Winter / Spring / Autumn Mountaineering in Chamonix & The Alps

There are some alpinists who consider summer to be the only ‘off-season’ period for alpine mountaineering. It is indeed often in winter, spring and autumn that the combination of snow, ice, low temperatures and quiet mountains can give the mountaineer a spark of a big adventure, always tempered by the tougher mountain conditions and greater commitment.

In short, the going is generally tough, but the rewards can be great!

Autumn, Winter & Spring Mountain Reports & Conditions Updates

Whilst we mainly run private guiding trips for alpine mountaineering in autumn, winter and spring, we do also have a few group courses which are listed here:

Sep 28

Climb Gran Paradiso 🇮🇹 Late Sept 2023

September 28 - September 30
Oct 08

Thanks for an amazing few days. You pushed me to achieve things I didn’t think I was capable of and taught me patiently. I have learnt loads and enjoyed myself enormously. Today fully type 1 fun. Escarra definitely a bit of 1 a lot of 2 and a tiny bit of 3! But overall the best day in the hills I’ve ever had.

Simon Everett, Chamonix North Faces & Multi Pitch rock, Nov 21

The easier mixed and rocky ridges of high summer are transformed in to bigger challenges in their winter garb and often just being out on the hill is both a privilege and challenge in itself.  Some of the classic 4000m peaks including Gran Paradiso and Mont Blanc can be almost at their best in the autumn months.

Simon topping out on the North Face of the Aiguille du Chardonnet, November 2021

For those of suitable experience, fitness and determination who are seeking a bigger challenge there are a fine series of North Faces ranging in size and difficulty to cater for most Winter Alpinists. From the Tete Blanche and Tour Ronde to the Chardonnet, Aiguille du Midi, Les Droites and many more. These North Faces give tough mountaineering experiences that are only suited to those prepared to embrace the concept that winter alpine mountaineering is hard work and not always ‘type 1 fun’ at the time!

Zermatt Mountaineering
High on the Breithorn Summit Ridge in autumn 2020. A very accessible 4000m peak rapidly approached from the lifts of Zermatt, which are open in autumn.

Route Approaches, Lift Access & Winter Room Huts

Fresh snow in winter takes a long time to consolidate and where a glacial approach in summer is typically associated with crampons crunching on a frozen glacier, in winter it is more likely to be wading through thigh deep soft snow! This means that the mountaineer who can ski is likely to profit most from their time in the winter alpine environment, although snow shoes can be a reasonable alternative and often neither are necessary in the earlier autumn season.

By using the big 3 lifts of the Mont Blanc massif (Aiguille du Midi from Chamonix, Grands Montets fromn Argentiere and Hellbroner from Courmayeur) rapid access to 3300m+ is gained and, in good conditions and travelling on skis, some of the classic high Chamonix Goulottes can be climbed and the ski descent to the valley completed on the same day.

Late autumn dawn departure from Albert Premier to traverse the Tour Glacier and climb the North Face of the Tête Blanche, an excellent training climb.

For those wanting to attempt the bigger faces or to spend more time up high in the magical winter alpine environment an overnight stay can be made in one of the various ‘winter rooms’ of the high mountain huts. For those who can’t ski or don’t want to carry skis over a climb, snow shoes provide the next best option and the greater times involved meant that an overnight in a mountain hut winter room is likely to be involved. This can be a fine experience in itself and give an insight in to the winter mountains outwith the times of the skiers and day visitors using the lifts.

Winter Hut stay
Dinner at the Chabod Hut winter room on our autumn Gran Paradiso course…boil in the bag!  A different experience to summer but equally rewarding, if not more so!

See Our Article On Seasonal Alpine Mountaineering Conditions

Seasonal Alpine Mountaineering Conditions

Training & Guiding

As with all our courses there is a balance to be struck between ‘just’ going climbing and enjoying some brilliant routes and adding a more structured training element to develop your skills as a winter alpinist. This balance is directed by your aspirations and we provide a bespoke course accordingly. Please check out some of the suggested suitable winter / spring / autumn climbs below and the various options for training topics to be covered. Remember that the best training for going climbing….is going climbing!

