Zermatt or Chamonix: Best Ski Resort in the Alps?

zermatt or chamonix

Can’t decide if you should go skiing in Zermatt or Chamonix? Then you’re definitely in the right place because this detailed comparison will make it perfectly obvious which Alpine town is the better option for you!

We’ve also compared everything else about these towns, so even if you have no interest in skiing, you can see which of the two towns is better suited for you. Should you visit the charming village in Switzerland or the fancy town in France – keep reading to find out!

Zermatt or Chamonix: Overview

Zermatt, Switzerland
Zermatt, Switzerland

Zermatt and Chamonix are both popular ski resorts situated in the Alps. Zermatt is a car-free village in Switzerland, known for Matterhorn views, numerous ski pistes, and a beautiful town.

Chamonix is in France, on the border with Switzerland and Italy, and is the home of the Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest mountain, right in its backyard.

It’s the same town where the first Winter Olympic Games took place, so it holds a unique charm. Chamonix is also one of the country’s oldest ski resorts, so although it might not be quite as big as Zermatt, there are certainly reasons why you should visit it.

They’re two of the best ski resorts in Europe, so whichever one you ultimately decide to visit, you won’t be disappointed.

Transport Networks

Cable car in Chamonix
Cable car in Chamonix

Chamonix is more convenient for travelers who prefer to get around by car. Zermatt is a car-free village – you can reach it by train and get around town in electric buses, but for the most part, you will do a lot of walking.

You will also spend a lot of your time in cable cars, funiculars, and chair lifts. They’re everywhere in Zermatt and will easily get you to the tallest surrounding peaks, but they’re not cheap. Staying in Zermatt for a while and riding cable cars and funiculars multiple times a day is quite expensive, so keep that in mind.

Chamonix, on the other hand, is not car-free and you can easily get around in a personal vehicle. There are also cable cars that will take you to the nearby mountains from the heart of the town, but they don’t run to all the surrounding peaks. Also, buses run from the town to the nearby mountains, so there are plenty of (affordable) ways to get around for all visitors.

Snow Conditions

Snow in Zermatt
Snow in Zermatt
  • Zermatt: Ski year-round, and more snow in winter
  • Chamonix: Still lots of snow and usually cheaper

The snow conditions in the two resorts are similar in the winter season, but Zermatt offers something that Chamonix can only dream of – year-round skiing. Snowpark Zermatt is open almost the entire year, and it’s one of the few places in the world where you can go skiing in the summer.

Access to the snow park is via the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise cable car, and the park pistes are decent. They include some jumps, rails, and boxes, so even the more experienced skiers can have fun here.

If you’re only interested in skiing in the winter, Zermatt is still the better option. It’s at a higher altitude than Chamonix and it usually gets more snow than the French resort. Zermatt also has more days with high snowfall than Chamonix, but I have to point out that the difference is not extremely big, and you can enjoy some decent skiing from December to April in either resort.

Skiing

Skiing in Chamonix
Skiing in Chamonix
  • Zermatt: 360km of trails
  • Chamonix: 150km of trails

With more than 360 kilometers of ski pistes, Zermatt is by far the best option for visitors who are primarily interested in skiing. Chamonix isn’t too bad either – its 150 kilometers of ski trails sound really good and they’re worth exploring. But few Swiss ski resorts can compare to Zermatt, and Chamonix doesn’t even come close.

The best thing about the ski pistes of Zermatt is that there is something for everyone’s skill level, whether you’ve got decades of experience or it’s your first time strapping skis onto your ski boots.

On the other hand, Chamonix is the better destination for skiers who want to experience an actual World Cup ski piste. The French resort is home to some incredibly challenging pistes suitable only for professionals. The Verte Piste is perhaps the most famous of them all because it’s used in the races of the World Cup. It boasts a very steep descent with many jumps, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Chamonix also has Grands Montets, which boasts slopes with some of the most significant height differentials in the world. But it’s also plenty of beginner-friendly ski areas, so there’s something for everyone in the French resort.

