CHAMONIX, FRANCE - High drama among Europe's highest peaks

Chamonix could not be more different from the archetypal high-altitude French resort. It has no huge area of well-connected lifts and flattering slopes. Unless you are based next to one area and stick to it, you have to drive or take a bus each day to your chosen mountain - although the cable car now linking Le Brévent to La Flégère has improved things a little.

There are all sorts of terrain, but it offers more to interest the expert than anyone else, and to make the most of the area you need a mountain guide rather than a slope map. Chamonix is neither convenient nor conventional, but it is special.

The Chamonix valley cuts deeply through Europe's highest mountains and glaciers. The views are stunning and the runs are everything really tough runs should be - not only steep, but high and long. If you like manicured slopes accessed by slick lifts, stick to the Trois Vallées. If you like your snow and scenery on the wild side, give Chamonix a try. But be warned: there are those who try it and never go home - lots of them.

What's Great
What's Not-So-Great

+ A lot of very tough terrain, especially off-slope

+ Unforgettable cable-car ride to the Aiguille du Midi, leading to the most famous off-slope route of all - the Vallée Blanche

+ Amazing views of the Mont Blanc massif and its glaciers

+ Town steeped in Alpine traditions, with lots to do off the slopes

+ Well-organized and extensive cross-country trail system

+ Easy access by road, rail and air

? Several separate mountains - a lot of driving or bussing required, and mixed ability groups are likely to have to split up

? Slopes in each individual area are quite limited

? Hardly any slope-side accommodation

? Runs down to the valley floor are often closed due to lack of snow

? Popularity means crowds and queues, and lots of road traffic

? Bad weather can shut the best runs