The primary attraction in Chamonix since the Olympics left town is, without question, the cable car to Aiguille du Midi (the 'Needle of the South'). In two stages you are lifted to an altitude of 3,842m from downtown Chamonix on the 20-minute trip up. From the top, Chamonix is barely recognizable 12,600ft below. You can just make it out, snuggling up next to the River Arve, in the picture above.
At that altitude there is snow no matter the time of year. Certain of the exit doors from the cablecar station are restricted to those wearing appropriate winter mountain climbing gear. Signs on the doors say things like "Do not go through this door unless you are wearing crampons."
Looking out from Aiguille du Midi we wondered how this structure was built. Everything is vertical. There seems to be no place to put anything horizontal.
From Aiguille du Midi we took the cable car across to Helbroner Peak, which is actually in Italy. They don't trouble you for a passport unless you try to buy a ticket down. Along the way you pass Mont Blanc, more than a thousand meters above us as we glide by.