Chamonix Summer Hiking : Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail!

With a week of heavy snow on the weather forecast it may seem like a strange time to be thinking about summer but we’re already planning ahead!

Mountain biking in ChamonixThere’s a bit of a cliché about Chamonix that people “come for the winter but stay for the summer” and then there’s no going back! It’s true that once you’ve seen Chamonix in summer you’ll be blown away – it’s just gorgeous. Ask any year-round residents which season they prefer and they’ll be hard pressed to give you an answer, even the hardcore snow addicts.

There are so many fantastic things to do – many of them you can also do in winter, such as paragliding over the mountains or ice climbing up frozen waterfalls but summer for us though is all about the fantastic mountain biking trails and wonderful hiking routes.

Hiking in ChamonixOne of the highlights of summer is going on a multiday route such as the Tour des Fiz or the Tour du Mont Blanc – hiking incredible Alpine trails all day, stopping for lunch in a meadow or beside a lake, staying overnight in a remote mountain hut! It’s certainly not too early to start planning as the more popular huts get booked up months in advance – you may find that if you leave it until spring, it’ll be too late.

Hiking in ChamonixWe offer all the classic Chamonix hikes, as well as some of our personal favourites, guided by fully qualified IMLs (International Mountain Leaders). We take care of all the organisation such as booking huts, route planning, transport, first aid, back-up plans in case of adverse weather, and so on.

Hiking with an IML carries many advantages beyond logistics; they know the area like the back of their hands and often have their own favourite spots or insider tips, they are mines of information about flowers, plants, and wildlife… and they ALWAYS carry an essential supply of chocolate.

Climbing Mont BlancIf the majestic sight of Mont Blanc gives you an itch to get to the top of it, then hire a guide and do one of our 2-3 day guided ascents. You can combine it with a pre-summit course if you like, to learn the essential climbing and rope skills to make a safe ascent. We also offer fully guided trips to other iconic peaks such as Eiger, Gran Paradiso and the Matterhorn – just get in touch to find out more.

Hiking in ChamonixIf you’d rather stay based in Chamonix and explore the gazillions of day hikes, think about timing your trip to coincide with one of the big summer events – you can search for Chamonix accommodation here.

Events in ChamonixThis year is the 150th anniversary of the “Golden Age of Alpinism” – 1865 was the year that mountaineering reached it’s peak (ahem, so to speak) with 65 first ascents across the Alps, 7 of them here in the Mont Blanc Massif. Many celebrations and special exhibitions are planned to mark the anniversary, as well as the usual highlights of the Marathon du Mont Blanc, World Climbing Championships, Bastille Day, Fete de la Musique, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and many more. To be honest, you’ll struggle to find a week when there isn’t something going on but have a look at our Chamonix events guide to get an idea of what the summer lineup looks like.

Until then, we’re off to play in the snow – it’s still coming down thick and heavy outside!

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Ski Touring in Chamonix : Escaping the Crowds & Skiing Empty Pistes

I did something very out of character today and got out of bed at 5:45am. No, not GOT IN at 5:45am, but GOT UP at 5:45am. I’m still a bit in shock to be honest, the only usual reason for this would be if the house was on fire.

Chamonix ski touring
Skiing. Uphill. In the dark. Why not???

Today’s reason was because some “friends” (who needs friends at that hour of the morning?) had persuaded me to go ski touring with them. Why people feel the need to do these things at the crack of dawn I have no idea, I’d be much more keen if we could have a decent night’s kip, a good breakfast, a hot shower, maybe catch a bit of This Morning, and then head up. But no, to be a real outdoor person you must embrace the rising of the sun and learn to love the sound of the first lark. Or something like that.

Anyway, we met at Les Houches this morning in the Prarion car park at 6:30am and fumbled around with bindings and head torches for a bit (still half asleep) before starting the slow trudge up the side of the home run to the start of the ski touring track. Despite my initial reluctance, once the sleep haze had cleared from my head and the blood had started pumping round my limbs I started to enjoy the peace of the empty of slopes, the soft morning light and the gentle rhythm of plodding up the trail.

Chamonix ski touring
Embracing the solitude of an empty mountain

Head torches were barely necessary as the sun had just started to come up and everything was filtered through a soft blue light, highlighting the ridges in the freshly groomed pistes and silhouetting the pine trees against the sky. Other than our little troupe of five, there was not a soul to be seen. I was hoping to see some wildlife, there were plenty of animal tracks in the snow, but I think my gasping for breath might have sounded too much like a slavering predator. Or possibly a hungry yeti.

