If you like challenging runs that seem to go on forever then Chamonix has got plenty to offer. Known for its steep slopes, it's a mecca for advanced skiers and snowboarders. Unique due to its low lying valley and high mountains, the lifts rise to over 3,000m, and there are runs offering 2,000m plus of vertical descent. The largest amount of which is offered from the Aiguille du Midi, however, the gradient on La Vallée Blanche is flat at times so won’t offer high-speed thrills. The steep runs and pistes of Grands Montets, Brévent, Flégère and Les Houches, however, will!
Advanced areas at Les Grands Montets
The home of steep and challenging pistes, from 3,275m to 1,252, Grands Montets has some of the most testing runs in the Chamonix valley. With a choice of pisted and un-bashed runs you will be able to enjoy fast and icy pistes alongside steep mogulled runs.
Its highest point is at the top of the second Grands Montets cable car (3,275m), which sadly burned down in September 2018. A new lift is currently in the process of being rebuilt and is due to reopen in 2024, so for now the glacier skiing accessed from the top is currently limited to ski tourers skinning up from the Bochard or Herse lifts.
Once the new lift is open, be sure to head up here to find some truly stunning scenery as the top of the run as it takes you very close to the Argentière glacier, its seracs and crevasses, and you may even see ice climbers going up the vertical walls. Another favourite is the Bochard gondola, giving access to reds and blacks that at times can be pretty deserted and well groomed. These runs can be steep and icy in parts, so keep your wits about you.
Meanwhile below there's still plenty to get excited about. As you get to the top of the Herse chairlift, take a skier’s left onto the black run Blanchots (unbashed but marked) which leads to the Variante de l'Hotel red run and the Chalet Refuge de Lognan. You’ll notice the Chalet Refuge de Lognan (on old stone building that serves fantastically good lunches) on your right, just above the tree line. It’s a good place to stop to rest those weary legs, but if you’re feeling strong carry on down the Variante de l'Hotel run, which is similarly unbashed and again can be home to huge moguls. This run through the trees leads onto the Pierre a Ric, which is the final run down to Argentière. Pierre a Ric is normally well groomed and will allow you to let rip for the last part of the descent. When you reach the bottom you’ll have clocked up just over 2,000m of vertical.
Another favourite of ours here when we want something steep and fast is the Chamois piste in the Combe de la Pendant. This run begins just off the top of the Bochard gondola; take a left after the top narrow section and head along the cat track and you’ll be standing at the top of the piste. What we love about this run is that it’s often pretty deserted and well groomed so you can really fly down it without too many distractions from other skiers and boarders. The run has one or two quite steep sections that can be a little icy so you’ll need to keep your wits about you. You may find a few mogulled sections on this run too to keep you on your toes.
Lower down you have two options, either head under the bridge back to Plan Joran or carry on in the Combe de la Pendant to the Retour Pendant chairlift. If you do this run down to the bottom of the Retour Pendant you need to head onto the blue run Arolles, but if this is too flat for you then head straight down the off-piste moguls that you’ll find between this zigzagging piste. If you head under the bridge, keep your speed up as this flat connecting section can leave you walking to the bridge if you don’t go full speed. All in all it’s not as long a descent as the one from the top of Les Grands Montets, but it’s still one of the most testing runs in the valley.
Advanced areas at Brévent and Flégère
You can check off some long runs at both Brévent and Flégère, with a possible descent of nearly 1,500m...a real thigh burner. This large ski area offers you a whole host of steep and challenging runs and plenty of lifts so you can scoot up and down the pistes all day long.
The Charles Bozon black run from the top of the Brévent cable car takes you all the way to the valley floor if you link up the various runs. In good snow conditions it’s possible to combine the Charles Bozon with the Nants run all the way back down to the valley floor to clock up nearly 1,500m of vertical descent.
At the start of the Charles Bozon run there are two variants; one that offers steep moguls for those on a mission to prove their skiing credentials, or one that’s slightly more sedate and zig-zags down the cat tracks for the more cautious skier amongst us. Both lead to the Planpraz area where you can then select from a host of easy blue runs that lead to the bottom of the Parsa and Cornu chairlifts, and to where the Nants (home run) black run starts. The Nants piste is a zig-zag cat track that takes you all the way down to the bottom of the Plan Praz bubble lift and even down into the centre of Chamonix.
Of all the blue runs our favourite is Blanchots, it’s the least travelled, is slightly shadier and often has the best snow.
Lachenal is a superb red with a very steep and narrow upper section (we think it's slightly harder then most reds). This run is often very well groomed so you’ll be unlucky to find moguls on it, you’ll generally find it smooth and fast. The lower section flattens out as it approaches the tree line where it joins Evettes; follow this blue run towards the Evettes chair. From here you can either take the old rickety chair back up to the main ski area, or combine Lachenal with the home run and take a right onto Praz just before the chairlift. Giving you a descent of 1,300m, again this is a zig-zagging black cat track through the trees, but halfway down it opens out into a wide chute where you can head straight down to Les Praz and the cable car at the bottom of the valley. It’s only worth doing when the snow is good and in the morning before the crowds start to make the return journey home at the end of the day. The snow melts off here quickly, so it won't be open/worth it in late Spring.
Floria is a black piste highly rated by the locals because of the vast amount of off-piste it delivers and in the right conditions it's a dream to come down. It is however serviced by a clunky drag lift of the same name and is often closed in bad weather due to the high avalanche risk from the peaks above. But if it's open it's one not to be missed, especially on a powder day and/or if it's been closed for a while as it often remains unpisted. Take the Index chairlift and head over to skiers' right. This long and challenging black will eventually take you down to the Trappe chair.
Advanced areas at Les Houches
Better known for its family-friendly slopes, Les Houches is not exactly on the list of 'extreme' areas that one comes to expect from Chamoix.
However, the famous Kandahar run down the front face provides the longest vertical descent in the area. The Verte des Houches piste (to call it by its little known 'official' name) is a steep, hard-packed and sometimes icy skiing challenge for even the most advanced rider and is therefore not for the faint-hearted. This piste is the home of the Alpine Ski World Cup downhill course, and at 3,343m long with a vertical drop of 870m, the best downhill skiers in the world can race down it in less than two minutes.
The alternative red run Mur des Epines is the same length and provides a little more variety. Both take you down to the Bellevue cable car, or you can take three sequential chairlifts to get back up to the top.
A quicker option is to cut across half way down the pistes and join the blue Aillouds piste that takes you to the Prarion gondola. The super-efficient gondola will have you back at the top in no time at all, where you can join the Table d’Orientation red piste for another long vertical descent back to the village.
Off-piste areas in Chamonix / Mont Blanc Valley
No guide about advanced skiing and snowboarding would be complete without mentioning the world of off-piste that is on offer here.