“We had such a lovely time mountaineering with Rob off the Skyway Monte Bianco. Rob is an amazing guide in all respects— knowledgeable, fun to be with, and a great teacher. Couldn’t recommend him enough”

Emily & Ben coming up to the Col de Toule on our winter mountaineering intro and snow shoe glacier journey from Skyway Monte Bianco.

“Thanks again for a Chamonix wonder week Rob. It was a real pleasure having the opportunity to be out in the mountains with you. You did a sterling job mate and were good fun to be with. I hope we get the chance to do it again sometime. All the best, Matt”

Matt, Chamonix, Jan 2009

Chamonix ice climbing, on the Rive Gauche Argentiere Glacier

Autumn Summit Climbs

For example:

Summit of Mont Blanc and the mixture of emotions are running high. France on one side, Italy on the other. Magnificent view across the Alps, tired legs…must concentrate…must keep going for the descent. Relief? Satisfaction? Elation? Concern about the descent? Mont Blanc is a very personal challenge….
Early autumn ascent of the Gran Paradiso. Shallow fresh snow, cool temperatures, a chilly breeze and stunning views around the Alpine chain…
Good fun scrambling high on the classic South Ridge of the Weissmeis with the Almageller Hut and Dry Hornli Ridge in shade far below…

Selection of Possible Climbs

Whilst any winter alpine trip in to the mountains is likely to be a physically tough experience there are a fine variety of routes offering good quality outings from those of moderate technical ability right through to the seasoned alpinist at home on technical ground on a big face.

Mountain Guide Will Harris enjoying the first pitch of the Escarra Route

Below we offer a selection of route suggestions that form a very rough progression in terms of overall difficulty and commitment. Many of these can be tackled in a day off the high Chamonix lifts whilst the larger routes often need several days to complete the approach, climb and descent. Your course itinerary will be tailor made according to your preferences for the style and difficulty of the routes:

  • Traverse of Pointe Lachenal, PD
  • Traverse Aiguilles Marbrees, PD
Chamonix Guide
Justine on the summit of the Aiguilles Marbrees. Snowy conditions in mid October 2020
  • Petite Verte, PD
  • Cosmiques Arete, AD 4a
  • Chere Couloir, II 4, 350m
Old photo – not current conditions – Perroux Gully on left, Chere Couloir directly above the climber
  • Tour Ronde Ordinary Route, AD
  • Traverse Aiguille d’Entreves, AD
  • Pellisier Gully, II 4 M5

  • Gabarrou-Albinoni, III, 4+, 500m
  • North Face Aiguille de Toule, AD
  • Left Edge Route, AD, 350m
  • Contamine Mazeaud, AD+, 350m
  • Perroux Gully, III 4+ 5b, 350m
Old shot of one of the crux icy / mixed grooves on the Perroux next to the Chere couloir
  • Gully Variations, III, 4+
  • Midi-Plan Ridge, AD
  • Modica Noury, III 5+

  • North Face Tour Ronde, D 350m
  • Claire Chazal
  • Rebuffat Gully, II 4, 350m Tour Ronde
  • Farraon
  • Fil a Plomb

  • Aiguille du Chardonnet North Face, Migot Spur or Escarra Route
Mike Brownlow on the fine ice wall of the Escarra Route
  • Madness Tres Mince
  • Charlet Ghillini
  • Pinocchio
Brilliant mid-winter climbing on the East Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul
  • Eugster Direct
  • Lagarde Couloir
  • Supercouloir

  • Cecinel Nomine

Aravis Mixed Climbing Guide
Aravis Mixed Climbing

Training Modules

The following relevant training elements may be covered on a Chamonix winter / spring / autumn mountaineering course according to your existing knowledge and enthusiasm to learn:

