When is the best time to come to Chamonix? It’s a question we get asked all the time but the answer really depends on what you want to do here. Ski touring is best in the spring, mountain biking in June and September, hiking all summer, and climbing – well it depends on what you want to climb.
Here’s a quick rundown on what activities are good in the valley each month. Have a read before you decide when to come to Chamonix next.
At the start of the year the ski lifts already have been open for a few weeks. To begin with, the resort will be busy over New Year. Once the school holidays have finished though, the rest of January is the quietest part of the ski season and can be a great time to book a ski holiday. It’s also usually good for cross-country skiing.
Snowfalls tend to reach lower altitudes but there will have been fewer of them so far than later in the season. Off-piste skiing/snowboarding and ski touring are possible but the avalanche risk is often higher. Early in the season, the available options depend heavily on the snow cover. December and January are usually the coldest months of the year.
February brings the half-term holidays and by far the busiest part of the season. The snow is often at its best, but the queues can be at their worst. This is the time to book well ahead for accommodation, ski hire, lessons, and meals out. The French school holidays are staggered over four weeks and run from around the second week of February into the start of March, with the middle fortnight of this period being the busiest.
March hopefully brings spring conditions – longer, sunnier days and consistent snow. It is the start of the peak ski touring season and my favourite time to ski off-piste. Once the school holidays have finished, the slopes are quieter, although not as quiet as January. As the weather is warmer, the snow at lower altitudes is not guaranteed to be good but higher up will be. The cross-country skiing might not stay in good condition and the lower beginner slopes will rely on artificial snow to stay open. Many mountain refuges will open for their spring ski touring season this month.
April is the last month of the ski season, with most of the lifts shutting late in the month. It’s also peak ski touring season and the most popular time for longer trips like the Skier’s Haute Route. The Easter school holidays can be busy, but not so busy as February and the rest of the month is quieter. You can expect spring snow conditions – icy in the morning, slushy in the afternoon and perfect for a couple of hours in between, depending on the slope orientation. The avalanche risk is usually lower (but always check the avalanche bulletin). All this changes if there are April snowstorms, which are not uncommon although the fresh snow doesn’t last as long as earlier in the winter.
April is also the time for end-of-winter parties…
The last lifts close early in the month, excepting the Aiguille du Midi which is open almost year round. Ski touring is still possible on higher slopes but most of the refuges close around the start of this month. For certain ski tours, notably the ascent of Mont Blanc on skis, May is peak season.
Lower down, the snow is fast disappearing making May a great time for low- or mid-altitude hiking and trail running, cross-country mountain biking, and valley rock climbing.
June is the start of the summer season, with refuges opening for hiking around the middle of the month and most lifts opening about a week later. This is a good time for hiking and running, with quiet trails and the Alpine meadows in full flower. Care is needed though as higher paths will still be covered in snow. This is the start of the season for trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
It is also a great time for mountain biking before the Chamonix summer bike ban comes into force (more on that in July). When the lifts open for biking, late-June gives you a lot of options.
The summer season really gets going in July, with the town and the mountains getting progressively busier. Hiking and running are popular and there will be plenty of events in the town. All the refuges and lifts will be open for hiking and mountaineering. For an Alpine mountaineering holiday, July and August are the most popular months. The Walkers’ Haute Route, from Chamonix to Zermatt, starts to be done towards the end of the month.
For mountain bikers, the lifts in Le Tour and Les Houches serve bike-park runs. In the Chamonix Commune, bike restrictions apply throughout July and August. In practice, mountain biking is only allowed on a few designated paths marked as cross-country routes and described in the tourist office booklet. The Chamonix bike ban rules only apply to Chamonix, not to the communes of Les Houches and Vallorcine.
Probably the busiest month of the year, August is the peak season for hiking, running and sight-seeing. Everything is open and the town is busy. Like February, book well ahead for accommodation and eating out. For mountain bikers, the bike parks are open and the Chamonix bike ban continues
The end of August sees the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, bringing with it a week of trail running events and some of the best trail athletes in the world. This event is hugely popular and takes over the town of Chamonix. If you are not coming for the trail running it might be better to pick a different week.
Calm starts to return to the mountains after the August rush. The temperatures begin to drop, but the weather is often sunny and settled and it’s a great time to enjoy the mountains. Mountain bikers are free to cycle on most paths again, and for the first week or two the bike park lifts will be open as well.
For hiking and running, the trails get much quieter. This is a lovely period to be on the high footpaths. Mountain refuges begin to close throughout the month as the climbing and hiking seasons wind down.
For Tour du Mont Blanc hikers, accommodation becomes harder to find after the middle of the month. The Walker’s Haute route season also ends around then. Although there are some hotels open later on, there is a growing risk of early snowfall making the high passes difficult to cross.
This is a much quieter time in the valley, with cooler temperatures, few lifts open, and less accommodation available. It is a beautiful time to go hiking in the mountains as the trees turn gradually from green to red and gold. Multi-day hikes are difficult due to the lack of accommodation, unless you carry a tent. Mountain biking is possible throughout the valley, but with no uplift you’ll have to rely on pedal power. Rock climbing is often still possible on the valley crags, especially those facing south.
This month can be quite unpredictable in terms of the weather. Some years the sun shines throughout the month. Some years it rains, other years it snows. The end of the month sees the autumn school holiday, which brings a few more visitors but not enough to make the town feel busy.
Probably the quietest month of the year, with the least reliable weather for any particular activity. Some years it stays warm and dry enough for rock climbing, mountain biking and trail running well into the month. Other years, there is enough snow for ski touring. Sometimes there is a sudden change mid-way through the month, as if somebody turned on the snow switch. If you are here, you might well be able to get out into the lower mountains and do something, but it is hard to predict which sport is best.
As Christmas approaches we see the start of the ski season, although lift opening is sporadic in the first half of the month. Lifts open at Grands Montets first, usually only at weekends and depending heavily on the snow conditions. More lifts open by mid-December, but it is only with the start of the Christmas holidays that you can reliably expect all the lifts to be open. Chamonix is not the best place for an early-December ski break.
From about a week before Christmas, the resort quickly gets busy for two or three weeks. Suddenly it’s high season with parades, Christmas markets, family holidays and busy slopes. This busy season lasts until early-January when the schools holidays finish.
You might have noticed we haven’t said much about when to visit Chamonix for a climbing holiday. This is because there are a lot of different things to climb here at different times of the year, and the optimal times for some routes have changes in recent years. The best time of year to climb here could fill another post longer than this one. For classic alpinism, or climbing Mont Blanc, the peak season is July and August. Rock climbing is possible all summer. Beyond that, experienced climbers will have a good idea about the routes they’re interested in. The Chamoniard website gives good local info and the refuge opening dates give an idea of when people typically do the routes the refuge is used for.
Unlike most mountain destinations in Europe, there is something happening in Chamonix throughout the year. For more details of opening times, check out the lift company website, and for information on events have a look at the tourist office site. Many activities here are seasonal, depending on lift openings and whether there is snow on the ground, but there is rarely a period when no activities are possible. November would be the most difficult month to take a holiday here, but even then the town is not as quiet as most ski areas in the weeks just before the winter season starts.
Whenever you choose to visit Chamonix, you will find the ingredients here for a great trip.