Activities for Non-Skiers

Matterhorn museum in Zermatt
Matterhorn museum in Zermatt

What’s there to do in town if you have no intentions of strapping on a pair of skis? Well, you could always try snowboarding! I’m just joking, of course – the good news is that there are plenty of ways to stay occupied regardless of which resort you visit.

Zermatt is best known for the Matterhorn, and an entire museum is dedicated to the village’s majestic peak. It’s definitely one of the top things to do in town, especially for people who have some interest in mountain climbing and Alpinism. Shopping, fine dining, and spa centers are also popular in Zermatt but are not activities for everyone.

On the other hand, Chamonix offers a bit more variety when it comes to fun activities for non-skiers. There are a couple of museums in town, as well as an amusement park for the youngest visitors. You can also explore the town’s surroundings even in the winter – glaciers, waterfalls, and summit observation decks remain accessible throughout the year. You can even take the famous Aiguille du Midi cable car.

And, let’s not forget that Chamonix is all about Mont Blanc or the whole Mont Blanc Massif. Some people choose to risk their lives climbing it, but you can admire it from up close or from afar. The mountain landscapes here are second to none. Well, let’s face it: the Matterhorn in Zermatt is impressive, too, but it is not the largest mountain in Western Europe!

Summer Activities

Chamonix in summer
Chamonix in summer

Zermatt is situated at the foot of the Matterhorn, so it’s equally popular in the summer and winter. And you can get a hotel with epic views of the Matterhorn.

When the snow melts in the village, Alpinists and hikers from all over the world descend to Zermatt. Most are there to attempt an ascent on the intimidating pyramid-shaped peak, ignoring the fact that it has already taken way too many lives.

You should visit a museum in Zermatt if you’re considering climbing the Matterhorn. The exhibit is eye-opening, and it tells the story of the many people who have lost their lives attempting to conquer the majestic mountain. You can pay your respects to the fallen mountaineers at the Mountaineer’s Cemetary, close to the museum.

Hiking is also popular in Zermatt, thanks to a variety of fun and exciting attractions in the immediate surroundings of the village. But the same can be said of Chamonix, which has waterfalls, grottos, and ice glaciers just minutes outside the town.

Chamonix also has some great summer activities. There is even an epic Tour du Mont Blanc that starts right there, as well as the famous long-distance Haute Route hike, which ends in Zermatt.

Aiguille du Midi Peak remains accessible via cable car in the summer, and it offers some of the best panoramic views you can imagine. You can also hike to Alpine lakes, go paragliding, do river rafting, and mountain biking, among other things. So, Chamonix is not devoid of summer activities by any means, and they seem more accessible from Zermatt town to me.

Nightlife

Chamonix at night
Chamonix at night
  • Zermatt: Lots of bars, but generally more expensive
  • Chamonix: Even more options that are often cheaper

Zermatt has surprisingly good nightlife for a ski resort. It’s got the most bars and clubs out of all the resorts in the Valais, so it’s a good destination for skiers who like to relax with a drink (or a bottle) after a long day on the slopes.

There are over a hundred locales in the Swiss resort, including bars, restaurants, clubs, and smoking lounges. Regardless of your idea of a fun night out, I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed with your options in Zermatt. Just keep in mind that going out in the Swiss ski resort is quite pricey and not the best idea for skiers on a tighter budget.

What about Chamonix? The French resort has so many bars, pubs, and clubs that it’s practically a small city. There are plenty of places to go out, whether you just want to have a drink or two, or you want to get hammered while you’re entertained by tabletop dancers.

The bars in Chamonix are generally more affordable than those in Zermatt. On average, a small beer in Chamonix will cost you 3-5 Euros, but in Zermatt, it’s 5-9 Francs. The same goes for all other (non)alcoholic drinks.