The Les Houches ski touring trail is perfect for people, like myself, who want to get to grips with the basics of ski touring without venturing too far into the backcountry. Getting comfortable with adjusting the height of your bindings, traversing, mastering kick-turns on an easily accessible trail is a lot easier than doing it out in the backcountry somewhere with a load of gnarly mountain dudes getting impatient while you faff about. Alternatively, it’s also really popular with people who just want a good workout – it’s great training for runners and any other endurance athletes.

Chamonix ski touring
How often do you see corduroy like this in February? Or ever?

After 2 hours and about 800m of ascent (OK, so we didn’t break any speed records) we eventually came to the top of the Aillouds piste, just as the first lifts were starting to crank into action. Rather than push on to the top we decided to whip off the skins and start skiing back down before anyone else claimed our fresh tracks. One of the greatest joys of getting up early (indeed one of the only joys…) is the feeling of whizzing down untouched corduroy – just you and your mates and no one else in sight. Until I win the lottery and buy my own resort it’s the closest I’ll come to having my own private piste.

Ski touring is easy to learn once you have the right kit. To get started you’ll need touring skis – lighter than normal skis, they have special bindings that allow you to have free heels and to adjust the height according to the steepness of the climb. You’ll also need touring boots – lighter and more flexible than classic ski boots, they are a lot more comfortable for walking in. Alongside the skis and boots you’ll also need skins (to go on the bottom of your skis), couteaux (like crampons that fix onto your skis for steep ascents or icy conditions), poles (usually slightly longer than typical ski poles and with bigger baskets) and a backpack to carry your kit in. All of this can be hired fairly inexpensively from most Chamonix ski shops, have a chat with any of our partners to find out exactly what set-up you need.

Chamonix ski touring
Enjoying the view from Les Houches as the sun comes up

The real joy of ski touring comes from accessing the backcountry terrain and exploring untouched routes, trekking up through pine forests and across alpages, stopping for a picnic miles from anywhere and then skiing down through fresh powder, far away from the busy lifts and pistes. The solitude is especially appreciated during the crazy February holidays!

If this sounds tempting then have a bash at one of our introductory ski tours with a qualified instructor; they’ll guide you up a fairly easy ascent, helping you out with the technique as you go. A full day tour costs just 90€ per person and can even by done by snowboarders on a split board.

More experienced skiers will love our 3 and 5 day ski tour courses; you’ll explore the amazing terrain of the Chamonix Valley whilst honing your skills and learning techniques that will stand you in good stead for longer adventures like the Haute Route.

Of course, you can always hire a private mountain guide and plan your own itinerary – why not embark on a multi-day tour and spend the night in a remote mountain refuge?

Having tried it once I’m definitely more open to possibility of doing it again – but getting up that early is so painful that I may just stay up all night and go to bed straight afterwards!

Forget Paris, Chamonix is Where the Love is at this Valentine’s Day!

So, you’re in Chamonix for the most romantic day of the year? Oooh la la… Swerve the busy pistes and do something special together with one of our favourite winter activities.

Skidoo to Restaurant in ChamonixDiner à Deux
Go for dinner. Really? That’s it? You can do that anywhere! Hang on, how about skidoo up under the moonlight to a cosy mountain restaurant, enjoy a wonderful meal with local wine, ski or sledge back down under the stars… ahhhh.

See here for more ideas on how to spend a truly special evening…

Spa Pre Saint Didier in CourmayeurChill Out
Indulge in some serious relaxation. The daily grind is hard work and being on holiday is your chance to unwind and spend some precious downtime together. The Pre Saint Didier Spa is the perfect place to do this, you can even combine it with a day out in Italy for the ultimate romantic getaway.

Find out more about our favourite spas in the Chamonix area…

Paragliding in ChamonixOn the Wings of Love
Flying over Mont Blanc is an unforgettable experience; either snuggle up in a helicopter, or wave to each other from the air as you each do a tandem parapente flight. Either way, you’ll have done something very special to remember the day!

Read on for details of all our air adventures…

Husky sledding in ChamonixMush!
Take the reins and drive a team of huskies through the snow while you steer the sled. Husky sledding is great fun and you’ll get the hang of it in no time, either drive your own sled or travel as a passenger.

