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Chamonix seasonal workers' guide to getting a job, finding accommodation, the terrain and the nightlife

Work a Snow Season at Chamonix, France

 

Located in France in the French Alps along the border of Italy and Switzerland, Chamonix is home to the highest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc.

Getting a job and working a winter season in Chamonix is an opportunity to ride some of the most stunning terrain in Europe, to enjoy the vibe of a true French Alps town with plenty of seasonal workers and to take part in an incredible amount of festivals and events. Chamonix is undoubtedly one of the most popular resorts in Europe for seasonal workers.

The terrain here is incredible, with some of the steepest, craziest lines in Europe for those willing to go off-piste. While the snow is relatively good, and powder days are awesome, the snow is not in the same league as the big Canadian or Japanese resorts.

Chamonix Whole Area Trail Map | www.chamonix.com | Chamonix Village Map

 

Getting There

Chamonix is around two hours from the town of Grenoble, which has a regional airport. Grenoble is also accessible from anywhere in France using the French train system SNCF. From Grenoble, you can take a train straight to Chamonix to the Chamonix Mont Blanc station. en.voyages-sncf.com/en

Chamonix is also very close to Geneva in Switzerland - a one hour drive. Anyone coming internationally should generally come via Geneva Airport (GVA) as it's the easiest in terms of transport logistics.

From Geneva airport, there are plenty of shuttle bus companies that do pick-ups & drop-offs between Chamonix and Geneva airport. One is, for instance, Mountain Dropoffs. Another is Alpy Bus. These cost around 25 euros one-way and pick up directly from the airport, with drop-off at your accommodation. 

There is no direct train to Chamonix from Geneva, so you will need to go via Annemasse or Roche-sur-Foron if taking the train, which will take around three hours.

Getting Around Town

For those with a Chamoinx ski pass, there is a free bus that takes you around the Chamonix valley. The trip from Chamonix centre to Le Tour/Vallorcine takes around 20 minutes. From Chamonix centre to the Grand Montets is around 15 minutes. The Chamonix Valley Bus System connects all the various townships of the Chamonix Valley. Each of the lines goes through the Chamonix Sud bus stop. 

The main townships which are connected are Servoz, Les Houches, Chamonix Centre, Argentieres, and Le Tour/Vallorcine.

Buese run each day throughout winter. Depending on the line, buses comes between every 10-30 minutes and generally stop around 7.30pm/8pm. See Chamonix Valley Bus System for the timetable.  

There is a night bus as well - the Chamo'Nuit, which runs from around 8.50pm to midnight in winter and summer. 

The town centres are too far to walk between each other, so you will need to rely on the bus to get between them. Keep this in mind for where you live and for when you hit the bars and restaurants at night.  

Town Layout and Vibe

The town of Chamonix is nestled between two valleys and is surrounded by six ski areas. Chamonix village is one of the coolest, most stylish towns in the European Alps. It has a mix of French and other European influence from the many visitors who come in year round. Both summer and winter seasons are bustling with tourists. 

It is definitely a very touristy town, however. So, if you are looking for a more authentic French vibe, Chamonix may not be the perfect place. It is also a more expensive town than other places in the French Alps. 

The lift infrastructure is pretty slick and quite good. There are a number of gondolas and tramcars around. There are still some older style lifts around the place and, overall, it's not as slick as the top-end Swiss resorts. 

Chamonix - Aiguille du MidiPhoto: Chamonix, going down from the Aiguille du Midi - (c) Chamonix

 

The Terrain at Chamonix

It is claimed that extreme, big mountain riding was invented in Chamonix. The mountain is mammoth and the amount of possible riding is enormous. In particular, Chamonix is known for its off-piste and backcountry riding. Note that, unlike North American resorts, generally speaking going off-piste means going into uncleared terrain for avalanches, even if seemingly within the boundaries of the resort. 

For those willing to go off-piste and into the backcountry, the terrain is essentially limitless over a season. Note that avalanches do often occur in the region, however, so be sure you are fully prepared. The combination of steep terrain, as well as big snowfall followed often warm, sunny days, can be a precursor to avalanches. 

