Last winter season, with the remontées mécaniques shut in France, many of us took to new winter sports . . . ski rando had never been so popular, and sledging was a regular outing!
Living 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc, even without ski alpin, there are still a multitude of activities around to enjoy ❄️ in wintertime en famille.
For now, we’re being told that the remontées mécaniques will be opening for the 2021 – 2022 season, and that we can have a “nomal” ski season (albeit with pass sanitaires and masks in line!), but his could change. And even without Covid uncertainty looming over us, many people can’t or don’t want to partake in ski alpin!
And so in this article, I aim to highlight some of the ❄️ alternative outdoor winter activities that you can still indulge in 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc this wintertime, apart from traditional downhill skiing and snowboarding!
Colour code for listings:
Pays du Mont-Blanc
Chamonix Valley (Chamonix, Les Houches, Servoz, Argentière & environs) and Vallorcine
Passy and environs
Sallanches, Combloux, Cordon & Domancy
Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc, Le Fayet, Saint-Nicolas de Véroce & environs
Megève & Praz-sur-Arly
Les Contamines-Montjoie & environs
🇫🇷 Further France
Ski rando / Ski touring
Many people living in the mountains already have their own 🎿 ski rando equipment. 🎿 Ski rando gives you a good workout – you walk uphill with your skis dressed in skins, and then remove them for a downhill thrill. 🎿 Ski rando is also versatile: it allows you to get off the pistes, to enjoy wilder nature, or you can stick to the safer ski rando routes in the ski stations.
Even before Covid-19 made this sport more popular, many of our local stations had spent time and money these last years creating secure pistes for ski rando. These routes are balisés et sécurisés, but they are still not without risk.
🎿 NEW for 2020-2021: Guide de ski de randonnée au Pays du Mont-Blanc! – head into your local tourist office, to pick up your free booklet!
[ disclaimer: if practising ski touring, you should always take due precautions (security equipment – DVA, spade, sonde – and you should familiarise yourself with specific avalanche risks in certain areas. Also, be especially vigilant on days when the avalanche risk is high, even in the ski stations ]
⛷ Chamonix Valley – there are various designated ski rando pistes in the Chamonix Valley, like La Trapette (Grands-Montets), Les Houches or the Charamillon-Autannes piste at Le Tour-La Balme;
⛷ Passy Plaine-Joux has 2 itinéraires ski de rando, available from 9h until 16h30, and FREE:
- Grimpée du Chamois Blanc – ideal for beginners;
- Grimpée des Lapins – for intermediate level;
⛷ Portes du Mont-Blanc (Combloux, Megève Jaillet and La Giettaz) – you’ll find more than 10km of uphill routes and 2 downhill pistes (groomed) available here. / map;
⛷ Saint-Gervais – has 3 ski rando routes, see here;
⛷ Megève – see here for more information;
☕️ Foodtrucks are open on some of these routes, and some of the restaurants are open for takeaway / see separate MBFF article here;
Ski de fond (ski nordique) / Cross-country skiing
❄️ Ski de fond is popular 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc, and it became an EVEN MORE popular activity for families last year! My elder son was introduced to this activity through school, and he loves it. ❄️ Ski de fond is a proper workout, and it will often take you through 🌲 pretty forests or across ❄️ snowy fields!
You can rent out your gear near the pistes, and then you’ll want to choose a route adapted to your level (there is the same colour coding as the ski alpin pistes: green, blue, red, black). You’ll also have to decide whether you want to try out the classic (in tracks) or skating version. Personally, as a beginner, I find the classic version easier.