  • Ice and mixed climbing techniques + good dry tooling options
  • Winter climbing protection
  • Simple and effective climbing ropework for pitching and moving together
  • Glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques
  • Avalanche hazard awareness and decision making
  • Route selection according to current conditions
  • Navigation including the use of a GPS
  • Ski mountaineering techniques for ascent and descent to / from routes
  • Transceiver use
Dry Tooling at Servoz on the steep finish to the route Momus, M6

Pre-Requirements

Winter alpine mountaineering is not for the faint hearted and you should be fully aware before booking that every aspect of it is both physically and mentally demanding. Days can be up to 12 hours, or longer on a big North Face, and you must be prepared for this by being both very fit and determined to embrace the high mountain environment. You should also be aware that this winter / spring / autumn alpine environment contains hazards which are sometimes beyond the control of your Guide and be prepared to accept the risks associated with travel in crevassed and avalanche prone terrain and occassionaly threatened by ice / serac fall from above.

Simon below the Col du Tour en route to the Téte Blanche North Face with the North Face of the Aiguille du Chardonnet beyond.

You will have ideally practised the skills of alpinism on a summer course and be already familiar with climbing, rope and equipment techniques. However if these skills are not already in place we can use valley cascades, lower glaciers, mountains and crags and put together a suitable training package.

“Just to say a big thanks from me and Chris for a brilliant few days ice & mixed climbing over the new year. It was exactly what we were looking for. I think we have both fallen for the world of mixed climbing and will definitely be trying some more soon by ourselves. I would recommend taking a course with Rob to anyone looking to try something new in the mountains. It was a brilliant way to get a head-start into a new area of climbing for us. Thanks again, Andy.”

Andy & Chris, Feb 2010

Will enjoying the moderately technical snowed up rock on the first pitch of the Escarra Route, on the north face Aiguille du Chardonnet.

Further Details & Booking

Equipment List, please refer to our Autumn – Winter – Spring Alpine Mountaineering Equipment List and be aware that out-with the high summer season you will need warmer boots (e.g your ski boots or La Sportiva Spantiks, Scarpa 6000m or similar), warmer gloves; a warmer duvet jacket and good quality face protection e.g. neoprene face mask, buff, goggles, balaclava and good jacket hoods.

Book Private Guiding

Mountain Reports From Previous Summits & Routes Climbed in Autumn, Winter & Spring

28 December 2022, North Face Tour d’Ai, Leysin.  Mountain Limestone Sport Mixed Climbing

Despite the recent thawing conditions with rain at low altitudes and mild temperatures, there are some activities that are pretty resilient to most conditions and the relatively new sport mixed / dry limestone mountain mixed routes above Leysin fit in to that category.   We really enjoyed the mini north face ambiance with rapid approach on skis via the Leysin lift system.   Then there is a rapid transition into steep and technical mixed climbing on the bolted routes of Casa de Papel (M6+) and the Voie de Droite (M7).

Starting up the fine central and bolted line of ‘La Case de Papel’ on the North Face of the Tour d’Ai

There are other routes on the face including the burly and trad Scottish route and the interesting mixed Harlin Route – which is a mix of trad and bolts.  More info on that on the blog website of Simon Chatelan who it was good to meet at the base of the crag and thank him for these fine accessible new routes and inspiring topo to mixed climbing in SW Switzerland.

Another team starting up the Voie de Droite first pitch (M7). A good effort with a pack and big ski boots on!

We stashed our skis at the col below the crag which made for a rapid and enjoyable ski descent back to Leysin with decent piste conditions all the way to the bottom which was impressive considering the piste runs through green fields for the lower third!

Ski descent from the north face of Tour d’Ai with the West Face in the background where there are some other fine mixed routes like Leysin Incontournable.

