Imagine two firm friends, but who have very different personalities, joined by their love of the snow. So naturally the way these two friends go about things would be quite different. But really, the colourful characters are getting everything they both want out of life.
The other day I was wondering, if the towns were people, what would they be like?
Chamonix: Male. Early 30’s. Athletic. Likes to push the limits. Listens to slightly rockier upbeat music. Has a goatee (and a ponytail). Tries to live life as full paced as he ski’s. Fan of neon retro 80’s ski suits, remember degree 7 by Patrick Vallencent and the heyday of skiing they represent? Well known and likes to party.
Courmayeur: Female. No age given. Fashion literate with notable style and sometimes with a fur coat. Values traditional charm over modern flair. Still appreciates the occasional full paced slope session to keep things fresh. Not so well known, maintains a more exclusive social circle.
I think that about sums it up. But what does that mean for you, the exploring snow enthusiast?
Big & Busy vs. Small & Chic
Chamonix is bigger, with a busier lifestyle.
With that size comes a good choice of accommodation, restaurants and bars. When I lived in Courmayeur we used to go to Chamonix for a Chinese or Tex Mex.
There are also more ski areas to choose from.
With a few clusters of runs and each having a mix of blue, red and black, anyone can challenge themselves any way they want.
Courmayeur on the other hand is a smaller village, medieval in heritage with a pedestrianised main street. It services just the one ski area, but this also has a mix of a few blue runs, lots of red, and a few black, to really stretch your legs if you’re in the mood.
Expert Skiers vs. Bon Viveurs
Let’s keep going with the “If they were people” metaphor…
Chamonix likes to hang out with the expert skiers and snowboarders. Probably tackling personal-best runs if not too hung over from the bars the night before.
He and his friends all hit the slopes looking for a challenge, trying to better themselves.
Warming up on the red runs before having a days-best bash down the odd black or off-piste section. Steep or bumps is his end goal.
Probably hangs out with an Ortovox backpack and avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel. He dreams of wearing a UIAGM badge on his jacket someday. And if he is super cool he has his harness on to pretend he is very off piste and glaciers don’t scare him.
Courmayeur likes to hang out with family and people who want an all-round winter sports holiday with good food, smart boutiques and attractive village surroundings. To access good off piste she’d get a chopper rather than ski up.
Being Italian, Courmayeur welcomes everyone, it’s in their culture. The less steep slopes make for a more relaxed snow holiday for everyone.
And if anyone desperately wants to go hang out with loud-mouthed Chamonix and a bar full of Swedes over the hill they can drive/bus through the tunnel or if feeling extra adventurous travel through the glaciated Vallee Blanche.
An impressive journey which will keep Chamonix quiet about who went most off-piste.
Metropolitan vs. Medieval
Chamonix is sometimes considered the life of the party, and is described as modern by his friend Courmayeur over the hill.
He hangs out with a slightly younger, athletic crowd who want to party, but are just as keen to test their nerve and skills on the snow.
Courmayeur, being a chic Italian, is sometimes described as laid-back. She is often seen with groups of all ages and abilities on the snow, but also wandering in and out of the high end shops of Via Roma.
People say her medieval style fits perfectly with modern coffee culture. Her friends from Milan love to visit for the weekend and makes that easy for them.
Chamonix, well he is more of a commitment.
Ski Mont Blanc on the Italian or French Side
If Chamonix and Courmayeur are people, that would make Mont Blanc the local granddad, sitting tall and wise above both towns, with the Vallee Blanche passing under his watchful eye connecting the mountain valleys either side.
If you go there you’ll know what I mean.
Crossing the valley gives you an amazing view of Mont Blanc’s peak towering above you. Vallee Blanche is glaciated so you must have a local guide if you want to cross it, but that is easily arranged and frequently travelled when conditions allow.
This is a great day trip for the more adventurous spirit. You can get there via either Chamonix or Courmayeur, but different travel options are available.
For example, Courmayeur is a fan of heli-skiing, whereas Chamonix doesn’t go in for all that.
However, they both love climbing in the summer.
Setting off for a day on the snow Chamonix likes to play paper-scissors-rock for which of the clusters of lifts to go for first. If he and his friends change their minds during the day they jump on the buses running between the bottom lifts.
Courmayeur doesn’t need to bother with that as there’s one set of runs, and this suits her as she often brings large groups and doesn’t want the logistical hassle of keeping track of people across multiple lift areas.
Something Courmayeur doesn’t often talk about is the amazing lift accessible off-piste sections she has.
Chamonix likes a crowd, but Courmayeur often has half the people around her, so even with less runs to choose there is plenty of space.
Being slightly lower, the lifts do not get affected by adverse weather like Chamonix does and for some strange reason Chamonix always comes to Courmayeur for lunch!
Party Town vs. Long Lunches
Chamonix throws some of the liveliest après-ski you’ll find in the Alps, with lots of variety. When it’s time to head down to the bars his favourite hang outs are Rue Paccard and Rue des Moulins.
Courmayeur is more into aperitivi, nice restaurants, and if you’re into long lunches, you and Courmayeur will get along just fine.
Having said that, in recent years she’s been known to appear with a couple of night clubs. Also a new friend has appeared called Super G, an apres bar with DJ terrace and late running cable car.
Maybe not so laid back after all.
It’s All a Style Choice
Both Chamonix and Courmayeur have the full range of snow and services. Chamonix is legendary in the world of extreme skiing, so in a lot of ways is only suitable for a certain type of snow holiday.
I would probably favour Courmayeur in January as Chamonix’s Chairlifts can be unbearably cold but you can’t beat the skiing on the Grand Montet’s north facing slopes in April.
Whereas Courmayeur can be appealing to a wider range of people, but can still tick the high adrenalin box with ease. So at the end of the day you can choose which friend you want to hang out with.
Until a few weeks ago, Courmayeur’s strap line in their logo used to be “The Sunny Side” which was almost a reaction to Chamonix.
Having given Courmayeur such a hard time over the last few years they have at last changed their logo which reflects more their heritage which is style and gastronomy.
And if you change your mind the other friend is just next door.