There are five different ski areas to choose from for anyone who is an intermediate or above, each accessible by a bus from the village center, plus the runs down the Aiguille du Midi which across the Mer de Glace glacier. These  areas are not interconnected.

There are also a number of small, beginner areas around the town. 

Main Stations

The Grands Montets (1235 m - 3300 m)

This ski area is known for its expansive space and runs which extend over three mountainsides (the Argentière glacier, Lognan and the Pendant). This is one of the better areas for off-piste riding. It also has some good cruisers, in an alpine terrain with few to no trees. 

The Grand Montets has among the best snow in Chamonix as it is north-facing and more often in shade, which retains snow quality. Brevent and Flégère are on the opposite side of the valley and, while they have great terrain, they face the sun virtually all day, so when the sun comes out, it really attacks the snow quality. Grand Montets is usually the first to open and last to close over the season at Chamonix. Riding next to the glacier also provides for great snow conditions all the way into May. 

Among seasonal workers, it's generally the Grand Montets or Le Tour which are considered to be the best lift-accessed areas in Chamonix. 

The Combe de la Pendant is an awesome, expansive area for off-piste riding. You access this from the top of the Bochard Gondola. It is popular after a big dump, so get in early to get fresh tracks. After a dump, you can spend an entire day playing in this bowl, looping the Bochard. 

For other off-piste, try the Italian Bowl. At the top of Telesiege de la Herse cut left and follow the cliff face. Canadian Bowl is another gem, taking the Bochard bubble. Keep your speed over the rise, and then drop down into a pristine bowl.

At Lognan, there is a snowpark and bordercross at the mid-station. 

Unfortuntately, the big Grand Montets lift which took riders to the top of the station, and allowed direct access to the Glacier des Rognons burnt down over the summer of 2018. Access to the top is therefore now only on foot. 

Brévent / Flégère (1030 m - 2525 m)

These two ski areas are linked by a cable car. This area provides some of the best views over the Mont Blanc Massif. The freestyle area in Brévent has a number of rails and is fully supervised by instructors from 1pm each day.

Brevent and Flégère are nice areas for pisted riding when the snow is good. Flégère is a little steeper than Brevent. However, these areas do get pelted by the snow. While this can mean some extraordinary views, particularly over the Mer de Glace on the opposite side of the valley, it does also mean the snow quality can get suspect, and can get icy on piste. 

As with the other areas of Chamonix, the ski areas sit in bowls above the tree-line. You need to take a lift at the start of the day from the bottom to access the main ski areas. Watch out for the tramcar at the base of Flégère which is really slow, and can lead to an interminable wait, even on relatively quiet days on the hill. 

Brevent is the closest ski area to the centre of Chamonix and is walkable from the centre. La Folie Doux is at the bottom of Brevent for some apres-ski drinks after a day on the hill. However, watch out for the windy, narrow, home trail at the end of the day which can get sketchy with hundreds of riders trying to make their way down at the same time! 

For those willing to go off-piste, both Brevent and Flégère have some extraordinary lines you can take if you are willing to hike up. From the top of the Floria poma at Flégère, you will see a lot of people putting on ski skins and walking further up to take the mildly insane lines that exist from the top of the craggy peaks. 

Le Domaine de Balme (1453 m - 2270 m)

This area is accessed via the villages of Le Tour and Vallorcine. There are two mountainsides here – Charamillon has gentler slopes and awesome views of the Chamonix valley – while Vallorcine is a good ski area for tree skiing and borders Switzerland.

This area is very open on the side of Le Tour, with most runs above the tree line. The terrain here is a little gentler and can be a nice area for cruising. There are a few opportunities for heading off-piste on a powder day which are a little less steep around the Autannes lift. 

Around the Vallorcine side, particularly around the Tete de Balme chair, there is some excellent tree-skiing. The runs down from the Tete de Balme are a ton of fun on a powder day as you find your way through the various lines through the trees. 

It does get windy sometimes around this area, and watch out for white-outs. Given the area is mostly above the tree-line, visibility can get tricky when the fog comes in, particularly on the home trails to move around the various areas.