Food

Swiss fondue
Swiss fondue
  • Zermatt: Lots of options from cheaper to gourmet
  • Chamonix: More access to French cuisine (of course) and often cheaper

If you consider yourself a foodie and enjoy tasting new dishes, you’ll have a better time in Chamonix. It is a French town with dominantly French cuisine, which is arguably the best in the entire world.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have some amazing food in Zermatt, but it’s really hard to compete with authentic French cuisine.

Then again, it’s all a matter of personal taste. Consider what kind of food you enjoy more, and what sounds better – a bucket of hot fondue or a delicious French onion soup? In any case, you will not be disappointed with the quality of the restaurants in either town. Also, I must point out that you can find all sorts of cuisines in Chamonix – the geographical location of the town heavily influenced its cuisine and many restaurants offer Swiss and Italian specialties, in addition to the French ones.

What about the prices? I’ve compared a few mid-range restaurants in both resorts, and I can tell you that Chamonix is generally more affordable than Zermatt. You can have a decent meal in the town for 20 Euros or less, which will barely buy you a salad and a drink in Zermatt.

Both towns also have a McDonald’s, if you’re looking for cheap eats.

Zermatt or Chamonix: Accommodation

Booking.com

Both resorts have hundreds of visitor accommodation options, including upscale hotels, Airbnb’s, and hostels. It’s unlikely you’ll struggle to find a free room in either town, even if you’re planning a ski trip in the middle of the season.

When it comes to prices, Chamonix is the cheaper option. Hotel prices start at around 70 Euros, compared to 100 Euros in Zermatt. Also, Chamonix has a lot of mid-range options from 150 to 300 Euros, whereas Zermatt has the most variety if you’re looking in the 200-400 Euro range.

Booking.com

On the other hand, if you’ve got plenty of money and you want to be spoiled during your ski vacation, Zermatt is the better destination. It takes the crown when it comes to luxury hotels that spoil their guests with huge spa centers, vast rooms with gorgeous views, and hot tubs on hotel room balconies.

Chamonix has its fair share of luxury hotels, but Switzerland is usually the better destination for people used to a lavish lifestyle.

Zermatt or Chamonix: Cost

Hotel in Zermatt
Hotel in Zermatt

Zermatt is the more expensive of the two towns, especially if you take into consideration the cost of getting around and dining out. It’s no secret that Switzerland is one of the priciest countries in Europe, and this charming town with its high-end shops and luxurious hotels is certainly no exception to the norm.

Chamonix isn’t exactly cheap either, but it is generally more affordable than Zermatt. You can save a lot of money by riding buses to ski resorts or just driving your own car, which isn’t at all possible in Zermatt because of the transport situation.

You will also spend less money on food, accommodation, and most importantly, ski passes. Daily ski passes are cheaper in Chamonix, but the six-day pass during high season is priced identically in both resorts.

Zermatt or Chamonix: Which Is Better?

It depends on your personal preference and the reason why you’re planning the trip. If it’s strictly for skiing, then Zermatt is the better option simply because it offers many more kilometers of ski pistes. Then again, Chamonix is home to ski pistes that are featured in the world cup, and skiing on such demanding pistes is certainly a thrilling experience.

If you have no interest in skiing or you’re visiting in the summer, Chamonix might just be the better town for you. There’s more to do in town and its surroundings, especially if you enjoy hiking and mountain climbing. Zermatt has better museums and shopping, plus it offers a variety of natural attractions in its immediate surroundings.

Chamonix is also slightly cheaper than Zermatt, so it’s the better destination for travelers on a tighter budget. But Zermatt takes the crown when it comes to luxury accommodations, fine dining, and high-end shopping. That’s not to say that you’re going to be treated like a peasant in Chamonix – there are plenty of ways to spend money in Chamonix too if you want, I’m just saying that it’s generally the cheaper of the two towns.

Ultimately, it’s all a matter of personal preference. I hope I’ve given you enough information so that you can easily decide which of these awesome ski resorts is the better option for you.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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