About Winter Activities in Chamonix
Whatever you choose to do on your winter holiday you are sure to find a huge range of activities across the Chamonix area. From relaxing to full on adrenaline there is something for everyone, every ability and every age in Chamonix. Check out the selection of things to do below for some holiday inspiration!
The main draw for people coming to Chamonix in winter is, of course, the skiing and snowboarding. With 5 different parts of the valley to ski in, as well as a wealth of off-piste areas, the valley has something for every level of experience. There are around 150km of pistes accessed by a total of 65 ski lifts split between the main ski areas and the low mountain beginner zones. There are 6 green pistes, 30 blue pistes, 31 red pistes, 10 black pistes and two snowparks. The pisted ski terrain ranges in altitude from 950m to 3300m. The backcountry skiing offers much more in terms of altitude, vertical descent and of course, difficulty, including the world-famous Vallée Blanche descent, a 20km long route that takes you from the Aiguille du Midi down 2700m to the bottom of the valley.
Activities Guest Card
The Chamonix Guest Card ('carte d'hote') is valid throughout the year (for the duration of your stay) and entitles you to various discounts throughout the valley, such as reductions at all the sports and cultural facilities including the swimming pool, ice rink, museums and covered parking. If you do not receive one when you check into your accommodation, you can buy one from any of the tourist offices in the valley at a cost of €10 per person per week.
It also entitles you to free travel on the buses and trains between the valley's resorts from Vallorcine to Servoz (with the exception of the Chamo’nuit night bus). If you wish to take the train all the way through to Martigny in Switzerland or down to Le Fayet and St Gervais, you just need to pay the difference from Vallorcine or Servoz.
Modern Winter Biathlon is the combination of cross country skiing and rifle shooting and tests not only fitness but also patience and control. In Chamonix you can try your hand at this Olympic Sport. If you like cross-country skiing but want to add another challenge then Biathlon is the perfect way to escape into the natural, quiet surrounding mountains and then shoot stuff, mainly with laser guns. Most of the biathlon lessons take place at Chamonix's cross-country skiing area by the Bois de Bouchet
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 classic and skating styles, usually side by side. You can buy a pass to access them before setting out from the lodges at the beginning of the trails. Bear in mind that they are patrolled and it is likely that your pass will be checked en route. The pistes are generally open from 09:00 to 17:00 each day (snow cover permitting) and are maintained each evening. You can hire the comfortable boots and lightweight skis and poles fairly inexpensively from most sports shops and book a group or private lesson to learn the basics from most ski schools or private instructors. A number of adventure companies also offer cross-country skiing guiding, tours and lessons too. Find your way around with the cross country skiing maps.
Also see: Cross-country Skiing in Chamonix
Gym / Fitness centres
A public gym and fitness classes can be found at the main sports centre in Chamonix. Pop-up instructors and classes also take place in Les Houches (look out for Studio 128) and most places around the valley.
Handiski / sit-ski
Enjoying the thrill of being on the pistes need not escape you if you're less mobile or have special physical needs. ESF Chamonix has a number of specially qualified Handiski instructors who can teach people with a range of disabilities to ski using adapted equipment including UniSki, DualSki, GMS, Armchair Skiing and Ski-kart. They also offer specific classes for people who are blind or partially sighted. ESF Les Houches are proud of their 15 years of experience in teaching Handiski and have a wide range of equipment that can be used free of charge. ESF Argentiere also offer handiski lessons and guiding in the Vallorcine, Le Tour and Grand Montets end of the valley. You are advised to book at least 15 days in advance and then to confirm one week before arrival, to ensure that the most appropriate equipment is available for your lesson.
Also see: Disabled Skiing in Chamonix
Unfortunately, heli-skiing is not permitted in France. However, thanks to Chamonix's location just on the border with Switzerland and Italy, some of the ski schools, adventure companies, local flight companies and mountain guide companies offer a pick-up/drop-off heli-skiing service for you where you will be taken over the border and ski down (even back across into France again). It is expensive, but definitely a once in a lifetime experience!
