Chamonix Trail Running Weekend
Chamonix is an awesome place to get some trail running miles in, no matter what your trail running experience or ability, there’s something for everyone.
Getting to Chamonix
The information in this post was written following a visit in 2015 when we were based in the UK.
Chamonix is easy to get to. We flew from Bristol to Geneva (Easyjet) and from there it was just a 1h30 transfer which we did with Cham Express. Door to door from home in less than 7 hours!
I had two routes planned over the 3 1/2 days we were there, both with the intention of getting some serious vertical distance in. If you live in the UK it isn’t often that you get the opportunity to ascent a vertical km in one go!
Our first run was planned to allow us to reach Lac Blanc, starting from the Planpraz cable car station and returning from the Lac via La Flegere cable car. We could have extended this by running up from Chamonix to Planpraz but there were enough vertical metres for us with the route we planned.
All in all the run was 13km with c.750m of ascent, plus the short flat run back to Chamonix from the bottom of the Flegere cable car. We had perfect weather… for most of the run.
The terrain was mostly runnable single-track, with the odd rocky landslide to climb over, and we occasionally joined gravel roads. I have never visited a ski resort in the summer before and it was difficult at times to imagine what the landscape and terrain would be like when covered with snow – which roads became ski runs, and which mountain-sides were hardcore off-piste routes?
It was dry and in the low 20s, however this started to change as we headed north past La Flegere and up towards Lac Blanc. I was keen to get there as I had heard how beautiful it was, but the terrain was slow-going (much more hiking territory rather than something I could run on) and then we started getting drenched and hailed-on!
Most people we came across were coming back from the lake and headed back to La Flegere. We were conscious that the last cable car down was at 5pm and we would need enough time to clamber back down to La Flegere ourselves in order to make sure we made it in time – so decided to turn around without seeing the lake (the view wouldn’t have been very good in that weather anyway).
Our second day of running started from Le Tour, which is at the end of the Chamonix free bus route. This area is popular with mountain bikers as well as hikers, and it was easy to see why! Lots of great tracks extending for miles and across into Switzerland.
This time our planned route was 18km with about 1300m of ascent – the first 500m of which were in the first 3k as we hiked up from Le Tour, following paths which crossed under the cable car and then a chair lift, to reach Col de Balme, Croix de Fer (in Switzerland) and then back along l’Aiguillettes des Possettes.
I expect Le Tour is a great area for snowboarding, there was a great mix of gradients and it seemed like the pistes could be relatively wide.
Views around Chamonix
We couldn’t get enough of the stunning views. While I enjoy trail running at home, it is difficult to compete with these world-class views, and hence we stopped regularly to take more and more pictures! We were running across mountains through alpine meadows and over streams, and seeing cows wearing the classic alpine cowbell.
All the ascending in the first 3-5km was tiring and it was a good opportunity to practice eating on the go. We ate loads of madeline cakes and cereal bars to keep us going over the 4 hours the whole loop took in the end.
Hiking and mountain biking trails at Le Tour, with the bottom of the glacier on the other side of the valley:
Running back down to Chamonix
The run back down was just as stunning as the run up. We did not end up running along the A de P ridge which would have brought us back in to Montroc further along the valley, but back down through a nature reserve into Le Tour, flying down through woodland on single track. It was awesome! This photo shows the track leading down towards the nature reserve, with Le Tour below and mountains on the Mont Blanc side of the valley in the distance.
This was my favourite day because all of the tracks were runnable (or hikeable if going steep uphill), whereas the previous route had sections where I could not run (others may be able to, of course). I didn’t feel any more tired than I did on the previous day, despite being out for twice as long, so I think the madeline cakes were a success, despite nearly choking on some crumbs at one point!
I can’t recommend doing this sort of weekend enough, and am sure we will go back again in the not too distant future. This trip has really given me the inspiration to increase my ability to run more vertical mileage and distance, and do an ultra one day.
We were in town the week after UTMB and while most runners had gone, we did spot Anton Krupicka walking around town! It would have been great to have been there the previous week but of course it may have been more difficult to get out running ourselves. I would love to sign up for the shortest distance of the UTMB races, the OCC, which runs 53km from Orsieres to Chamonix, so will register for the ballot for next year’s run and have my fingers crossed!
Planning Chamonix Trail Running Routes
One final point to add on planning routes – I found it quite hard to plan a route without having a paper map of the area, but then discovered this site (http://www.valleedutrail.com/en/) dedicated to trail running in Chamonix which has a range of printable A4 maps which gave me the inspiration for the routes we planned. I also spoke to a friend who has hiked around Mont Blanc and recommended those routes. Once in the town, there are two bookshops in the main shopping area which sell a range of maps and books on the area, as you’d expect. If you want a small simple map they have one for 4.50 euro and also laminated (blue) area hiking maps which were about 16 euro.