Les Grand Montets is situated above Argentière and with over 1,800 hectares, is the largest of the pisted skiing areas in the Chamonix valley.
Most of the area is above the tree line with large expanses of open terrain. The upper skiing areas are located on a glacier, accessed by a second cable car. There is a marked piste from the top but you should be very aware of the presence of crevasses if you choose to venture off-piste.
Les Grands Montets can be very cold in the mornings and its shady northwesterly aspect can mean that in January and February it barely gets any sun until mid-afternoon. Later in the season Grands Montets starts to get sunnier but it is generally the least sunny of all the Chamonix ski areas. This can, however, be an advantage as it means that snow conditions will often be well preserved until the end of the season in May.
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Beginner ski areas in Les Grands Montets
At Les Grands Montets ski area you can progress quickly from the gentle nursery slopes of Les Chosalets (1,252m) to some of the most exciting steep skiing the valley has to offer. Luckily there are some blue and red runs to test your skills on before you hit the steep stuff.
Les Chosalets nursery ski area is at the lower end of Argentière just up from the turning for the Grands Montets car park. Served by two drag lifts (one very short and slow, one much longer and slightly faster), this is a nice area to learn for skiers or snowboarders. The two slopes are very different; one is very short and flat with its own drag lift. The adjacent slope is much longer and wider, also with its own drag lift and just as gentle lower down. It gets steeper nearer the top making it a good slope for progressing on.
You can also access Les Chosalets from the snowshoe and cross-country ski trails that loop around the valley floor. To get there on foot from the Chosalets bus stop, walk uphill on the narrow lane through the houses to get to the slope. It’s surrounded by trees and has a small snack hut at the bottom of the lifts.
This is not the place to come if you're a beginner. After a couple of weeks skiing or snowboarding under your belt, perhaps you could tackle the easier blues up here, but even those can be tricky and rather vertiginous in places. Plus everyone else around you is going for it, so the last thing you need is to be putting yourself in their way. Take our advice, there are areas in Chamonix much better suited to beginners and this is not one of them.
Advanced runs in 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.
Snowparks in Les Grands Montets
The snowpark at Les Grands Montets has a few rollers and small jumps, boxes and rails to practise on. There are also two boardercross tracks, one is a blue, one is a red.
There's a recreational track sponsored by BMW with videos for recording your run, and a more technical "enthusiasts" route that meets FIS competition standards. The route is 400m long with three jumps, eight whoops and two banked turns. Video recording systems and stopwatch timing makes it great for challenging your friends and having some fun souvenirs to watch at home. The Enthusiasts route is 800m long and includes five jumps, 10 whoops and eight banked turns. It is the perfect training ground for clubs and competitions.
Access to the snowpark is via the Marmattons chair or the Bochard gondola.
Best pistes in Les Grands Montets
Even though it's currently under construction, the new top lift is somewhere to keep in mind if you're here from 2024 when it's due to reopen. From here there are a number of pistes that offer not only fantastic skiing but stunning views of the Argentiere glacier and over towards Mont Dolent.
The Bochard gondola and Herse chairlift take you to the top of a handful of long, winding, steep-ish runs where you can really pick up some speed on the wider sections. Natural bowls in between the pistes provide their own challenges and are lots of fun.
Off-piste skiing in Les Grands Montets
The lifts in the Grands Montets area give access to endless exceptional steep and deep off-piste powder and glacial terrain. It has earned itself a worldwide reputation and is somewhat of a freestyle skiing mecca.
Early in the season (December to early January), it's often quite rocky off-piste, as it can take several metres of snow to build a sufficient base. Because the top of this ski area is on glacial terrain, the glacier has many open crevasses which take a while to become covered by the falling snow. By mid to late January conditions are normally pretty good though. Please note that a fire burnt down the mid-station and consequently the top lift in September 2018. The new lift is being rebuilt and is expected to reopen in 2024, so save some of these itineraries until then.