Les Houches (950m - 1900m)

This is more of a family ski area. It has gentler slopes but also a great view of the Mont-Blanc Massif from the top. There are 55 kms of slopes here. The world cup ski event is held here, 

On days that are less good for snow conditions, Les Houches is often a good choice as it is more protected by the trees. It is definitely worth checking out over the course of the season.

Smaller Areas around Town

Les Planards (1062m - 1242m)

This is a small, good beginner area of Chamonix. There are two lifts going to easier green runs. However, this area also has a quad chair taking riders to the top. At the top, there is a red run on which international ski competitions are hosted throughout the year. You will see the ski racers training here when competitions are not on. 

This area is quite close to the centre of Chamonix.

La Vormaine (1480 m)

This is beginner skiing and is the smallest area. It is located at the base of Charamillon on the Balme ski area. This is a good place for beginner ski and snowboard lessons. It has a few small button lifts.

Vallée Blanche

Aiguille du Midi

From the town center, the Aiguille du Midi (the highest lift in Europe) takes visitors up 3km, next to Mont Blanc and provides a stunning view of the mountain. From there, with a mountain guide, you can ski the famous “Vallée Blanche" on the Mer de Glace glacier, an epic experience that culminates in a train ride from the bottom back down into the village when the snow is low, or a ski all the way back to Les Planards when the snow is good.

This is highly recommended to do at least once in the season. The views through the valley floor are absolutely magical and you will really feel in awe of the majesty of the surrounding mountains, and their sheer scale in comparison to yourself. If you are good enough, take one of the harder Vraie Vallee or Col du Plan options and you will see a side of Chamonix you will never forget. The Classique option is also a beautfiul ride. 

The top descent is the famous 'arrete'. This requires you to inch your way down a ridgeline carrying your skis. Guides will often insist you take crampons and rope-up for this part of the trip. Although there is a rope to help you hold on, it's definitely a little hairy as one side of the ride is a sharp, icy drop-off from which a fall over the edge is certainly fatal. 

There are several options to ride down into the Vallée Blance – the normal valley, the Petit Envers du Plan and the Grand Envers du Plan. Avalanche gear is required to do this trip given the possibility of unstable snow conditions. It is not uncommon to see avalanches naturally set off on the sides of the valley. 

There are also a lot of crevices given that you are skiing on a glacier. It is recommended that you take a guide to do this trip. For a list of guides, have a look at the Chamonix website: See www.chamonix.com/vallee-blanche-and-ski-touring,26,en.html

You can also reach Italy via this cable car on the other side of Mont Blanc in the Courmayeur Valley via the Aiguille du Midi. To get down this side, you take the Funivie Monto Blanco which is a second cable car. The area below this cable car is not patrolled and you would need a guide to ski this virtually untouched area.

Snow and weather

The winter season starts in December and extends into May.

April, for spring riding, is generally one of the best months. The crevasses start to close up in January which opens extra glacier riding at that point, particularly for the Vallée Blanche.

Chamonix does well compared to other French resorts with around three meters of snow per season in the past few years, but this is still much less than the major resorts in North America. Snow on a powder day is beautiful and snow, but it just doesn't snow as much here as in Japan and the North American rockies. If the sun has been out for a while, the snow can get icy on the south-facing side of the valley (Brevent and Flégère). 

The weather down in the Chamonix village is generally quite mild and hovers around 0c. The village is actually very low at around 1,000m in altitude. It gets a little colder up at the ski areas, but doesn't generally get exceptionally cold. This can also contribute to a freeze/thaw cycle for the snow.

Remember to be avalanche aware if going off-piste and into the backcountry. The Alps are very avalanche prone given the steep terrain and often unstable snow-pack. 

Chamonix Meteo is the site people rely on for the most up to date snow reports.

Terrain Parks

  • Brévent-Flégère domain : There is a Big Air Bag and speed-skiing
  • Balme domain (Le Tour-Vallorcine) : There is a slalom with HD camera (Each descent can be viewed on the internet using a special pass number checked at the start.)
  • Grands-Montets : There is a freestyle snowpark and a race track.
  • Les Houches : There is a snow park for both beginners and experts. There is a toboggan slope at Prarion.