Here 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc, you can find ski de fond circuits in:
- ❄️ Bois du Bouchet (Chamonix);
- ❄️ Lac des Chavants (Les Houches) – FREE;
- ❄️ Servoz (FREE), Argentière and Vallorcine;
- ❄️ Plaine-Joux – boucle du la gris (FREE!);
- ❄️ Combloux (FREE!);
- ❄️ Saint-Gervais (FREE!) – 28km of pistes, departure from Bettex or Plateau de la Croix (Saint-Nicolas de Véroce);
- ❄️ several across Megève (the Site Nordique de la Livraz is especially great for families / ⇒ for separate article about ❄️ Site Nordique de la Livraz, see separate MBFF article here;
- ❄️ Praz-sur-Arly – Cassioz;
- ❄️ Les Contamines-Montjoie’s Domaine Nordique;
. . . and some of these circuits have a (FREE) nocturne option . . . and Nordic Happy Hour;
Here is 🗺 a rather lovely map showing the main ski de fond circuits in Haute-Savoie:
We especially loved our visit to 🇮🇹 Val Ferret (Italy) a couple of winters ago, just through the tunnel from Chamonix! (this will have to be put on pause this year, due to restrictions);
Winter Walks & Snowshoeing (Raquettes)
For a slower paced activity out in our wondrous nature (on both ascent, and descent!) you might want to go for ❄️ a winter wonderland stroll, hike or snowshoe? One of the wonderful things about snow-shoeing – as with hiking – is that you can take the time to explore the nature around you, rather than speeding downhill right past it: 🌲 the trees, 🐾 the animal prints in the snow, even some 🦌 wildlife – though be sure not to disturb it, by following these measure recommended by the Communauté de Communes Pays du Mont-Blanc:
- je reste sur les itinéraires balisés et je ne multiplie pas les traces;
- en cas de rencontre avec un animal, je m’arrête et je le laisse s’éloigner tranquillement. Il dépensera moins d’énergie;
If you choose to walk along a groomed track, then you’ll probably not need raquettes, just decent winter boots or hiking boots (and consider a crampon attachment if icy).
Designated snowshoe trails are marked in pink, and there is quite a network. You can pick up this booklet for FREE from any of the tourist offices 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc; it is updated each year;
[ disclaimer: if you venture off these paths, then you’ll need to make sure you have the same safety equipment as for ski touring (DVA, spade, sonde) ]
⇒ magical spots to snow-shoe en famille 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc:
- ❄️ Argentière – a short walk will bring you to 🌲 La Crèmerie du Glacier;
- ❄️ Vallorcine – boucle des Granges;
- ❄️ Passy Plaine-Joux – 🌲 Boucle du Lac Vert, Boucle du Barmus and aller-retour from Himalayan bridge up to Lac Vert (you’ll only need snowshoes right after snowfall, as this is well-trodden);
- ❄️ Sallanches & Combloux – 🌲 Refuges du Tornieux et Mayères / 🌲 Le Cry for 🐾 animal prints in the forest (there is a special family snow-shoe treasure hunt in Combloux – « La randonnée des p’tits loups »; see here);
- ❄️ Saint-Gervais – from Bettex to Communailles, the Piste de Charlotte la Marmotte;
- ❄️ Megève – there are lots of routes for piétons around the Site Nordique du Livraz and Lac Javen;
- ❄️ Notre Dame de la Gorge – there are pannels to read;
Luge / Sledging / Sledding / Toboganning
Over the 2020 Christmas holidays, MBFF indulged in much, much 🛷 SLEDGING! In fact, I have never done so much sledging in the space of two weeks! We did 🛷 sledging “au sauvage” (with casques!), we did sledging on the pistes (normally not allowed, as this is very dangerous next to skiers and snowboarders!), we did sledging on designated 🛷 sledging slopes . . . and then we did more 🛷 sledging! Our most memorable outing last year? An 🌌 evening sledging session at Le Tourchet in Les Houches (one long piste, once the skiers have gone home!) and a rather wild descent in Les Lindarets.
There is something about 🛷 sledging that just releases glee and whooping, even amongst surly parents!
There are all sorts of 🛷 sledges too: plastic ones with brakes, ones you can steer, little round ones (which can double up as spades!), old school wooden ones with two blades, the ones with one blade (yooners, parets, snooc, trottinettes (my boys love these!), snowtubes . . .
🛷 NEW last winter – foodtruck & luge (Foodtruck du Tornieux) – ” Au DÉPART du foodtruck, descente en LUGE encadré par nos soins avec mise à disposition de luge et de casque de ski ( il est préférable d’apporter le vôtre pour des raisons sanitaires, casque obligatoire )! 4,5 km de descente . . .Départ suivant une à deux horaires entre 14 h et 15 h 30 depuis le foodtruck. Accès au foodtruck géré par vos soins ,pas d’accompagnement spécifique. Accessible dès 6 ans / tel: 06 50 26 66 94 “;
And for little ones, there are 🛷 luges with seatbelts, which you can drag behind you on slightly flatter walks. For some ideas for ❄️ winter wonderlands for a sledge walk, see separate MBFF article here.
[ ⇒ for separate article about 🛷 pistes de luge au Pays du Mont-Blanc, see separate MBFF article here ]
snooc – a French invention ( « playful by nature » )
Have you tried a snooc? A snooc is essentially a sledge (in the style of the old paret or modern yooner), set on one ski blade (patin). You use your arms and hands to steer, and feet to brake.