Be in charge of your own sled and team of excitable husky dogs, driving them along forest paths in winter. After a brief explanation of how to make your team stop and start, you set off following the guide’s team. If this all sounds a bit much you can opt for a less physical outing where you sit in the sled and the guide does all the hard work! It's a very popular winter activity, so booking at least 48 hours in advance is a must. They run from early December to the end of April (snow-permitting).
For the true mountain enthusiast, why not scale an amazing frozen waterfall or glacier? This is a fantastic sport, not just for experienced mountaineers. Chamonix has a multitude of ice-falls and gulleys where you can experience the thrill of ice climbing with a guide. Beginners can start off at La Crémerie in Argentière, while the more experienced can sample some of the many other sites around Chamonix, Servoz, Les Houches and Argentière. The ice climbing season peaks between December and March. Although it sounds like a very specialised sport, ice climbing is suitable for everyone - from complete beginners to experienced climbers. Some knowledge of ropes and basic climbing skills will give you a head start, but if you are a complete novice then your guide should be able to teach you from scratch.
Ice-skating / Hockey
Chamonix's main ice rink is open in summer as well as winter. Come along and enjoy a skate or support the ice hockey local team, Pionniers, when they play home matches. There are also three outdoor rinks in the valley, in Les Houches, Vallorcine and Argentiere, which are open as long as conditions permit.
A fairly recent craze, the fat bike is completely at home in the snow. Although it will be difficult to mountain bike along the valley floor during the winter months, hiring a fat bike can offer you hours of fun in the snow. Several of the ski hire shops in town will also rent fat bikes and they can also tell you the best trails in the valley to tackle.
Also see: Mountain Biking in Chamonix
Chamonix is quite simply the Mecca of mountaineering. Whether you are a rock climber, ice climber, ski tourer, or just enjoy being in the mountains, Chamonix really is the place to be. The glaciers and icy slopes of the Mont Blanc Massif offer a massive number of climbing routes for alpinists, while the world famous Chamonix granite is extremely popular with rock climbers. Chamonix is also home to what is perhaps the most popular high-mountain route in Europe, the climb to Mont Blanc. However, this is no mean feat, in order to tackle it, you must be very fit and should book a guide to accompany you.
Also see: Mountaineering in Chamonix
In January and February, the Tourchet beginner area in Les Houches opens for night skiing every Thursday from 20:30 to 22:00. Vin chaud and hot chocolate are offered.
Paragliding / Parapenting
If you’ve never tried paragliding before then Chamonix is a great place to learn how to fly. Known as “parapenting” in France, there are a great number of clubs and organisations in the area whose sole purpose is to give you the experience of flying. From the heights of the Brevent and other mountain tops in the valley, you can glide down to the bottom of the valley on a tandem paraglider controlled by the instructor. He manoeuvres the parachute while the passenger enjoys the ride and fantastic views. The main landing place in Chamonix in the winter is behind the sports centre, by the Bois de Bouchet, so you'll find some companies offering paragliding there. Top tip: Wait until the spring and then go on a sunny, warm day when the thermals will keep your airborne for longer.
Also see: Paragliding in Chamonix
Many people would not automatically think of Chamonix as a place to shop, however, the town boasts some great stores. As you would expect from an outdoor sports resort, there are plenty sports stores where you can get your hands on some of the top mountaineering, ski and snowboard brands but there are also some fashionable clothing stores, and plenty of shops selling traditional mountain goods.
Also see: Shopping in Chamonix
Ski joering hails from Scandinavia, indeed the word 'joering' itself means ski driving in Norwegian. In France, the preferred style is to use a rider-less horse which is controlled by the skier. A rig with reigns is connected to the horse’s bridle and the skier is towed along behind the horse on skis, holding onto the rig. It is a sport that is suitable for anyone (over 6 years old) who can keep their skies parallel and can be tailored to suit all abilities, from a gentle hack to a gallop through the snow.