 

How to Find a Job at Chamonix?

Languages

At the outset, knowing a bit of French is a huge help. If you get laid off mid-season, or if you're just coming to look for work, it will improve your chances considerably if you can speak the local language. A lot of the shops will require French-speaking abilities as guests come from the surrounding French regions as well as French-speaking Switzerland (Geneva in particular).

Knowing Italian will get a job at many places because of the Italian tourists. Russian is also widely spoken.

However, English is widely spoken at Chamonix due to the large number of English tourists and there are plenty of English-speaking jobs available each season.

Swedish is also an asset given the large number of Swedish tourists.

1. Espace Saisonnier

The Espace Saisonnier is an office set up especially for seasonal workers to assist you in finding work and accommodation. It is an excellent resource.

Employers often post jobs with the office and landlords often post accommodation options for seasonal employees www.maison-emploi.com. You can also visit the office or contact them via email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; or by telephone at the Bonneville Maison d’Emploi: +33 (0)4 50 97 29 50. There are two offices to visit at Chamonix (although Megève and Chamonix don't mingle much, and Megève is for wealthier people):

Chamonix

  • 94 promenade du Fori 74400 CHAMONIX +33 (0)4 50 53 12 24
  • Opening Hours: Tuesday 9am-midday/ 1pm-6pm, Thursday 1pm-7pm, Friday 9am-1pm

Megève

  • Mairie de Megève / CCAS 28 place de l’Eglise 74120 Megève
  • Opening Hours: Wednesday 9am-midday.

Bonneville

You could also visit the office at Bonneville which is around 40 minutes away and close to Geneva.

  • Address: 100 rue Paul Verlaine 74130 BONNEVILLE
  • Tel. 06 08 30 96 34 - 04 50 97 29 50

2. Pole Emploi and the Chamonix Job Fair

Pole-Emploi.fr is a good French Government website where jobs at Chamonix are often posted. Speaking French will be a huge advantage although many places, such as rental shops, will hire English speakers given the high number of tourists that come through. This website also has postings on summer jobs.

Pole Emploi and partner organizations run a job week in mid-October at which there are usually around 2000 jobs on offer over the two days from employers in the Pays du Mont-Blanc region. Bring along a CV and covering letter to hand out to employers. This is an excellent way to get a job for the season in Chamonix if you can get to the area before the season starts. www.1semainepour1emploi.fr has further information.

3. Other Resources

  • Most seasonal workers look at www.chamsocial.com for pretty much everything. It is a local classifieds for the valley of Chamonix (from Servoz to Vallorcine).
  • www.missionlocale.fr is a youth development scheme that helps young people between the ages of 16 – 25 to find work.
  • www.cnpc.fr is a resource for sports shops and may contain job listings in Chamonix.
  • The Mountain Trading Company owns quite a few bars in the French Alps. They look for English speakers and hire up to 100 people each season to work in its bars and restaurants.
  • www.resoemploi.fr is a pool of employers specialized in making staff available for hospitality such as tourism, hotels and restaurants.

PERIPL (centre for exchange of resources and information on seasonal work and pluri-activity) has information on seasonal work and provides practical and legal information on all aspects of seasonal work. www.peripl.org

Tel. +33 (0)4 50 66 47 47 | Email: info(@)peripl.org

4. Ski and Snowboard Instructors

If you want to ski instruct in France, you will need to get your French Ski Instruction qualifications. See Work a Snow Season in France for information on transferring your foreign certificate.

5. Tour Operators

There are several tour operators in Chamonix that run full package holidays for tourists, including buses to and from the airport, accommodation in their tour run hotels, help with getting around town and getting ski passes etc.

The Metro Ski Show, which takes place in London in late October, is an excellent way to meet tour companies and submit a CV. Otherwise, it's best to start applying in about July or August.