Who is the snooc for? You have to be 10+ years to rent out the snooc (this is the recommended age for being able to understand and control the equipment). It is for skiers, non-skiers, and in its touring version, for those wanting ❄️ a fun descent after a snow-shoe outing! I tested out the snooc with a friend who has MS – the fact that she could sit down for the descent, was a welcome respite from the skiing she finds more tiring.
You can rent out snooc at the ❄️ Domaine des Planards in Chamonix, and there is a current deal: 1 descent on the all-year luge and one descent snooc for 15€ (afternoons from 13h30) / snooc touring – you’ll have to book with ESF: (+33) 04 50 53 22 57;
This year, there are more and more places to try out a snooc; see website here.
[ ⇒ for separate article recounting our ❄️ BAPTÊME SNOOC au DOMAINE des PLANARDS (Chamonix), see separate MBFF article here ]
You have both the ⛸ indoor ice-skating rinks 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc (see here) and several of our villages and towns here have ⛸ seasonal outdoor ice rinks, open from December through until March, and these are currently open.
There is also the possibility of high mountain frozen lakes for the more adventurous (disclaimer: you should go with professional guides, to test the thickness of the ice!).
[ ⇒ for separate article about ⛸ seasonal ice-skating rinks 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc, see separate MBFF article here ]
Chiens de traîneau / Dog-sledding
As a Christmas present to the family a couple of years ago, we went 🐺 husky dog sledding with 3D Nordic (before they headed off for new adventures with their furry friends for winter seasons in 🇸🇪 Swedish Lapland!) . . . see here for the MBFF article about our super experience . . .
I am currently putting together an article about where you can do dog-sledding locally, so look out for that!
- 🐺 Huskydalen (Les Houches) – see website;
- 🐺 Les Granges de HeÏdi (Passy & Cordon) – see website;
- 🐺 Mont du Villard Nord (Megève) – see website;
- 🐺 Les Voyageurs de l’Hiver (Les Contamines-Montjoie) – see website;
Winter horse-riding, poney luge and ski-joëring
My boys had been on the odd donkey or pony ride, but our 2 hour 🌅 🐎 sunset horse riding in the Camargue over the Toussaint holidays was something above special, and a memory for keeps. We walked and trotted across the salt plains, some of our horses waded in the Med (not mine; Messy refused to do this!), we saw pink flamingos, black bulls . . . we all fell in love with our white horses.
As both boys enjoyed this activity so much, I’m looking to book them some lessons or outings here 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc! There are a few stables offering lessons, and some even do winter outings in the snow!
You might also like to try poney-luge for little ones, or 🐴 ski-joëring (a person on skis is pulled along by horses) . . .
- 🐎 Centre Équestre du Mont-Blanc (Les Houches) – website / FB page;
- 🐎 Ski-joëring avec Pauline (Vallorcine) – ski-joëring for children 7+ years or with 2ème étoile / see FB page;
- 🐎 L’Ecurie des Fiz (Le Fayet) – see FB page;
- 🐎 Les Ecuries d’Antan (Passy) – see website or FB page;
- 🐎 Le Cheval de Feug (Demi-Quartier) with ESF Megève at le Planellet – poney-luge for little ones, ski-joëring (7+ years or with 2ème étoile) and calèches / see website and FB page;
- 🐎 Centre Equestre Les Contamines-Montjoie – see here;
- 🐎 La CheVallée (Les Carroz) – see website and FB page;
- 🐎 Equita-Passion (Morillon & Grand Giffre) – ski-joëring (8+ years or with 2ème étoile) / see website and FB page;
- 🐎 Aravis Equitation (La Clusaz) – stages poney hiver and ski-joëring / website and FB page;
Or, you could go on a sleigh ride (calèche):
- Combloux – during the winter holidays, you can go for a snug ride in a calèche through Combloux (see OT Combloux);
- Traîneaux de Megève (Megève) – the traineaux leave from the square in front of the church / website and FB page;
Fat biking & Fat trottinettes
You can now go biking or scooting on ❄️ SNOW, thanks to the concept of the 🏔 FAT BIKE and the FAT TROTTINETTE! Fat bikes are mountain bikes with large tyres and good traction, which allow you to travel over snow, sand or mud with relative ease, and – accompanied by a powerful electric battery – you can even get up hills easily! You can hire a FAT BIKE or FAT TROTTINETTE or head out with a guide. You’ll need to measure 1m35 for the bikes.
🏔 good places to FAT BIKE & TROTTINETTE en famille au Pays du Mont-Blanc:
- Chamonix – Bois du Bouchet, Arve river / you can hire a bike from Legend CHX, Zero G or plenty of other sports shops;
- Passy Plaine-Joux – here you’ll find a relatively flat trail, as well as longer uphill options! / rental: Lou Pachran Restaurant;
- Alpes Aventures (Combloux), Megève and La Clusaz – offers fatbiking and Mountain Trott’ / see website and FB page for more details;
- FAT BIKE guide: Allan Julliot (see here);
- Les Contamines-Montjoie – there is a lovely trail along the river and in the Domaine Nordique, and you can rent bikes and scooters from town . . . and also, Snow Matra Cross competition;
Motoneiges, Quads & Moonbikes
I’ve often looked at skidoos and thought how fun they look (especially if I’m out of breath heading uphill!). There are several options for a thrill like this
- Snowmobile E-Park (Praz-sur-Arly) – these guys managed to extend their motoneiges park here / see here;
- Mountain E-Park (Golf du Mont-Arbois, Megève) – Mountain E-Park (also in Les Gets and Avoriaz and Mont-Saxonnex) can now be found with its motoneiges in Megève! / see here for more information;
- 🇫🇷 Quads sur Glace (Flaine) – in Flaine, you can also rent out ice quads / website;
- 🇮🇹 Val Ferret, Italy – there are also snowmobiles for hire in the lovely Val Ferret;
And then for something a bit different . . .
Escalade sur Glace – Ice Climbing
I’ve done some winter mountaineering with an ice axe, headed up gulleys on Ben Nevis, but never actual 🧗♂️ ice climbing on a frozen waterfall. My elder son, who already has climbing lessons with the CAF, is keen to try this out!
The main zones for this au Pays du Mont-Blanc (available to the general public with a guide) are:
- 🧗♂️ Vallorcine – Cascade de Barberine and Cascade de Bérard;
- 🧗♂️ Megève – Cascade de la Stassaz;
- 🧗♂️ Notre Dame de la Gorge – Cascade de la Duchère;
- ⇒ for more options in 🧗♂️ Savoie Mont-Blanc, see here;
[ ⇒ see this article from Alpine Mag, to read about ice-climbing with kids ]
Build an igloo, have a mega snowball fight, build a snowman or take part in a Camp Trappeur
You can build ⛄️ a snowman or snow creature wherever you like, as long as you have snow!
The same for ❄ a snowball fight! We invested this year in some gadgets for making the most perfect snowballs!
My boys also love making their ❄ own igloo . . . or sometimes just digging a HOLE!
If you need a bit more guidance for your kids, try these options:
❄ EXPLORE Chamonix – over the holidays, my boys went on a day-long snow-shoe expedition with EXPLORE Chamonix: Petits Trappeurs Grand Nord. They spotted 🐾 animal prints, 🏕 made a tipi and 🌭 cooked their lunch on a fire – they loved it! There are also Construction Igloo workshops / FB group;
❄ Faire l’Ecole Buissonière (Chamonix Valley) – a bilingual forest school / FB page;
We have two options 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc:
- 🛷 Domaine des Planards (Chamonix);
- 🛷 La Luge 4S (Le Jaillet, Megève);
- and there is 🛷 Speed Dragoz in Les Carroz;
Parcours d’orientation, jeux de pistes / treasure hunts
There are more and more 🗺 parcours d’orientation and treasure hunts organised across 🗻 the Pays du Mont-Blanc, and some of these are available to do in wintertime too:
🗺 Argentière – Au fil du Rail;
🗺 Combloux – various different activities across the week (website):
- 📱 visite numérique – ” découvrez Combloux autrement grâce à un nouvel outil de visite numérique. Au cours de votre visite, seul(e) ou en famille, rencontrez des personnages historiques (incarnés par un comédien) qui vous dévoileront l’histoire du village, les clés de compréhension des édifices. Église baroque, palace hôtelier, ferme de village, cabaret bistrot… c’est tout un pan de l’histoire de Combloux condensé en une visite immersive d’environ 2h! L’Office de Tourisme de Combloux propose la location d’un guide multimédia audio et vidéo pour partir à la découverte du patrimoine bâti des 18ème, 19ème et 20ème siècle. L’outil de visite numérique est également disponible via l’application “visite de Combloux” disponible gratuitement sur les stores Android, en français et en anglais. Un livret en vente à l’Office de Tourisme complète l’outil et permet d’emporter avec soi une trace de cette expérience inédite “;
