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A Brief History of the Chamonix Valley

Statues of Jaques Balmat and Horace-Benedict de Saussure, Chamonix town

In 1741 two Englishmen, Windham and Pococke, discovered the 'Chamouny' valley and its glaciers. Their expedition was met by a rural population of mountain farmers, and a humble monastery. This community lived off animal husbandry and a sparse harvest of oats and rye.

Windham and Pococke explored the valley and visited the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice). The stories of their exploits, published in literary journals throughout Europe, started a craze to find out more about Chamonix.

Madame Coutterand opened the first guest house in 1770.

By 1783, celebrities such as Saussure, Goethe and Bourrit, had visited the valley and raised its profile. Around 1,500 visitors ventured to Chamonix each summer.

Two local men Paccard and Balmat, made the first ever ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786.

The first luxury hotel was built in 1816 (The Hotel de l'Union), followed by 'la Couronne', 'le Royal' and many more.

In 1821, 'La Compagnie des Guides' was created following an accident on the Mont Blanc. Until the end of the 19th century, mountain guides were the main economic power in Chamonix.

However, from the beginning of the 20th century with the construction of numerous hotels, the hotel industry become the predominant economic power in the valley.

In 1860 a carriage road was built joining Geneva to Chamonix via Sallanches.

In July 1901, the railway line that passes through the Chamonix valley was inaugurated. This opened the town to winter visitors.

Between 1908 and 1910 Chamonix took on its present rhythm of winter and summer tourist seasons.

The Skiing in Chamonix Mont-Blanc

In 1924 Chamonix hosted the first Winter Olympic Games. Skiing was introduced in Chamonix at the end of the 19th century by Dr Payot. The first big winter season was in 1906-07. Much of the initiative came from the 'Club Alpine Français' which organized a local winter sports competition.

The Cable Cars & Mountain Train

From then on, the mountains were transformed forever with the construction of the first custom built tourist attractions:

  • The Montenvers railway in 1908.
  • The cable-car 'des glaciers' in 1924 (no longer operational).
  • The Planpraz cable-car in 1927.
  • The Brevent cable-car in 1930.
  • The Aiguille du Midi cable-car in 1955.
  • The Flégère cable-car in 1956.