If you're coming from overseas, you can contact the tour operators directly to apply for a job. Many of the British companies will only hire UK nationals. Tour operators in Chamonix include:

Other Tips for Finding Work

If you want to be set for the season you need to arrive end of October/early November before the season really kicks in. Most of the jobs are taken by end November. However, it can be cheap to live in Chamonix so you can budget spending a bit longer without a job.

Jobs open up during the season as people get injured or laid off, so you can be on the lookout for these openings. Le Belvedere hostel in Argentiere is quite a good option for work. They give you board and lodging only but the hours aren't too long and the atmosphere is quite cool with the other season workers.

If you have your driving license and are over 25 there are a few shuttle companies around which offer good work. Find them from the Chamonix tourist office.

If you are planning on just coming to Chamonix for the season and not working, a season pass is one of the more expensive in the Alps.

Ride Time and Pay

If you are working for a tour operator, you are usually paid around 100 pounds per week on top of accommodation, your lift pass and food. If you find a job with a shop or in a restaurant, pay will depend on tips. Standard pay is around nine Euros an hour, but with the clientele coming through, a good server will end up being able to live off tips.

If you are with a tour operator, try and get in with the ski instructors. Not only can you get commission from the lessons you refer, but they also might give you free lessons by letting you join in the group if you sell enough of them.

Staff Perks

Chamonix is part of the Compagnie des Alpes, which is a group of ski resorts in France. If you work directly for the mountain operations then you are able to ski free at other resorts in the group. You only need to show your work contract. Resorts in the Compagnie des Alpes include:

  • La PlagneChamonix Trail Map
  • Tignes
  • Les Arcs
  • Les Menuires
  • Le Grand Massif
  • Meribel (at The Three Valleys)
  • Peisey Vallandry
  • Chamonix
  • Serre Chevalier
  • Val d'Isère
  • Valmorel la Belle
  • Avoriaz
  • La Rosière
  • Les Deux Alpes

Visas

If you are from outside the EU, you will need to get a French working visa. See Work a French Snow Season for information on visas. If you have your work permit you may turn up in town to look for a job.

 

Getting a Place to Rent in Chamonix

Many, if not most, employers will offer staff accommodation with a job. Although they can vary in standard, they are required by French law to have minimum requirements such as surface area, facilities and fixtures.

The Espace Saisonnier (www.maison-emploi.com - address details above) is a good place to look for accommodation as they will often have rental listings.

www.chamsocial.com is a local classifieds for the valley of Chamonix (from Servoz to Vallorcine) and many seasonal workers use this to find what they need.

Chamonix Centre is the place where the most action happens. It is where the shops and bars are mostly located, however, it is the priciest part of Chamonix.

Places on the outskirts of Chamonix, such as Pelerins, Tines, Bossons or Praz are quieter for those looking for less of a party season. The prices are cheaper in these places. Les Houches and Argentiere are out of the main part of Chamonix, but also offer a good alternative if you would like a quieter season. 

Argentiere is a particularly nice area to live as it is close to the Grand Montets ski area, as well as Le Tour, and just fifteen minutes on the bus to the centre of Chamonix. 

For those looking for cheap rent, Servoz is a little bit further down the valley towards Geneva and is a place where a number of locals live who can't afford Chamonix centre. 

A lot of places will say they are close to town, but that often means close to the edge of town. For those who like going out to Chamonix's huge array of bars, you really want to be in a central location as buses stop at night and walking often becomes the only option.

Below is a list of popular seasonal workers' private rental options in Chamonix and Chablais.

CHAMONIX VALLEY

  • Chamonix Sud apartment village (Résidences du Quartier de Chamonix Sud). This is a good option as it is central, not super expensive and you will be in with a lot of other season workers.
  • Private providers - www.chamonix-mont-blanc.fr - Heading "social et santé/logement social/hébergement saisonniers"
  • FJT - Foyer de Jeunes Travailleurs "La Marmotte" (accommodation for young workers): 131 montée J. Balmat - Tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 20 13
  • Maison des Cimes (57 small flats with/without kitchen for seasonal workers) 1537 route des Praz - Tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 31 52
  • Relais Chatelard Servoz Tel: +33 (0)4 50 47 21 62 or +33 (0)6 03 00 84 85
  • Campsites (summer) Contact the Mairie for information and bookings Tel: +33 (0)4 50 53 11 13
  • Gites d’étapes (hostel-style accommodation) You will find a list of gites d’étapes at the tourist office as well as the Espace Saisonnier
  • Auberge de Jeunesse "youth hostel" www.fuaj.org/Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

