Chamonix is famous for its spectacular cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi (3842m). Constructed in 1955 it was then the highest cable car in the world. Together with a cable car system going up to the Point Helbronner (3462m) from Entréves in the Aosta Valley (Italy) it is possible to cross the entire Mont Blanc Massif by cable car.
In the summer months Chamonix is a mecca for alpine mountaineers, drawn to the area by challenges like the north face of the Dru, the Frendo Spur on the Aiguille du Midi, traversing the Alps on the legendary GR 5 footpath or more accessible challenges like summitting Mont Blanc (by a number of possible routes).
Apart from high-mountain summer sports, Chamonix is also a destination for the hardcore mountain biker. As well as the obvious lift-assisted areas for Freeriders there are hundreds of kilometres of challenging hidden singletrack trails - often only found with the help of guides.
Chamonix is also a haven for advanced skiing and snowboarding. The Vallée Blanche glacier runs down from below Mont Blanc du Tacul and the Aiguille du Midi to the valley. This spectacular route can be skied or snowboarded, though care should be exercised due to crevasses. Aside from that, the valley has about six separate ski areas, including Le Brévent (a short but steep walk from the town centre), La Flégère (at Les Praz), Les Planards (ski area for beginners and early intermediates), Les Grands Montets (at Argentière) and Domaine de Balme (at Le Tours). Many of these provide challenging terrain, especially off-piste, with runs down to Switzerland.
There is also a ski resort at Les Houches.
In 1530, the inhabitants obtained from the Count of the Genevois the privilege of holding two fairs a year, while the valley was often visited by the civil officials and by the bishops of Geneva (first recorded visit in 1411, while St. Francis de Sales came there in 1606). But travellers for pleasure were very rare.
The first party to publish (1744) an account of their visit was that of Dr. Richard Pococke, Mr. William Windham and other Englishmen who visited the Mer de Glace in 1741. In 1742 came P. Martel and several other Genevese, in 1760 H.B. de Saussure, and rather later Marc Th. Bourrit.
The growth of tourism in the early 19th century led to the formation of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix in 1821, to regulate access to the mountain slopes (which were communally or co-operatively owned), and this association held a monopoly of guiding from the town until it was broken by French government action in 1892; thereafter guides were required to hold a diploma issued by a commission dominated by civil servants and members of the French Alpine Club rather than local residents.
From the late 19th century on, tourist development was dominated by national and international initiatives rather than local entrepreneurs, though the local community was increasingly dependent upon and active in the tourist industry.
The commune successfully lobbied to change its name from Chamonix to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in 1916. However, following the loss of its monopoly, the Compagnie reformed as an association of local guides, and retained an important role in local society; it provided the services of a friendly society to its members, and in the 20th century many of them were noted mountaineers and popularisers of mountain tourism, for example the novelist Roger Frison-Roche, the first member of the Compagnie not to be born in Chamonix.
The holding of the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix in 1924 further raised Chamonix's profile as an international tourist destination.
By the 1960s, agriculture had been reduced to a marginal activity, while the number of tourist beds available rose to around 60,000 by the end of the 20th century, with about 5 million visitors a year.
Ian Fleming, when writing the fictional biography of James Bond, mentioned that Bond's parents were killed in a mountain climbing accident in the Aiguilles Rouges near Chamonix, when the future secret agent was eleven-year-old.
Exploring Chamonix; Standing in the Shadow of Mont Blanc, the Alps Ski Resort Is a Magnet for Visitors, and It's Still Not Too Pricey, as Emily Lambert Reveals
Nov 28, 2009; Byline: Emily Lambert NESTLED in a beautiful valley in the French Alps and overlooked by majestic Mont Blanc, Chamonix is...