See here for more information on husky sledding…

Snowboarding Les Grands Montets, Chamonix Mont BlancPlay Safe, Stay Safe
If you ski or snowboard together then you should know how to look out for each other. Take one of our avalanche awareness or off-piste safety courses to make your days out on the mountain as fun and safe as possible.

All off-piste courses and mountain guiding can be found here…

Chamonix Wine TastingDiscover Fine Wines
Toast your happiness with an excellent wine. Our partners at ChaChaCha offer wine tastings every evening of a selection of 6 wines, sampling the finest of various regions. Book through us and get a special 20% discount, leaving you enough cash to splurge on a nice bottle to take home!

Contact us to book your place…

Chamonix Christmas LightsWe also offer a great choice of other activities and we’re happy to organise something special on request – visit our website or contact us for a chat to see what we can do!

If you’re looking for information on the best bars and restaurants in Chamonix then take a peek at our resort information pages, where you’ll find the lowdown on all our favourite places to eat and drink.

Vallée Blanche – the world’s most famous off-piste descent is open!

It’s the news that we’ve been waiting for… the Vallée Blanche is now roped up for access and our mountain guides have announced that they are happy to take groups of up to 4 people at a time on to the glacier!

Vallee Blanche, Chamonix Mont Blanc

The Vallée Blanche has not been “closed” as such – as an unpisted, unpatrolled area anyone can access it at any time. However, the lack of snow early in the season has made it inadvisable up until recently and guides have been reluctant to take any more than 2 people down it at a time. Now however, the Compagnie du Mont Blanc has given the green light by equipping the arete (the ridge that leads out from the Aiguille du Midi) with safety ropes, making access to the 20km off-piste descent much easier.

Crevasses in the glacier, Vallée Blanche, Chamonix Mont Blanc
Crevasses in the glacier, Vallée Blanche (photo not taken this week)

That said, regardless of snow conditions, it is never a great idea to ski or snowboard down the Vallée Blanche without a mountain guide. The Vallée Blanche is not a technical descent and the route is not particularly difficult, anyone who can ski or snowboard confidently down a red piste and handle a few icy or bumpy patches shouldn’t find it too tricky. The point is that a guide is able to spot any potential dangers such as crevasses and seracs and steer you away from them before it is too late. If the worst happens and you do have an accident, your guide will know how to carry out a rescue and get you down the mountain safely. Could you handle that on your own?

Our favourite part about hiring a guide is that they always know all the best spots to find powder and can give you loads of inside tips about where else to go in the valley! This coming week is one of our busiest of the whole year, so contact us now if you would like to hire a mountain guide.

Vallee Blanche Chamonix Mont Blanc
Vallee Blanche in all it’s glory

If you’re not sure about your ability then why not sign up for a Vallée Blanche clinic? Half a day at the top of Les Grands Montets with a qualified ski or snowboard instructor, brushing up on your off-piste skills before hitting the VB for a full day. It’ll give you the confidence to enjoy your descent on one of the world’s most famous runs to the max! Just 150€ per person, includes half-day of tuition and one full day of guiding.

If you want to fine hone your skills on all types of terrain, including steep and technical descents then have a look at doing an All Mountain Course. During 3 half day sessions, your instructor (who is also a qualified mountain guide) will take you to the best spots to nail your technique in powder, in heavy snow, on ice… whatever the conditions can throw at you! By the time you’re done, there won’t be anything you can’t handle and you’ll have mastered skills that will last a lifetime. Not bad for 195€ per person (3.45 hours x 3 consecutive days).

Skiing Vallee Blanche Chamonix Mont BlancIf you really want to make the most of what the Chamonix Valley has to offer then consider buying the Mont Blanc Unlimited lift pass – not only do you get all the ski areas including in Chamonix Le Pass but you also have unlimited access to the Aiguille du Midi cable car, the Tramway du Mont Blanc and the “top bin” at the Grands Montets. You can now buy your lift pass online at Mountain Lifestyle and have it waiting for you when you arrive – no more trotting off to wait in line at the lift pass office on your first morning! We’ll hand it to you on arrival, together with a piste map and any advice we have about the upcoming week and then all you have to do is decide where to ski first.. check out the different Chamonix ski areas here.