As well as the really obvious stuff between the pistes, the lifts in the Grands Montets area give access to endless exceptional steep and deep off-piste powder and glacial terrain, but because it is so easy to get to from the lifts it can tend to get tracked out very quickly on a powder day. When venturing off-piste always take the proper equipment with you (for the benefit of others as well as yourself) and, unless you specifically know where you are going, you should seriously consider opting for the services of a mountain guide (who, when you go with a group, will cost you less than a night out – small price to pay for the advantage of an expert) or a ski school.
Favourite off-piste routes in Les Grand Montets
Route 1: Combe de la Pendant
The Combe de la Pendant is a huge bowl above the village of Le Lavancher. The top area of the bowl only has one pisted black run – the rest of the area is a freerider’s paradise. The pitch is steep without being scarily so and you can usually be guaranteed to find great snow here after a fresh snowfall. The only drawback is that everybody seems to know this so you find that by mid-morning it's already fairly well tracked out. The lower section of the bowl has some good pitches through small bushes and trees but don’t forget to traverse skier’s right back to the Retour Pendant chairlift or you’ll find yourself heading through the woods all the way down to Le Lavancher.
Route 2: Runs from the Bochard Lift
From the top of the Bochard traversing skier’s right onto the lower edge of the glacier enables you to either head straight down and rejoin the Bochard piste or to get into the Herse triangle by climbing up a small moraine into the bowl below. The small climb and traverse are usually enough to keep the snow relatively untracked for a little while here. The options are endless from Bochard: one of our favourites is following the ridge between the main bowl and the Combe de la Pendant. There are usually plenty of drifts and little cornices to have fun in before you reach the little U-shaped gully we call the cigar. There’s nearly always a cornice on its right side, almost like a natural halfpipe, which is fun for slashing or dropping off.
Route 3: Runs from the Herse Chairlift
The Herse chairlift has some great off-piste below it too. Head left or right – it’s all open. If you traverse far right it gets a little rockier but pick your way through and you’ll find yourself above a large bowl called the Combe des Amethystes. There’s a GAZEX avalanche tube above the bowl so you know that it should have been blasted and will be safe. As you enter the bowl there’s normally a large cornice above it with a steep landing, great fun for dropping if the slope below isn’t too mogulled. From the bottom of the bowl head left to get back to Lognan on the cat track or carry on down left of the Hotel Refuge to rejoin the Pierre a Ric piste that leads back to Argentiere.
Route 4: Blanchots and Pylones
If you don’t like the idea of going completely off piste, Grands Montets has several runs that are unbashed but still marked and patrolled. Two of which start at the top of the Herse chair: they are Blanchots and Pylones. While in fresh snow they can be great, it doesn’t take long before they turn into mogul runs, so beware of them if you don’t like bumps and it’s been a few days since the last snowfall.
Route 5: Top of Grand Montets cable car (2024 onwards)
From the top cable car at Grands Montets the marked runs are the same – unbashed but patrolled so they can become mogulled within a few days after a snowfall. From the top of the Grands Montets all of the runs are on glacier. While the marked runs are patrolled, if you head off-piste you should be wearing a transceiver, a harness and be equipped and trained to performing crevasse rescue.
Route 5a: Face of the Grand Montets (2024 onwards)
A definite favourite. From the top of the Grand Montets cable car, walk down the steps from the top station and take a right turn (instead of the usual left), cutting below the cable car. The pitch here is steep but with good snow it’s fantastic. If it looks icy, it’s best avoided as you don’t want to slide here since there are sometimes open crevasses below. If you cut skier’s right you can normally find some fresh powder before opening the throttle for a flat-out descent all the way to the top of the Herse chair. There’s a whole plethora of routes from the top of Grands Montets, and the best thing to do if you’re not familiar with skiing or riding on glaciers is to hire a guide or go with someone that knows the area well so you can enjoy the high mountains in relative safety.
Route 5b: Point du Vue
The Point de Vue route is one to try. It’s marked all the way and leads to the edge of the Argentiere glacier with its stunning seracs and crevasses, which are always worth a few photos.
