Chamonix: Winter's Natural Home
Want to get a taste of climbing but shiver at the idea of hammering an ice ax into frozen waterfalls? Head about four miles down the valley to Les Houches, where you'll find a cavernous climbing gym with routes of all abilities. The Mont Blanc Escalade has upwards of 2,700 square feet of wall space with climbs that range from easy to extreme, many of which are 100 feet long. Mom and dad can sit inside and drink coffee while the kids take lessons on how to belay, tie in, and climb efficiently; it's a great option when storms force everyone inside. Day passes cost about $20 for adults and $15 for kids. An hour-long lesson will set you back around $60. (www.montblancescalade.com; +33.450.54.7648).
Another great option for days when the clouds roll in or you need a break from high-altitude charging: cross-country skiing. Some 47 miles of trails weave through dense forests, along rivers, and up slopes that will test your heart rate, and you can set out to explore all of them for less than $10 a day. A good place to begin is at any number of rental shops you'll find in Chamonix, where you can rent classic or skate skis. Some trails start right in town from the Chamonix Foyer near the Place du Mont. From here you can set out along easy green routes like the 1.8-mile loop into the Bois de Bouchet. For longer or more difficult runs, head about five miles up the valley to Vallorcine, where you'll find about six miles of trails, including five and a half miles of intermediate and expert tracks. Visit www.chamonix.com/page.php?page=29&r=cross_country_skiing&ling=en for a breakdown of trails and conditions around Chamonix.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication