France’s Chamonix Valley may be famous for the legendarily dramatic downhill skiing on its surrounding peaks – Mont Blanc, for example – but the resort’s world-renowned snow invites less-vertical, more-aerial playtime as well. This Chamonix snowkiting guide will hopefully prove that it’s a reliably epic destination for sufficiently skilled athletes.
To get the skinny, I spoke to the authority on snowkiting in Chamonix: Thomas Ligonnet, a sponsored rider with Ozone Kites and long-time resident of the beautiful little resort village. Sponsored for kite-surfing during the summer months, the half-French, half-Spanish athlete spends the snow season slashing powder around ‘Cham’, teaching at Chamonix’s Ecole du Ski France and guiding private clients to the best kiting spots.
‘Chamonix is a great destination for snowkiting’, Ligonnet asserts. ‘There’s plenty of wind, good snow conditions and lots of height. In fact, the little village of Le Tour, where we are based, is the snowiest in France. Even on the off chance that there is no wind, it’s one of the best places in the country to ski or snowboard. Chamonix is also one of the best places to learn speed riding, which I also teach, as the snow and the conditions are just perfect for it.’
The resort is also quite convenient: it’s less than an hour away from the Geneva airport, tucked into a hyper-accessible area just next to the border with Switzerland and Italy.
Beginners need not apply
Chamonix’s snowkiting areas are all located on mountain slopes, making them inappropriate for beginners in the sport. ‘The slopes are too aggressive for beginners’, Lingonnet explains, ‘and the snow can be quite deep’. Stones and trees can also present hazards, and kiters must demonstrate sufficient control to stay at least 400 feet from all pistes and lifts. If you’re out of practice, take heed: you should plan to take your kite out for a day or so – and, perhaps, pick up some tune-up coaching – to regain currency before you arrive at the unforgiving terrain at Chamonix.
To get a feel for the ‘gnarliness quotient’ check out Lingonnet’s YouTube channel. Most of the snowkiting footage on the channel is of Chamonix, so you’ll get the picture quickly: it’s steep, wild and deep. For the right kiter, it’s heaven – for the wrong one, hell (and a likely hospital visit).
Bring your own equipment
According to Lingonnet, there used to be a shop in town that rented snowkiting equipment. That shop is now closed, however, so snowkiters will need to pack everything they need and bring it along as luggage. Luckily, Lingonnet doesn’t suggest any special or additional equipment for a snowkiting trip to Chamonix. Whatever gear you’re comfortable flying will work for either site. Another key tip: since there aren’t any rigging lofts in town, be sure to have your equipment inspected before you pack it up, especially if you haven’t been out kiting for a while. Also bring any patch kits, extra lines and spare rolls your gear might require for a quick fix.
Pick up a pass
If you want to snowkite in Chamonix, you won’t be able to do it without a pass. The snowkiting areas in Chamonix are all located within the ski resort of Le Tour Balme, which sits at the lofty end of the Chasm Valley, which borders Switzerland. To access the snowkiting areas, athletes must at least purchase a pedestrian pass to the resort. However, most will prefer to purchase a full lift pass. ‘You have to take two lifts up to reach the snowkiting areas’, says Lingonnet, ‘if you don’t want to spend the day hiking’. Beyond access, the investment holds a few additional benefits: passholders enjoy parking, warming rooms and access to rescue services.
Col des Posettes
One of Lingonnet’s favorite spots is Col des Posettes, slightly downslope from the jagged topward peaks. ‘It’s the widest area that we use for kiting. It’s nice, and not too strong’, he explains. ‘Col de Posette works better when the winds are coming west-northwest from the Chamonix Valley; then, if the winds are too soft, you can crank it up going to the Balme Pass, just on the the border with Switzerland.’
Col de Balme
Col de Balme, right on top of the mountain, is another of Lingonnet’s local favorites. ‘It’s a little, smaller spot’, he says, ‘but it takes a wider variety of winds than Col des Posettes. You can kite there when the winds are westerly, northwesterly, easterly and northeasterly’. The space can be a little claustrophobic, however, and the mountaintop winds can be overpoweringly strong for non-expert kiters.
Where to Stay
If you don’t mind the four-night minimum and already intend to spend a couple of bleary mornings squinting queasily against the sunshine, the mountain hostel style Le Vert Hotel is the classic crash-pad for young athletes in Chamonix. Located about a kilometer south of the center of Chamonix, the austere lodgings are comfy and cheap, but the main attraction is the attached bar and the live music that fills it.
Also affordable but distinctly more central and grown-up, if that matters to you, is the Hotel de l’Arve. Rooms look out on Mont Blanc and the l’Arve riverbank. The on-site sauna helps soothe kited-out muscles, and the buffet breakfast helps start the day on the right foot before heading to the ski shuttles – just 100 meters from the front door. There’s also a pool table, a small climbing wall and free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
Those looking to splash out on a posh pad should hand their bags to a smartly-uniformed porter at the four-star Grand Hotel Des Alpes. The hotel has just 30 guestrooms, all thoughtfully appointed with entertainment centers, minibars and spa tubs. Guests have access to on-site childcare, laundry and spa services. The Grand Hotel Des Alpes sits walking distance from the Barriere Casino, the central shopping district and the L’Aigulle du Midi Tram, so non-kiting family members will find plenty of close-by activities to while away the day as you mission around the slopes.
So, there you have our Chamonix snowkiting guide, a comprehensive look at everything you need to know to some of the best kiting spots in the Alps.