Route 6: Magic Forest
It’s not all high-mountain glaciers and powder fields at Grands Montets, there are also some great tree runs for when the weather turns bad. The Magic Forest often lives up to its name with its bouncy pillow lines and tranquil glades. Situated in the triangle between the Tabé and Retour Pendant chairs. The lower edge is marked by a footpath that leads to the bottom of each of these chairs. Depending on how far left or right you go, you have a good walk to whichever chair you think is closest (it’s never more than a ten-minute walk either way). The good thing about the walk is that it deters most people, so you can normally find untracked powder here for days after the last snowfall. When it’s snowing thick and fast these lower chairs often keep running and the trees help with visibility when it’s a whiteout, which is a winning combination that’ll keep you doing lap after lap of waist-deep powder while everyone else has stayed indoors. Make sure you don’t go past the footpath. If you do, you’ll be heading into the nature reserve below and taking a couloir to the bottom of the valley. These can be fun, but are avalanche prone and not for the faint-hearted!
Bad Weather areas in Les Grands Montets
When it’s snowing heavily head to the Magic Forest at Les Grands Montets, and with some fresh snow this place really lives up to its name. Here the trees help to give some definition and reduce the whiteout that normally accompanies heavy snowfall. This means you can ride some fantastic snow while everyone else is either indoors or struggling with visibility.
Located in a triangle between the Tabé and Retour Pendant chairs this hidden spot can require a short hike out along the cat-track that joins the bottom stations of the lifts, but it’s without doubt worth the effort to get access to some superb powder and tree runs.
From the top of Retour Pendant head straight down into the open (skier’s left of the blue Coqs piste) then enter the wooded section. There are lots of rocks to drop here and with a fresh fall of snow they form the perfect pillow line, with each drop comes an explosion of powder. Lower down the trees become tighter requiring some commitment to turning accurately, although with a little searching it’s easy to find open sections where it’s possible to pull fast, sweeping turns.
The gradient here is fairly steep in places, which means even in deep snow it’s difficult to get bogged down. Be careful not to pass over the cat-track (marked by a dotted black line on the lift map). If you do you’ll be in the animal wintering zone and some very avalanche-prone, steep couloirs heading down to the bottom of the valley.
As this is off-piste, if you go, make sure you at least have a transceiver and shovel and know how to use them (see our Avalanche section).
Backcountry routes in Les Grands Montets
Some of the world's best backcountry terrain is to be found in Chamonix, especially high up on the glaciers accessed from the Aiguille du Midi and Grands Montets cable cars (Argentière). They offer access to numerous kilometres of high mountain powder with even more if you like to hike for fresh lines.
There are several excellent guidebooks with descriptions of the many possible routes both within and beyond the lift areas. There are two published by Vamos called Mont-Blanc Ski tours (ISBN 2910672085) and Chamonix Hors pistes-Off piste (ISBN 2910672107); these books are bilingual, in English and French. An even more extensive guidebook with more difficult routes is Mont-Blanc et Aiguilles Rouges à ski (ISBN 2960025520), written by Anselme Baud and published by Nevicata; it’s only available in French but is worth struggling through even if your French isn’t so good as it gives very accurate descriptions and has good explanatory photos. But remember, in the backcountry there are many dangers, not least from crevasses, seracs, cliffs and avalanches, so you should always hire a mountain guide.
With some glacier travel knowledge, there are a vast amount of ski tours available from the top of Les Grand Montets (not reopening until 2024). There are countless possibilities of varying degrees of difficulty. Some of the best-known ski tours include Col du Chardonnet, Col d'Argentière, Col du Tour Noir and also some steeper variants such as Col du Cristaux.
If hiking isn’t your thing but you love powder then heli-skiing/boarding could be for you. Whilst helicopter drop-offs of this nature are illegal in France (as you land on National park), Chamonix is well located with plenty of companies offering heli-drops on the Mont-Blanc massif just over the border in either Switzerland or Italy.
For backcountry skiing and snowboarding from Grands Montets it is strongly recommended that you use the services of a local mountain guide unless somebody in your party is local to the area and knows the country really well. You need somebody who knows their mountaineering because it’s all on glacier and the route finding can be complex. Some of the more popular routes are the Pas de Chèvre and Col du Passon. The Pas de Chèvre has a few variations in route and difficulty.