Our level 1 Chamonix Alpine Mountaineering Course is designed to give you the skills to climb safely and independently in the Alps, or will provide you with a foundation to enjoy our more technical alpine climbing holidays in the future. This premium course offers a full 6 days of training and climbing and has been carefully designed to teach you the skills needed for safe travel on glaciated alpine terrain. The week builds to making an ascent of a classic first alpine 4000m peak, the Gran Paradiso, which makes a perfect climax to the trip. **Free climbing equipment rental is included with this course**
Who is this course for?
This is a level 1 (introductory level) skills course, so it’s suitable for beginners. If you haven’t used an ice axe and crampons before, or you haven’t done any rock climbing belaying before, then choose this course! (If you do have belaying and climbing experience and have used an axe and crampons before, then look at our level 2 alpine apprenticeship course. If you are a trad leader (Severe-VS or above) and also have some Scottish winter or alpine experience, then look at our level 3 tech alpine and alpine essentials courses). If you’re not sure which course to choose – read our choosing an alpine climbing course article, or just drop us a line and we’ll give you some advice!
On this course we cover all of the basics, so you just need good fitness and plenty of enthusiasm to learn: to take part you should be at Tech Level 1 and Fitness Level 2 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below) – ie you need good general fitness and experience in UK mountains (summer or winter). If you want to progress onto more technical terrain during the week, then some scrambling or indoor/outdoor climbing experience is also useful.
Important training areas include ropework and rock techniques, snow and ice skills, glacier travel, moving-together, crevasse rescue, route choice and planning, navigation, weather and hazard evaluation. The program has been carefully planned to maximise climbing time – as moving over a wide variety of alpine terrain is the best (and most enjoyable!) way to build your skills, confidence and experience. At the end of the week, we put everything into practice by making an ascent of the Gran Paradiso, which is a great first alpine 4000m peak and excellent finale to the course.
- Full 6 day program
- Suitable for beginners
- Valley Accommodation Options
- Equipment hire included
- Climb your 1st 4000m peak!
Valley Accommodation Options
This course is available with or without valley accommodation – so you can either choose to stay with us at the excellent Chalet Tissieres (course price £1350), or choose your own hotel/gite/camp to suit your budget (course price £1050).
- All guides fess, expenses, local course travel and your hut fees are included in both course options.
NB If you choose to arrange your own valley accommodation, then please read the notes on our factsheet carefully about course briefings and daily pickups before you book accommodation, as you need to be able to meet up easily with the guide and other course members each day – the Chamonix Valley is several miles long!
One IFMGA guide climbing with 4 clients.
Included in price
- 6 days of guiding and instruction
- All guides expenses
- With valley accommodation option – 4 nights accommodation in the Chamonix valley, including breakfast and evening meals***
- 3 nights accommodation in mountain huts, including breakfast and evening meals
- Local travel in the guide’s vehicle to complete the course itinerary
- Equipment hire: ice axe, crampons, helmet, harness and belay kit
Excluded from price (see course factsheet for cost estimates)
- Cable cars
- Lunches and drinks
- Travel to resort
Our meeting point and Chamonix valley base is Chalet Tissieres in Les Bossons, just 5 mins by car/bus from Chamonix centre. The chalet stands in its own 2000m2 alpine garden with stunning panoramic views of Mont Blanc and the entire Chamonix valley. It offers simple but comfortable shared rooms, a large lounge/dining area, honesty bar, and a huge balcony for al fresco dining on warm summer evenings: a great place to relax after a big day in the mountains. The chalet serves a buffet breakfast and varied 3-course evening meal***, with special diets catered for upon request. Rooms are provided on a twin (or occasionally 4-6 person) sharing basis, but if you prefer a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. ***The chef has one night off each week – this day will include bed and breakfast only, but the chalet will recommend an alternative local restaurant. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.
For overnights in the high mountains, we will use mountain huts. For more info please read the Using Alpine Huts article which provides an overview of typical facilities, average costs to help you budget for lunches/drinks, and general info on hut etiquette.
You should arrange outward travel on Saturday, arriving by 5-6pm latest in time for the briefing at your accommodation. Your guide will run through safety routines and kit checks, as well as hand out any rental equipment for the week, before we go on to a detailed discussion of everyones aims and goals for the course, together with the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our course planning. We’ll also have maps and guidebooks of the area to show you. If you’ve any further questions or last minute requests, then this is the ideal time to bring them up, before we head on to dinner. PM Overnight in the valley.
Ecole de Glace – glacier training day
Essential snow and ice training, including crampon and ice axe skills, glacier travel and crevasse rescue – taught on the Glacier du Geant.
