A Chronicle of Skiing in Chamonix

Publié le 19/07/2021
Vallée Blanche

Rustic wooden planks opened the way for skiing in all its forms!

1741 will always remain an important date in the history of the Chamonix valley, following the visit of two Englishmen who did an enormous amount to promote tourism in the region.

However, one must be aware that the small town at the foot of Mont Blanc was, for nearly 170 years, uniquely a summer destination, acclaimed for its glaciers and in particular the Mer de Glace.
Today, 50% of annual visitors come to Chamonix during the winter season, and winter sports contribute to the global renown of the destination.

1893: The first skis appear in the valley

The first pair of skis arrived from Norway, brought back by a Chamonix traveller. Supposing that these skis could well change the lives of mountain dwellers in winter, some craftsmen and blacksmiths began to produce replicas.

1896: A new way to get around

Doctor Michel Payot is considered the first true Chamonix skier, using these long planks as a means to visit his patients throughout the valley. At the same time, Alfred Couttet, future champion of France, made his first descents at the age of seven on improvised skis. The young Englishman Arnold Lunn, on vacation in Chamonix with his parents, was also introduced to this new sport.

garcçon à ski

1902: The first glacier tours

Convinced that skiing was to become a part of the mountain guide's skills, Joseph Ravanel, known as “Le Rouge”, invented backcountry skiing by making the first crossing (with several friends) of the Col du Géant, between Chamonix and Courmayeur.

1903: The Haute-Route

Linking Chamonix to Zermatt on skis in one week, Joseph Ravanel, Doctor Payot, Joseph Couttet and Alfred Simond inaugurated this high-mountain traverse, known as the "Haute-Route", probably the most famous winter ski tour in the Alps.

1905: Birth of the Alpine Sports Club in Chamonix

Joseph Ravanel and Doctor Payot made the first tour of Mont Blanc on skis. By 1905, Chamonix boasted a number of good skiers ...
The tireless Doctor Payot founded the Alpine Sports Club of Mont-Blanc, later to become the Chamonix section of the French Alpine Club, and he organized the first local competition.

1908: An International Ski Competition in Chamonix

The French Alpine Club entrusted Chamonix with the organization of the second International Ski Competition, the main attraction of which was the presence of the Norwegians. Galvanised by the latter, the French measured the distance they needed to cover in order to reach an international level of skiing. Nevertheless, the competition was a tremendous success.

Skieuse Duo

1909: Alfred Couttet became the French ski champion

The child who learned to ski on barrel boards became French champion at the age of twenty by dethroning Lieutenant Alloix, winner of the two previous championships. The first civilian champion, nicknamed “Couttet-Champion” for posterity, founded a free ski school for young Chamoniards ...

1924: The first Olympic Winter Games

The immense success of the first Olympic Winter Games marked the dawn of a new period in the development of winter sports. The first section of the Aiguille du Midi cable car was inaugurated between the hamlet of Pèlerins and La Para.

Ancienne tracé de l'Aiguille du Midi

Skiing was popularized

In 1930 the French Ski Federation was responsible for the training of instructors, and six years later, the French Ski School (ESF) was created.

Between 1928 and 1930, the two sections of the Brévent cable car were built, followed by a succession of ski lifts which were to make Chamonix a major resort. The most spectacular achievement was the new Aiguille du Midi cable car which opened in 1955. Not only did it provide access to the Vallée Blanche, but it also offered summer skiing between the 1960s and the 1990s. The Grands Montets ski area opened in 1963.



Other articles in this category

Publié le 27/01/2023

Gabriel Loppé (1825-1913), artist, alpinist, photographer and voyager

Publié le 30/08/2022

Hotel tradition at the foot of Mont Blanc

Latest articles

Publié le 28/11/2023

Anticipating the future of the guiding profession

Publié le 19/10/2023

1924 : The first Winter Olympic Games