Does lack of snow mean a disastrous family ski holiday? 5 alternative things to do in Chamonix with kids
Ok so we all got excited about that big dump of snow weeks ago in November, thinking it was going to be the most epic of all epic seasons EVER! Well it still could be. But not this week. That doesn’t help if you’ve booked your (expensive) family ski holiday over Christmas week and only a fraction of runs are open. With ski options limited the biggest hurdle to overcome is a change of mindset. Family ski holidays are not cheap and the pressure to still have a great time is high. Not skiing EVERY day can be a hard pill to swallow but luckily Chamonix, as oppose to other resorts, has plenty of other amazing activities to get stuck into.
Sure, a shortage of snow sucks but don't let it wreck your holiday. Chamonix has other activities to offer families who can't face another day on the same piste.
If you’re a ski freak with a must ski at all costs attitude then you’re going to need to lower your expectations or just accept the fact that there's going to be little variation in your pistes this week. The blue Trappe run at La Flegere is open with good snow this week - it's a great run for kids and ours still aren't bored of it. With only a handful of runs open at Grands Montets, Flegere and Brevent, a day trip through the tunnel to ski in Courmayeur, Italy would be our first tip. In just 15 minutes you can be in the ski resort of Courmayeur, on the other side of the Mont Blanc. Courmayeur often gets the snow when Chamonix is dry and there is excellent skiing to be had there at the moment. Off piste is highly UNrecommended at the moment with such little snow cover exposing rocks & cliffs and make sure you've got good winter sports insurance in place.
Failing that, we’re mixing it up at the moment, hiking one day, skiing the next. It’s easy to be relaxed when we’re here for the whole season and not for a week when the pressure is on. Try to relax a little and be flexible with your activities. Chamonix, as oppose to some other resorts, has plenty of other activities to keep the kids busy. It might not be the ski break you were hoping for, but don’t let it ruin your holiday.
Here are 5 other ways to keep the kids happy this week.
1. Go up the Aiguille du Midi
The Aiguille du Midi is a 3842 metre high peak that can be accessed by a cable car directly from Chamonix (The aiguille is the golden needle you can spot glinting in the sunshine from the town). It's the nearest you can get to Mont Blanc without hiking or climbing any further and boasts the highest vertical ascent in the world (2087m). With spectacular views of Chamonix valley, Mont Blanc and it's surrounding peaks it's a must do on a clear sunny day. With numerous panoramic viewing platforms, a restaurant and a museum there's a lot to see up there. A fantastic new addition is the 'touching the void' glass box. Stand thousands of metres in mid air and look down if you dare! Other highlights are walking through the ice tunnel to the 'arête', the hairy ridge line climbers take to climb Mont Blanc or skiers/snowboarders take to do the famous off piste ski run, the Valley Blanche. A family ticket isn't cheap at 186 euros for a family of 4 but it does include the 'touching the void' glass box and quite frankly is a must do in Chamonix on a gorgeously clear day. Tip: wrap up warm, even if the sun's out - it's really chilly up there and the kid will get cold quickly if under dressed.
Rocking the views and the slippers in the 'touching the void' glass box
2. Go for a swim at the 'piscine' or skate at the 'patinoire'
Chamonix's pool has a fantastic slide - a great afternoon activity for the smalls
Being an winter olympics town, Chamonix has fantastic winter sports facilities. The 25m indoor swimming pool also has a kids pool, a brilliant 130m slide and a hammam & sauna. Adults 6.20E, kids 4.60e (under 6's free!). The pool only opens in the afternoons so check opening times here before rocking up. In the Summer it's also got a fab 50m outdoor pool.
The ice rink (patinoire) is another great place to take the kids, however check opening times as it's limited to around 3-4 hours in the afternoon. Adults 6.40E, kids 4.80E. There's often ice hockey games on an evening which is pretty cool to take the kids to check out.
If you're staying in a chalet you should be able to get a guest card (carte d'hote) which gives you discount at both the swimming pool and ice skating rink as well as free public transport (the train is well worth the ride to Vallorcine). If you're in private accommodation, you can get a carte d'hote from the Marie (town hall) for 10 euros valid for 7 days.
3. Take the Montenvers train to the Mer du Glace
This classic little red train lets you see the Mer de Glace glacier up close & personal (photo courtesy of chamonix.com)
The Montenver train is a cute red funicular mountain train that takes you on a breathtaking route around the mountain up to the Mer de Glace glacier. The largest glacier in France, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) is a whopping 7km long and 200 metres deep. At the end of the train journey, there's a small cable car up to an ice grotto (cave) carved out under the glacier with fabulous ice sculptures. The grotto is carved out each year as the glacier moves an incredible 70 metres every year. There's also a restaurant up there and a fascinating exhibition of glaciology. The views are stunning with epic vistas of the main peaks of the valley - the Dru, the Grand Jorasses and the Aiguille de Grepon. It's a great people watching spot - not only do mountaineerers set off on expeditions from here, it's also the end point of the most famous off piste ski run in the world - the Valley Blanche. Skiiers and snowboarders set off from the Aiguille du Midi and negotiate their way, with a guide, through the ice fields & crevasses before finally catching the Montenvers train down.
Put it on your to do list whilst in Chamonix. The kids will love the ice grotto (note: there are over 400 steps after the cable car to the grotto). A family ticket (2 adults + 2 children) costs 93 euros (extra children 15.50 euros each). The train leaves every 30 minutes from the Montenvers train station.
4. Go for a hike
With the snow line so high, plenty of the lower hiking trails are still accessible. Swap your ski boots for hiking boots and enjoy some of the gentle family friendly paths along the valley. Both the Petit Balcon Sud and the Petit Balcon Nord (hiking trails running parallel to the valley floor within the forest) are still snow free, as well the Cascade de Bérard. We hiked up for a jaw dropping view of the Les Bossons glacier from the hamlet of Les Monts, near Les Bossons (1 hour up, 30 mins down). It's well sign posted and although the buvette (snack restaurant) is shut up for winter you'll be rewarded with the epic view below!
5. Take a tour of Chamonix with Dr Zhivago & eat 'gaufres'
Dr Zhivago is a horse drawn 'caleche' (carriage) that does a tour of Chamonix. It's as touristy as you can get but a nice way to see the town if it's at the beginning of your stay, and more imporantly little kids will love it. It's a bit pricey at 80 euros but you can easily fit the whole family in, and it's still cheaper than family ski passes for the day! Finish off by scoffing a freshly made 'gaufre' (waffle). There's only one place for gaufres in Chamonix - the Gaufre stand on Rue Whymper (near the large roundabout heading to Argentiere). Our favourite is chocolat et chantilly (whipped cream!). Maim miam (yum yum).
The Family Freestylers are us - the Nixon family, who relish travel adventures both near & far