These essential snow and ice skills are best learned on an accessible glacier, so in the morning we travel through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Italy and take the Hellbronner cable car up to 3000m, where we can walk straight out onto the glacier. To start the day we look at roping up for glacier travel, practicing knots and ropework before travelling across the glacier to a suitable training venue, practicing how to negotiate crevasses and other hazards along the way.
Once there, we then do a lot of movement coaching – teaching you how to use your crampons and ice axe to best effect and improving both footwork and co-ordination skills. After lunch, we then travel on to another good location for practicing crevasse rescue training:
Crevasse Rescue Training
In the afternoon we do a crevasse rescue session, covering skills appropriate to your ability and experience.
If someone on your rope falls into a crevasse, then get down on the ground immediately and dig your axe and crampons in to hold the fall. If they can’t simply climb out with the aid of a tight rope, then you have three rescue options:
- A Group Haul – this is a safe and simple solution with 3 or more rescuers.
- Self Rescue by Prussicking – the victim prussicks up the rope to escape the crevasse.
- A full blown Crevasse Rescue – 0nly once you’ve exhausted 1 and 2 do you go on to 3!
During this session, we start by practicing a group haul (prussicking self rescue comes later in the week). We should also have time to cover use of ices screws and/or making snow belays. For those with experience building snow and ice belays, we may alternatively cover more advanced crevasse rescue skills if appropriate.
Rope Skills and Hut Approach
AM skills session, rock climbing, belaying, abseiling etc. PM Drive up to Le Tour and walk up to the Albert Premier Hut.
In the morning we head to a valley crag to look at rock climbing ropework skills and techniques; climbing movement skills, belaying, setting up anchors, abseiling etc.
In the afternoon, we then drive up to Le Tour at the head of the Chamonix Valley, take a gondola and chairlift to the Col de Balme and finally walk 2hrs up to the Albert Premier Hut for the night.
After a communal evening meal in the hut, our evening briefing looks at using alpine huts, alpine weather forecasts and alpine route planning – preparing for the climb on Wednesday.
Tete Blanche West Ridge
The first proper ‘alpine start’! Leaving the hut at dawn we head across a rocky slope to the glacier’s edge, rope up and set off – the plan is to now put everything into practice on a good alpine route.
Starting with glacier travel, we also look at navigation, route finding and alpine hazard awareness along the way – the Le Tour Glacier has plenty of features to negotiate, so is a good place to learn these skills.
The Tete Blanche itself is a relatively short climb, following either a rocky ridge or a mix of snow and mixed terrain depending on conditions, which gives plenty of time to practice moving together on alpine terrain.
Wherever possible, we encourage more experienced climbers to take the lead and climb independently alongside the guide in order to learn most effectively.
Finally, we descend the Tete Blanche, cross the frontier into Switzerland and head to the Trient Hut for the night.
PM Briefing – short talk on alpine rescue, using guidebooks and how to obtain reliable and up to date climbing conditions information.
Aiguille Du Tour – from the Trient Hut
Another classic alpine summit, with spectacular views across the Mont Blanc Range from the top.
Areas covered today include route choice, hazard evaluation and moving together on rock and mixed terrain.
You may be traversing the glacier on a separate rope, or climbing alongside the guide for sections of the day, in order to develop sound judgement and decision making skills in real alpine terrain – see alpine advice article.
PM Descend to Chamonix, overnight in valley.
Crevasse Self Rescue and Hut Approach
In the morning we head to a valley crag to do a session of prussicking training. This is an important skill for getting yourself out of a crevasse and one that must be learnt and mastered in the ‘worst case scenario’ – dangling on the end of a free hanging rope!
In the afternoon we then drive across to the Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy and walk up to the Vittorio Emanuele Hut for the night.
Evening briefing – planning for the ascent of the Gran Paradiso.
Ascent of Gran Paradiso – via the classic west flank route.
After a pre dawn ‘alpine start’, the route followed depends on conditions – when it’s snowy the glacier route is quickest, but in drier conditions the rock ridge is a better choice. At 3700m, both routes converge, then follow the same line up the glacier to the final summit rocks. Here, a 100m of trickier scrambling lead to the highest point, with geat views and a welcome rest before the long descent.
Alternative 4000m Summits – if weather or conditions prevent us from making an ascent of the Gran Paradiso, then we’ll attempt one of the following other 4000m peaks instead: Allalinhorn, Breithorn, Pyramide Vincente.
Descend to the valley in the evening and drive back to Chamonix – course debrief and advice for the future.
Return travel should be arranged on Saturday morning, after your final nights accommodation
Early departures – if you choose to depart on Friday night, please leave plenty of time for repacking and airport transfer. You will typically be back at the hotel by 4-5pm at the latest, so choose a flight departing Geneva after 9-10pm.