6 December 2022, Intro Winter Mountaineering & Snow Shoe Glacier Journey From Skyway Monte Bianco

Emily & Ben coming up to the Col de Toule on our winter mountaineering intro and snow shoe glacier journey from Skyway Monte Bianco.

Beautiful pristine fresh snow conditions on the glaciers on the Italian side of the upper Vallée Blanche, rapidly accessed from the Skyway lift.  The cover is still lean but it’s early season – and great to be in the winter mountains, plus there is plenty more on the way!   A great day with team New York doing some snow shoe journeys across the glaciers and some intro mountaineering with an easy ridge scramble and short snow couloir climb.  More details and conditions update – including teams on the Marbrees & Grand Flambeau mixed routes here:

6 December 2022, Skyway Monte Bianco Ski & Mountain Conditions

16 October 2022, Mont Blanc & Chamonix Mountaineering Conditions

Very close to the summit on this fine autumn attempt on Mont Blanc plus a general update on Chamonix alpine mountaineering conditions so far this autumn here:

16 October 2022, Mont Blanc & Chamonix Mountaineering Conditions

Early October 2022, Winter Room At The Cabane de Moiry

Nice trip to the winter room at the Moiry Hut with rapid access to both the glacier and good training ridges and summits behind the hut.

The Moiry Hut, a brilliant base camp for training on both the nearby glacier and rocky alpine ridges.

Early October 2022, Zumsteinspitze – Rifugio Gnifetti – Monte Rosa Massif

A decent track in place through the crevasses on the glacier above the Gnifetti Hut, but no track from the Lysjoch meaning some solid trail breaking for Gavin, Eren & Alex, but a magnificent early autumn 4500m peak ascent here on the summit of the Zumsteinspitze:

Alex & Eren on the 4563m summit of the Zumsteinspitze in the Monte Rosa Massif. A lovely chilly pristine feel to the mountains in early autumn.

The Rifugio Gnifetti is still open but the lifts from Gressoney are closed – but a 4 x 4 taxi option is available to give a good head start on the climb.

15 Feb 2022, Cascade du Dard, Sixt-Fer-Cheval

It was a bit snowy for ice climbing, but the route is a good choice in these conditions and we had a fine adventure culminating in a superbly steep final pillar of ice on the Dard…

15 Feb 2022, Cascade du Dard, Sixt-Fer-Cheval 🇫🇷

30 January 2022, Big Snow Couloir Climbing In Les Contamines…

Brilliant day with Isabella climbing the Nant Blanc couloir in Les Contamines, with an enjoyable ski descent down the easy way off the back!  Check out the details here.

30 January 2022, Himalayan Couloir Climbing…in Les Contamines!

Jan 2022 – Snow Shoe Expedition Around Grand St. Bernard Pass With Base Camp At The Monastery

13 January 2022, Grand St Bernard Snow Shoe Expedition

Dec 2021 and Jan 2022 – Mid winter Cascade Ice Climbing in Cogne…

17 January 2022, Repentance Super, Ice Climbing In Cogne

22 December 2021, Lau Bij, Cogne Ice Climbing

16 December 2021, Cogne Ice Climbing Opening Week

Aiguille du Chardonnet & Tête Blanche North Faces in November 2021

17 November 2021, Aiguille du Chardonnet & Tête Blanche North Faces

Mont Blanc ascent in early October 2021

9 October 2021, Mont Blanc Autumn Ascent

30 May 2021, Aiguille du Midi & Chamonix Mountaineering Conditions

26 March 2021, La Mamule North Face, Les Aravis

24 March 2021, Mini Couloir, Cascade EMHM, Grands Montets Ski Touring

7 March 2021, Momus, Servoz Dry Tooling

3 March 2021 Aravicimes, Fine Aravis Mixed Climbing Conditions

11 February 2021, Home Wet Home, Rive Gauche & Grands Montets Climb Ski Conditions

27 January 2021, Ice Climbing Conditions In The Aravis & Mt Blanc Massifs