Cross-Country Skiing Areas in Chamonix
Chamonix has almost 60km of pisted cross country ski trails that criss-cross the valley from Les Houches all the way to Vallorcine.
Tracks are maintained for both the classic and skating styles, usually side by side on specially prepared pistes. These trails all operate on a one-way system (for obvious reasons!) and you can buy a pass to access them before setting out, usually from the lodges at the beginning of the trails - the trails are patrolled and it is likely that your pass will be checked en route.
The pistes are generally open from 9am to 5pm each day (snow cover permitting) and are maintained each evening. Walkers (and dogs) are requested to keep to the marked pedestrian trails (which are free access) and not stray onto the marked ski trails.
- Les Houches - There is a short (2.6km) trail by the lake at Les Chavants, which is free to use and marked as a green piste. For longer, harder trails you need to take the Prarion gondola up to the main ski area, where you will find blue pistes at 1000m starting from just after Le Prarion lift (6km), and others at 1800m (10km). Cross-country skiers only need purchase a pedestrian pass to access the lift.
- Chamonix - Trails start from the Foyer du Fond, situated on the main road to Les Praz/Argentiere (opposite the MBC bar) from where piste passes may be purchased. There is a 3km circular green route through the woods of the Bois du Bouchet, which links on to a further 17kms of more demanding blue and red graded trails that lead to Les Bois and back. There are some beautiful trails through the trees and alongside the river.
- Les Praz - Starting from near the Flegere lifts try the long green circuit (6km) around the golf-course. Free of charge and you can take the bus or train to get there, or drive and park at Flegere. The restaurant at the golf course, La Cabane, is a lovely place to stop for lunch.
- Argentiere - The trails begin in Les Grassonets before you reach Argentiere itself (just after the long avalanche protection tunnel), near to the tennis/squash courts. The trails start out as fairly flat greens or blues (6km) although if you carry on through to Argentiere there are steeper sections, classified red (10km). Pop into La Cremerie du Glacier along the way and reward yourself with a cheese-laden lunch or hot drink!
- Vallorcine - The starting point is by the Tourist Office in the centre of the village or at Le Buet, the village before Vallorcine. There are around 10km of trails through picturesque woodland and along the banks of the river “Eau Noire”. They are mainly blue and red pistes, best suited beginner or intermediate skiers. If snow conditions permit, there is also a beautiful trail that will take you as far as the Col des Montets.
Just outside the valley you can also go to Les Contamines, Les Saisies and Val Ferret (in Italy, via the Mont Blanc Tunnel).
You will require a trail pass for most of the pistes - there are a few different options ranging from day passes for one area to annual passes that cover the whole fo the Haute Savoie. You can find all information on our Ski Lift Passes Guide.
Cross-country skiing is very different to downhill and is considered to be one of the toughest winter endurance sports as its uses many muscle groups in the body and burns calories in their thousands on a hourly basis!! Most resorts will have designated areas for cross-country skiing where tracks and trails are carved out specifically for that purpose. Prepared trails will have two parallel grooves cut into the snow for "classic" cross-country skiing, whereas the "skating" style can be done on any smooth track.
Cross country skis are very thin and lightweight. Typically, ski dimensions are 2 metres in length and about 5 centimetres in width, with a thickness of one to four centimetres, depending on the ski brand. Skis are generally fitted to the skier based on height or weight.
Like telemark and touring skis, the bindings in a cross-country ski are attached only at the toe, leaving the skier with a free heel. The boots are softer than alpine ski boots, more like a high-top running shoe, and the poles are a far bit longer so that the skier can propel themselves along with them.
The two different styles of cross-country skiing require different types of skis and boots - the skis look the same at a glance but the difference is in the base.
- Classic skis have a series of small horizontal ridges on the bottom that allow the ski to glide forwards but also provide traction to stop it from slipping backwards. Classic skiers stay in the tracks at the edge of the piste, so the skis are designed to go in a straight line and rely on pushing off with each stride to pick up speed.
- Skating skis have one long groove that runs along the length of the base. Skating skiers push their feet out and away from each other (similar to roller blading or ice skating) to pick up speed and the long groove channels water that is created from the friction between snow and ski, allowing the ski to glide quickly over the compacted surface of the piste.
There are four core techniques when cross country skiing:
- Herringbone - most often used by skaters and for climbing steep hills. Push the skis out and away from each other, as if you're propelling yourself on a skateboard and let the ski that is in contact with the snow glide for as long as possible before changing your weight on to the other leg. The pattern that your skis make in the snow should look like a herringbone print!
- Diagonal stride - used by classic skaters and basically mimics an exaggerated running motion with the poles being planted alternately to the opposite foot. In other words, when your left foot is forward your right pole will be planted ahead of you and when that right pole is pushing back your right foot will be striding forwards and your left pole will be ready to plant in front of you, putting your body in a diagonal position.
- Double pole with kick - what you see is what you pretty much get! Both poles are planted simultaneously to give a powerful thrust then as the poles swing forwards again a single leg kick is made.
- Double pole - same as above but without the kick!
It has been said that if you've had experience with skiing downhill, you are more likely to have a good sense of balance which will help you to pick up cross-country skiing quicker - and vice versa, if you can ski downhill on skinny cross-country skis then you can keep your balance on pretty much anything!
Some of the most popular brands of cross-country skis include: