With the Winter Olympics on the television, I bet that the speed and danger of these winter sports have inspired you to go on your own adrenaline-fuelled snowy adventure. Skiing or snowboarding is the classic option, but if you really want an athletic challenge then ice climbing in Chamonix might just be the activity for you.
What is Ice Climbing?
Ice climbing is similar to rock climbing, but with increased elements of surprise and danger. Unlike rocks, ice formations change throughout the day, so you need to adapt your route as you go along. Your guide will go first to attach the temporary ice screws to anchor your climbing rope. Once secured, you will then tie the rope around your waist and use your axe and crampons to climb up the icefall.
It is a very challenging sport that requires you to think quickly and adapt to your situation. The ice may be hard or soft, thin or thick, so you will need to advance carefully to remain safe. The sport also requires you to make your own handholds using the axe and improvise your own climbing route. Feeling up to the challenge?
A Test of Strength and Stamina
Ice climbing is a strenuous sport that requires high levels of physical fitness and mental agility. Before putting your body to the test, it is important to be properly prepared (you don’t want to injure yourself!). Try to exercise three times a week, alternating between high-intensity interval training, moderate and short sessions, and long and slow endurance training.
Most importantly though, you will want to strengthen your core and upper body muscles. To fit it into your daily routine, try waking up 10 minutes earlier and doing 30 reps of weighted sit-ups, 30 lunges while holding a weighted plate over your head and a dozen dead hangs before waking the kids up for school. As the exercises become easier, you can also incorporate leg lifts, pull-ups and tool rows into your routine.
Excited to take on the challenge? Before heading up the ice, you will need to make sure you have all the right equipment. The list is quite extensive, but fortunately for you it can all be purchased or rented from any sports shop in Chamonix. You will need:
- Snow boots and spiky metal crampons
- two ice axes
- a climbing harness
- a climbing helmet
- waterproof clothing, including insulated trousers, warm gloves and thermal layers
Ice Climbing in Chamonix
Famous for its ice formation, the Chamonix valley offers climbers some of the best routes around. With icefalls starting to form in early December and continuing to expand until February, March is the best time to go on your adventure. By then, there will be over 200 routes to choose from. La Crémerie is the most popular route for beginners: it has climbs that are only 45 degrees steep. As you gain confidence, you can then choose more challenging routes (which can be as steep as 80 degrees).
To get the hang of using the equipment, you should take a few classes before heading out on your own. Several guide companies, including Cham’Aventure, run climbing courses for beginners and intermediates. They will teach you how to walk in crampons and demonstrate how to most efficiently use and swing your axe.
How to Get to Chamonix
Taking a 90-minute flight from London to Geneva Airport is the quickest way of reaching Chamonix. Monarch and easyJet offer the cheapest deals, but British Airways and Swiss also fly direct. To avoid delaying your adventure, book a shared, group or private transfer with Shuttle Direct. A friendly driver will meet you outside the terminal and quickly take you to your hotel, so you can begin your adrenaline-fuelled activities ASAP!
Where to Stay
Appartements de l’Héliopic: Located in the centre of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, this hotel offers the perfect setting to relax and refuel after a hard day’s work ice climbing. You can chill on the comfortable sofas and watch satellite TV or a DVD on the flat-screen or enjoy a long dip in the hot tub. There’s also a spa centre if you fancy a rejuvenating massage. The apartments are self-catered with a fully-equipped kitchen and dining area.
Chalet Hôtel Le Prieuré: With a stunning chalet-style décor, this hotel has a peaceful atmosphere. Soothe your muscles with a nice hot bath or a warm drink on the balcony that overlooks Mont Blanc. The buffet breakfast is the perfect place to carb load for your intense activities while the three-course evening meal will help you relax and refuel.
BestWestern Plus Excelsior Chamonix Hôtel & Spa: With panoramic views of Mont Blanc, the gorgeous sight of this impressive mountain range will appease your mind after an adrenaline-fuelled day. There is also a spa, with hot tubs, saunas, hammams and massages on offer. The hotel has a restaurant which serves breakfast every morning, as well as TV, Wi-Fi and tea and coffee making facilities in the modern guestrooms.
About Shuttle Direct
For the past 15 years, Shuttle Direct has been offering adventurers and adrenaline-seekers fast and convenient ways of reaching their holiday destinations. Thanks to their user-friendly website, you can book all your travel arrangements in advance. Whether you’re on a tight budget or want to splash out and treat yourself, you will find a deal that suits you.