Chamonix and Megève straddle Mont Blanc’s north and south faces. For three millennia Megève’s populus was besieged by war, plague and fire. In medieval times, Chamonix’s peasants cowered under towering needle peaks. Today Megève, with its preserved historic center, attracts tourists coming for its serene beauty, sophistication and sports. Chamonix, with its imposing mountains, draws the hard core to ski and attack those rugged Haute Savoie spires. Megève became a ski resort after WWI when the Baroness de Rothschild wanted to create the French equivalent to St Moritz. Then Chamonix hosted the first winter Olympics in 1924. The affluent and influential come to both sides of Mont Blanc to pursue their resorts with equal frenzied adoration.
The skiing is equally different. Megève has 275 miles of pistes with 185 runs and 84 lifts, with sun sparkling off them, like vintage champagne: civilized, leisurely challenging, long and ego boosting. It also has France’s best cross country skiing and 32 palate-tempting mountain restaurants. If champagne-equated runs read too tame, Chamonix, with Europe’s highest number of double black diamonds, is not for the faint-hearted. Attack Grands Montets or, after descending l’Aguille du Midi’s tremulous staircase-on-ice, test your stamina on the Valleé Blanche’s 11 mile, 9,300 foot vertical.