interactive and educational space) and ice caves (down 400 steps so perhaps not great for very little ones). You can also hire show shoes for free to explore groomed trails, and there are children's events here every weekend in February.
Ice skating is available in both Chamonix (indoor rink with skate hire available, outdoor free usage if conditions allow) and Les Houches (outdoor, open in the afternoons and evenings, skate hire available). Other activities you may like to consider for your children include snowman building, snowball fun, and if you want a real treat, try husky dog sledding where the little ones can ride in a passenger sledge with you - there is usually only one passenger sled per trip, so booking in advance is highly recommended to avoid disappointment. Or for something a bit more gentle, you can always go for winter walks through the woods - try Bois du Buchet in Chamonix or Les Chavants in Les Houches.
For indoor fun, on Thursday mornings (not during school holidays), there is a tots group that meets at the church hall off Place du Poliu from 10:00 to midday (best for babies and up to three years). The cinema in the centre of Chamonix shows regular English language films (look for the VOST showings). And the swimming pool at Richard Bozon sports centre has sessions for children (18 months to three year olds) on Saturday mornings - booking recommended. The indoor climbing wall at Mont Blanc Escalade in Les Houches is a fabulous place to start climbing - children from the age of seven can join special courses.
For adults who don't want to ski there are a number of spas you can visit for some indulgence, as well as fitness classes, or perhaps some snow shoeing. Pedestrian ski passes are available at a reduced rate so you can join the rest of your group up in the high mountains for lunch and spectacular views.
During the school holidays there will be plenty of child friendly events to explore. At Christmas, there is a Christmas Village in Chamonix open every day with a market, parades, shows and Santa. Look out for torchlit descents at the Savoy and Planards pistes (wrap up warm!) ESF Chamonix holds a special 'Red' day in February where you'll find face painting, a tombola, music, parades and shows. Plenty more child friendly events are added to our events calendar as the ski season approaches, so please do check it when you arrive.
Summer holidays in Chamonix are all about being active and there are a wealth of activities on offer here for all ages and members of the family. Our dedicated Guide to Summer Activities in Chamonix includes a section specifically on kids' activities with information on horse riding, short family hikes, high ropes courses, where to go swimming, nature parks, and numerous other fun things that will help make your family holiday as unique and memorable as possible!
It is possible to hire baby equipment in Chamonix - items such as high chairs, pushchairs, cots and playpens can be rented in resort. Check with your accommodation provider for high chairs and cots especially. All the ski shops offer a kids ski pack rental as well, with skis starting at a length of 67cm and boot size 23EU. Some will also rent you sledges, strollers and sledge-strollers.
There are plenty of specialist tour operators who cater for families and have in-house nannies to help with the childcare. Children under three may be too little to try skiing so some help with childcare is essential if you plan on skiing yourself. Independent nanny agencies are also available, and should be booked well in advance of your holiday. Have a look at our childcare listings page for more information or you can contact the local tourist offices for a list of available babysitters. NB: there are several municipal crèches in the area but they are reserved for residents, so we have omitted them here.
The main winter establishments to help with childcare include the ski schools who cater for children who are three years and older. You can book your child in for full or half day programmes and lunch can also be provided for an extra charge.
You may find that the main sports centre of each town host a kids club during the summer holidays, normally from 1st July to 30th August, with activities such as swimming, climbing, tennis, basketball, ice-skating, etc. and organised hikes and picnics.
School holiday dates
France divides its school holidays into a regional timetable to ensure that the entire country doesn't go on holiday at once - however, this staggered system can mean that some months (particularly February) can be busy from beginning to end as one region after another arrives in resort! Chamonix is in Zone A.
- Zone A - Ain (01), Isère (38), Savoie (73), Haute-Savoie (74) Caen, Clermont-Ferrand, Grenoble, Lyon, Montpellier, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Rennes and Toulouse
- Zone B - Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Besançon, Dijon, Lille, Limoges, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Poitiers, Reims, Rouen and Strasbourg
- Zone C - Bordeaux, Créteil, Paris and Versailles
Skiing with toddlers & children in Chamonix
Ski holidays with pre-schoolers have become increasingly popular over the last few years and although Chamonix has a reputation for being the home of all things extreme, you may be surprised to hear that it's also a great place to come with your...
The Montessori Primary School in the Chamonix Valley
Set in the woods along a small private road next to the Grand Montets ski area in Argentiere, there is a beautiful traditional chalet where children aged between three and twelve are enjoying a different sort of education. This is where the Ecole...