Chamonix is very popular for ski touring, whether it's going up the pistes that most people normally ski down, or tackling more of a backcountry route. A number of ski schools, private instructors and companies can show you around or, if you've got all the necessary equipment, you can head out in your own group. Some of the most popular routes cross the Aiguilles Rouges National Park, accessible via the Flegere lifts, or head up the Col du Tour Noir over the Argentiere Glacier, or Mont Buet. From Chamonix, expert skiers can also undertake the famous Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt or cross the border to the Aosta Valley.
Also see: Ski Touring in Chamonix
Sledging / Tobogganing
This is one winter activity that doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment, just grab your sledge and head for the nearest snow-covered hill! You can pick up a sledge at one of the many ski hire shops or sports shops in Chamonix. Good sledging areas include the Savoy piste, the area by the Bois du Bouchet walking trails, and behind the tourist office in Vallorcine. There is also a small snowpark play area for children at the top of the Prarion gondola in Les Houches called Ski Camp, found over by the Ecole chairlift. Here you'll find inner tubes to slide down the hill on (snow tubing), a toboggan run, zip wire, and other child-friendly activities. Another Snow Village has been set up at the bottom of the Trappe green piste in Flegere, specifically for families.
Don't forget that the Alpine Rollercoaster is open all winter at the Planards slope in the heart of Chamonix. The track is 1300m long with turns, spins, fun and thrills for all the family.
Raquette à Neige or Snow-shoeing in and around Chamonix is a perfect activity for bad weather conditions or for non-skiers. Either set out on your own or join a group led by a knowledgeable local guide and explore the hidden parts of the ski area. Snowshoes and ski poles are provided by most companies offering this as an experience, or you can hire snowshoes from most Sports Shops or Ski Hire Shops, grab a trail map from the Tourist Office and head off on your own adventure. There are marked trails all around the valley so you can explore the area around the golf course in Les Praz, the Bossons glacier, the Coupeau sector and the Chavants lake in Les Houches, the Granges hamlet in Vallorcine or the traditional neighbourhoods in Servoz.
There are a number of snowpark features in the Chamonix Valley that you can practise your skills on. Grands Montets, Brevent and Les Houches boast small jumps, kickers and boardercrosses. However, the main park area is located at Le Tour, called the Summit Park it has small, medium and large kickers and jumps for all levels and abilities.
Also see: Snowparks in Chamonix
Speed-riding / Speed-flying
The idea behind speed riding is to combine the sensations of skiing and paragliding into one activity, and then descend off-piste sections of the mountain using a mini-wing to enable you to access areas that you might not normally go. Learning and having fun with speed riding comes very fast as long as you are a competent skier; you need to be able to ski red pistes with confidence in any type of snow. In the Chamonix valley, the most popular speed-riding areas are located in Grands Montets, Brévent and Le Tour. Speak to one of the companies offering this activity who can show you the ropes (literally).
Telemarking is a form of downhill skiing where you are only attached to the binding at the toe so, to turn, you have to lunge and bring your heel upwards. Talk to one of the ski schools or private instructors who can teach you how to telemark and take you out on excursions using this technique.
Chamonix is a winter walker's paradise, with lifts giving access to the higher ground and a network of groomed trails in the winter, it's very easy to discover the resort on foot. Don’t forget to check the weather forecast before you set out as conditions can change rapidly in the mountains. You do not need any particular equipment, just a pair of sturdy boots and layers of warm clothing that you can take off or put on as necessary. A pair of walking poles will come in handy for extra balance on icy patches and for checking snow depth before you go striding forth. Top tip: buy ‘grippers’ for your walking boots to prevent slipping which you can buy from most local Sport Shops.
Also see: Walking Routes in Chamonix
Location: Chamonix / Mont Blanc Valley