Winter has still not quite arrived in Chamonix but it is most definitely on its way. It has got me thinking about what I’m most looking forward to this winter and I just can’t wait for my first winter season in the Alps. Summer is wonderful here but there are some really unique and incredible things to do but winter is going to be a whole new ball game. Bring it on!
1) Ski the Vallee Blanche
Winter is nearly here and, lets be honest, it’s hard to think of the Alps in winter without thinking of beautiful ski days; days where fresh snow has fallen over night to give you fresh tracks under a clear blue sky. Top this off with a beer, apres-ski, and you’re winning.
For the more adventurous, off-piste is the way to go and nothing can beat the world’s most famous off-piste ski descent, the 18km Vallée Blanche. As a day trip, you enter into a real, big mountain environment with crevasses to worry about, avalanches to consider, and navigation to worry about. This is why it is highly advisable to hire a guide for a day as they will also provide all the necessary safety gear. In a shameless plug, a friend and I are now connecting skiers with fully qualified IFMGA mountain guides here, at thevalleeblanche.com
2) Ice climbing at La Cremerie
I am so excited about the upcoming ice season. Having only ever managed a few short trips out onto European waterfall ice, the fact my local crag will be an icefall is a dream come true. La Cremerie is a great beginner spot or small area for someone wanting to get some exercise by doing laps of routes. Nothing is too steep here, up to grade 3, so a casual day out for you and friends.
If you’re after something a little bigger you can head further up the Argentiere basin to the longer icefalls there or even into the big mountains for some winter alpinism.
3) Step Into the Void at the Aiguille du Midi
If you’re not into getting very cold and standing on small ledges to get your exposure fix, you can check out Step Into the Void, at the top of the Aiguille du Midi. A glass box, attached to the side of the mountain lets you step out onto over 1000m over exposure from complete safety.
Although you are safely inside, it doesn’t make it any less impressive and certainly gets your heart pumping. Make sure you take a camera as the staff are amazingly helpful and take photos of the guests all day long without trying to charge you an arm and a leg!
4) Winter Bivouac
A Norwegian friend once told me, there is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes. Taking his advice, a few weeks ago, I opted to walk up high into the Aiguilles Rouges and bivouac in the open for the night. I didn’t quite have my layers sorted but close enough to have a wonderful night out under the stars in temperatures down to -10C.
Get a good sleeping bag, a stove and a little whiskey and you can have a truly magical night out in the open, being woken by a beautiful alpine dawn. Do make sure you check the weather though as waking up buried under fresh snow can be a little disconcerting.
It is not all about skiing in the winter and winter walking on snowshoes is a great way to get some exercise, enjoy the scenery at a more casual pace, and try something new. Often a good way to approach winter climbs without needing to carry two pairs of boots, snowshoes open up terrain that you would simply sink into without them.
They are easy to hire from most ski shops in Chamonix and you can find established trails throughout the valley,
Food, glorious food. You come back after 8 hours on the hill, a sandwich for lunch and maybe a little chocolate bar or snack in the afternoon and you are starving. That amazing hunger where you know you have earnt your dinner and then some. Then you get to feast.
Sophie and I are big fans of home cooking but sometimes you just need to go out! One of our favourite restaurants in Chamonix is Munchie, an Asian-fusion restaurant that never fails to deliver. If you’re after something a little more traditional then La Caleche is a superb Savoyard restaurant that, although on the main high street, is incredible value and great quality.
A crisp cold lager after a day on the slopes is hard to beat. With the Chamonix valley being so spread out, there isn’t the traditional apres-ski atmosphere of people piling into the nearest pub straight off the slopes. Most people head home, drop their kit off then hit the pubs.
There are a number of good bars to grab a beer from, though, and one of our favourites is Monkey Bar in Cham Sud. a very decent happy hour (well, two hours!) it is hard to beat on price and the locals all make this place a winning choice. If you’re getting hungry, their food is pretty awesome too!
8) Dry tooling
What do you do when the weather has really turned for the worse? You know the next day is going to be the most incredible powder day but don’t want to waste today. One of my favourite options is to head dry tooling. This is the art of getting your self up extremely steep and overhanging walls by using ice axes in your hands and crampons on your feet.
It is the most incredible strength workout, you get to be out climbing in any weather as the crags are so protected, and you’re out climbing. What more could you want?
9) Go to Italy for the day – Pizza, coffee, and ice cream
If the weather is bad and you’re not into the idea of dry tooling then there is a much more civilised option; Italy. In just 35 minutes, via the Mont Blanc Tunnel, you can be in the heart of Courmayeur and sipping the most amazing coffees. A popular choice with our mums, we’ve not needed asking twice to pop through for the day.
Start off with a coffee in one of the authentic little cafes (they are all good!) followed by an amazing pizza at Pizzeria du Tunnel, a local institution, then, after a little walk around the ludicrously expensive shops, settle your stomach with the divine ice cream near the Municipio di Courmayeur. Bliss!