Guide to Chamonix, France

  • Fly over glaciers and ice-capped mountains, including Mont Blanc
  • Powerful thermals and fast cable cars to launch
  • Go all summer long, April to September
  • A real Alpine adventure playground
Crossing on to the Aravis chain on the classic XC from Chamonix to Annecy. Photo: Bob Drury

Crossing on to the Aravis chain on the classic XC from Chamonix to Annecy. Photo: Bob Drury

WHY GO?
Chamonix is one of the most dramatic and picturesque flying locations in Europe

WHERE IS IT?

 

WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Chamonix is the adventure sports capital of Europe. Situated at the foot of Mt Blanc, the town is humming with skiers and boarders in winter and climbers and flyers in summer. It also attracts more tourists than any other mountain location in France.

The town is totally set up for holidaymakers making it a fantastic family destination. There’s no end of bars, restaurants and even nightclubs for the night owls. The only drawback is the price of it all: budget holidays are difficult to come by in Chamonix.

There’s flying on both side of the valley. Plan Praz is on the southeast-facing side of the valley and opposite the huge rock walls and glaciers of Mt Blanc. The site starts working as early as 10 am on a good day, and is reached by the Brevent cable car from Chamonix town. Plan Praz is a perfect launch point for XCs going into the massive Wallis (Valais) valley in Switzerland, or westwards towards Annecy.

On the Mt Blanc side of the valley is Plan de l’Aiguille, reached by the Aiguille du Midi cable car from town. The site faces north-west and becomes soarable after about 3pm. Flying from here gives you access to the impressive rock walls of the Aiguille du Midi, the Blaitiere, the Grepon and the stunning granite pillar of the Dru.

Flying on this side of the valley is banned during July and August because there are so many helicopters buzzing around.

Just outside the valley is Plaine Joux, a drivable launch that generally offers mellower conditions than in the valley itself. It works from midday until late and is a perfect family site with cafes, horse riding and a treetop rope adventure park.

FLYING CONDITIONS
Strong thermals and a brisk valley wind in summer. Base is generally higher here than in the surrounding areas. In winter you can enjoy 1,000m top-to-bottoms from the pisted take-offs at Planpraz, with a landing (for experienced pilots) only 100m from the bottom of the gondola.

GETTING TO LAUNCH
Cable cars to Plan Praz and Plan de l’Aiguille from Chamonix. Cable car to Les Grands Montets from Argentiere. Drivable launch at Plaine Joux, just outside the valley

WHEN TO GO
Thermals start in March, depending on the snow cover. The main season is April to September, although October can also be nice for hike-and-fly and gentle thermals.

ALTITUDE
Cloudbase:  2,000 – 4,000 m
Launch: 2,000 m
Landing: 1,000 m

HANG GLIDER ACCESS
Both cable cars will transport HGs with prior notice or drive to Plaine Joux. All launches are suitable for HG and there are good landings at both the Chamonix sites and Plaine Joux.

MUST BE FLOWN
Launching from the Aiguille du Midi at 3,700 m, after descending a steep snow ridge. Soaring the huge Petit Dru rock pillar in evening lift. Le Tour de Mt Blanc: once reputed to have a crate of champagne as a prize for the first to complete. Annecy and back: 100km classic XC route. The Rhone Rider: into Switzerland and follow the huge Wallis valley to the Furka Pass.

TOP LANDING MONT BLANC

Very occasionally at the height of summer it can be possible to topland Mont Blanc. Care must be taken not to impinge the airspace over the valley. You need a cloudbase of 5,000m and the flight is for experienced alpine flyers only. Launch from Plan Praz or, outside the valley, Champex in Switzerland.

DANGERS AND ANNOYANCES
Aggressive leeside conditions at the Brevent in a north wind.

Turbulent valley winds in the afternoon.

Flying is banned on the Mt Blanc side of the valley between Prarion and the Mer de Glace during July and August – meaning no taking off from Mont Blanc summit unless you go south into Italy.

ACCOMMODATION
Everything from camping to five star hotels.

 

GUIDES AND COURSES
There are four schools offering instruction and guidance in the valley.

TAKE THE FAMILY
Yes! Kids’ activities galore: horse riding, climbing, biking and the Parc de Loisirs, Chamonix’s kids’ mini pleasure park. Not much for toddlers though.

RAINY DAYS
Indoor climbing wall, swimming pool and sports centre, library with massive games room, cinema, art gallery. Shopping for – pricy – mountain gear and fashion.

WEATHER INFO
Posted all over town. Check chemist’s window in the square, town hall or sports centre. Otherwise visit chamonix-meteo.com

GETTING THERE
Fly to Geneva airport where many transfer companies run buses direct from the airport to Chamonix town.

Buses and trains run in and out of the valley to Geneva, Lyon, Paris and even London.

By car via the A40 Autoroute Blanche, or the Mt Blanc tunnel from Italy. Or via the Col de Montets from Martigny in western Switzerland, often closed in winter.

USEFUL CONTACTS
Vol Libre au Pays du Mont Blanc (pdf) is a fantastic free booklet put together by the local clubs, school and tourist boards. It features all the take-offs and launches and explains all you need to know about the restricted airspace in summer. It’s available in print from the tourist offices in Chamonix, Les Houches and Passy, and at all the local schools.
See www.chamonet.com for general resort information.


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