CHABLAIS

  • CHABLAIS FJT / CIS - Foyer de Jeunes Travailleurs (accommodation for young workers) Avenue de Neuvecelle – 74500 Evian Tel. +33 (0)4 50 75 35 87
  • Mairie de Morzine (residence "le Savoie") Tel. +33 (0)4 50 79 04 33
  • Mairie de Châtel (residence "le Champlan - Abondance") Tel. +33 (0)4 50 73 23 98
  • Gites d’étapes (hostel-style accommodation) You will find a list of gites d’étapes at the tourist office as well as at the Espace Saisonnier.
  • Camping de la Baume (winter) Communauté de commune de la Vallée d’Aulps Tel. +33 (0)4 50 72 15 15
  • Mairie de Châtel Tel. +33 (0)4 50 73 23 98

Rent in Chamonix

Prices are expensive for a seasonal apartment rent. Year-long rentals, however, are quite cheap (perhaps twice as cheap or even more).

 

Nightlife and Bars in Chamonix

Chamonix, once a place for alternates, is now considerably classier and caters to the well-heeled. The apartments are springing up, taking the place of the grungier bars and hotels.

But Chamonix is such a large place that this boutique side is still only one aspect of the town. Sure, there are the suave bars and cocktail haunts, but Chamonix still retains plenty of dive bars and club atmosphere for the seasonal worker.

The atmosphere is pretty good at Chamonix compared to other French resorts. There are a number of cool little bars around the place, and a few nice places for an apres-ski drink. Le Folie Doux, at the base of Brevent, is a particularly popular place, which does include a club on the inside for a more raucous time. However, the overall party atmosphere is not the same wild atmosphere as you might find in Austria. There are certainly a good number of places to check out, but the town is, for the most part, not heaving throughout the season. 

Given it is quite a large town, there are plenty of other seasonal workers to meet throughout the season, in addition to the locals who live here year-round. 

There are a number of nice places to eat in Chamonix. You can certainly find the more upmarket restaurants around town if you would like. There are quite a few tasty little French places as well, including the Brasserie style eateries. On the cheaper end, the burger joint near the centre of town is very cosy, and very popular.  

Chamonix is one of the most expensive French Alps towns. It is still much cheaper than Switzerland, however. Nonetheless, your local salary will need to be stretched a little if you are planning on eating out a lot.  

Where the Staff are From

There are lots of Brits at Chamonix along with the French. There are also lots of Swedes and Spaniards.

Girl to Guy Ratio

Because it's such a popular and party town, the ratio is not as badly in favor of guys as elsewhere.

 

Outside Work

There are an enormous number of events going on throughout the season at Chamonix. These include exhibitions, music, festivals, ski races and competitions, films and lots of others. Some of the highlights include:

  • The Kandahar Ski World Cup event in Chamonix Les Houches. This is the only slope approved for a World Cup downhill event in Haute Savoie. In France, Val d’Isère is the only other mountain which hosts a world cup downhill event. The run at Chamonix has a vertical drop of 870 vertical meters and is 3343 metres in length. It is one of the major events on the Chamonix calendar.
  • The Freeride world tour in January. This is one of the best freeride competitions in Europe.
  • Black Weekend in March: This weekend has wild off-piste skiing and moguls. There is also music - three stages, of which two are up at altitude. There are twenty live performances and DJ sets.
  • The Boss des Bosses in March. This is an inter-resort event held between Chamonix and several other mountains including Val d'Isère, Tignes and Meribel. It's the best party day of the season.

The valley can get pretty dark given that the mountains rise so sharply on either side, including the imposing Mt Blanc. A good way to get out is to take the cable car over to the Italian side from the Aiguille du Midi to see another part of the valley.

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