- 🗺 chasse au trésor – ” menez l’enquête ! Munissez-vous de la carte et découvrez le village à la recherche d’énigmes pour aider Jean-Loup, notre Combloran, dans sa mésaventure à travers le temps. Partez à la rencontre de nos commerçants pour une belle aventure ! Dès le dimanche, rendez-vous à l’Office de Tourisme pour débuter la chasse au trésor. Vous aurez jusqu’au jeudi suivant pour résoudre les énigmes et savoir si, oui ou non, vous avez résolu le mystère des Légendes de Combloux. La carte aux indices est disponible, en vente, à l’Office de Tourisme. Elle s’adresse aux enfants, mais les parents sont les bienvenus pour aider nos enquêteurs en herbe à résoudre les différentes énigmes ! Un joli moment à partager en famille “;
address: Office de Tourisme de Combloux, 49 chemin des Passerands, 74920, Combloux / tel: +33 (0)4 50 58 60 49;
🗺 Cluses Arve & Tourisme jeux – chez MBFF, we are huge fans of their games (treasure hunts, parcours d’orientation), and we have already done three, learning each time about a new village. A few of their games are open all year round, snow or no snow! / website / tel: 04 50 96 69 69;
In fact, in February last year, in a still snowy Le Reposoir, we had a lovely day discovering this mountain village and its patrimoine through the game (see here to learn more about our experience).
[ ⇒ for more information about treasure hunts and geocaching, see separate MBFF article here ]
Architecture, art, photography and light shows
On most family walks out in our beautiful nature here 🗻 au Pays du Mont-Blanc, we are made aware of this region’s rich patrimoine: the granges, 🏚 mazots, ⛪️ churches and chapels, old bread ovens and fountains . . . I have lost track of the number of ⛪️ pretty chapels I have come across on my hikes!
Across the 🗻 Pays du Mont-Blanc you will find beautiful baroque churches and chapels, and these are all the more beautiful with a dusting of snow! My favourite chapels? Médonnet (Combloux), Doran (Sallanches), la Sainte-Chapelle (Notre Dame de la Gorge). There is even a Sentier du Baroque to hike (see here) . . .
See FB page Culture au Pays du Mont-Blanc for proposed guided walks (subject to change and Covid-19 measures).
You will find some art and sculpture and guided walks:
- Les Virées Culturelles de Christine (Chamonix Valley) – FB page;
- Passy – route de la sculpture and the new artwork at the Passerelle Himalayenne;
- Saint-Gervais-les-Bains’ parcours orientation: « A la découverte de Saint-Gervais », « Boucle des Maisons Fortes » & new 2KM3 leaflet – 1 hour / available as free leaflets from Tourist Office in Saint-Gervais;
There are also outdoor exhibitions to enjoy, including:
« Festival Images & Neige » (Cluses & Les Carroz) – this wintertime-inspired photography festival has been running for more than 10 years. Last year, I went with a friend, and we enjoyed chatting to the photographers present. This year, the festival has adapted to Covid-19 measures, and the art can be viewed around Cluses. There is also a jeu de piste to enjoy: ” A la poursuite de l’hiver “, with 13 puzzles to solve, and prizes to win! / more information on website and FB page;
[ ⇒ for more information about 🎨 outdoor art exhibitions, see MBFF article here ]
A day trip
For now, here in France we are still allowed to travel (as opposed to the confinement measures of not being allowed more than 1km or 20km or 100km from home!) . . . which means, if you are getting valley fever, then you can head off for a wander around another village, town or city!
Here are some ideas:
- Evian or Yvoire (Lac Léman) – the historical thermal waters lakeside town of Evian makes for a lovely day out en famille . . . wrap up warmly for a stroll near Lac Léman, as it is icy-cold in wintertime! Enjoy the Flottins in Evian, or visit the medieval lakeside town of Yvoire (also pretty winter lights!) . . . And equally charming is the much lesser visited Nernier!
- Annecy – stroll around this pretty lakeside town, known for its old town, the canals, the castle . . .
- or head to another mountain village: Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, Samoëns, Manigod, La Clusaz . . .
And for something a bit wilder (a bit further afield) . . .
🛷 Piste de Bobsleigh & Bob Raft (La Plagne) – WOW, the sensations on this Olympic run must be huge! The Bob Raft is available for children 1,30m upwards! You can fit 4 people in the bob raft, and you’ll get up to 80km/h! / from 48€ (Bob Raft), upwards / more information here;