We base ourselves for the week in the famous French resort of Chamonix, in the shadow of Mont Blanc. Chamonix is one of the most famous Alpine centres in the world, with an unparalleled range of quality climbing across all grades and styles, and much of it with convenient cablecar access. The most common way to reach Chamonix is fly to Geneva, then take a shared taxi transfer to the Chamonix valley – transfers will drop off at the destination of your choice, but must be booked in advance.
Flight and transfers
- Fly to Geneva with numerous budget airlines: for an overview of the best options check out the excellent Sky Scanner flight comparison website.
- Airport transfer from Geneva to Chamonix: Mountain Drop-offs offer the best all round service, with regular reliable transfers through the season. They offer a shared minibus taxi service which meets you in the airport and drops you off at the door of your hotel. Book your transfer here and use promo code ALPGUID to receive a discount on your journey.
- Alternatively hire a car at Geneva airport (1.2 hrs drive to Cham): www.arguscarhire.com / www.holidayautos.co.uk
For flights and other travel options, including train, coach and driving, visit our Travel Planning page.
Alpine Mountaineering is an endurance sport – ie to get to the summit involves climbing uphill for several hours. Therefore, your fitness and power to weight ratio are very important factors for success. Another important factor is altitude, which people react to in different ways and finally, you need the appropriate technical climbing ability for the trip – please check that you have the correct fitness and tech levels for your trip using the Tech Level and Fitness Level descriptions below.
This is a key factor – you must be at the minimum Fitness Level quoted for your course (see descriptions below). However, the fitter you are the more you will enjoy it and the greater your chances of success. Being fit also helps you to recover more quickly between climbs during the week.
Your power to weight ratio
What shape you are has a big impact on your likelihood of success! Eg are you slim and athletic, a normal build, a bit overweight, or 1-2 stone or more overweight? If you are a stone overweight (7-8kg/15lb) , then you will find the trip a lot harder and if you don’t have a solid background in endurance sports, you are likely to struggle. In our experience, if you are more than 12kg/25lb overweight, you may manage some shorter climbs or easier routes with less time pressure, but you stand almost no chance of completing a major alpine summit where speed of ascent is critical for safety. So if you know you need to lose a bit of weight, then start right away and you’ll reap the rewards!
Your personal acclimatization rate
All of our alpine trips involve an acclimatization climb at the start of the week, but everyone responds to altitude in different ways and personal speeds of acclimatization vary widely between individuals. Past experience is a fair indicator – so if you have coped Ok at altitude before eg. on a previous alpine trip, Kilimanjaro, or on a high altitude trek, then this should be good news. Conversely, if you have had problems or been slow to acclimatize before, then you definitely need to come out early, in order to pre acclimatize before the week starts – please contact us for further advice about this.
If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our training advice page.
Please make a self assessment against these levels, and refer to the trip suitability requirements.
Tech Level 1
Hillwalker/scrambler. You have UK hillwalking and perhaps summer UK scrambling, or European via ferrata experience – but no rock or ice climbing, or previous alpine mountaineering experience.
Tech level 2
Novice climber. Indoor or outdoor sport climbing experience / seconding traditionally protected climbs at V Diff – Severe standard / winter hillwalking or mountaineering using an ice axe and crampons / alpine glacier treks or alpine peaks to F standard.
Tech Level 3
Intermediate climber. Leading single or multi pitch trad rock climbs at Severe – VS / ice climbing experience seconding routes to Scottish grade 2 – 3 / familiar with multipitch abseil descents / alpine peaks at PD – easy AD standard.
Tech Level 4
Experienced climber. Leading multi pitch trad rock climbs at VS – HVS / multi pitch winter climbs to Scottish grade 4 / alpine peaks at AD – D standard. If you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have extensive experience seconding at this standard.
Tech Level 5
Very experienced climber. Regularly lead multipitch E1+ trad rock / ice and mixed routes at Scottish 5+ or WI5 / alpine routes at grade D and above. If you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have very extensive experience climbing at this level.
Please make a self assessment against these levels, and refer to the trip requirements. These are cardiovascular (CV) fitness and activity levels eg. running, cycling, hillwalking or competitive sports that get your heart and lungs working for extended periods of time (not strength training in the gym!).
Fitness Level 1
You do 1-2 hours of training/cardiovascular sport per week. Eg: you should be able to climb Snowdon from Pen y Pas in around 2 hrs carrying a day sack, or Bow Fell starting from Langdale in the Lake District in about 2 1/2 hrs.
Fitness Level 2
You do 2-3 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you should be happy doing either a 3-4 hour hillwalk, cycling 30-40 miles or mountain biking 2-3 hours without being exhausted. Eg: you should be able to walk from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales up Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Y Garn – Ogwen in ~5hrs. Or in the Lake District Langdale – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Langdale in ~ 6hrs.
Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hour hillwalk, 50 mile cycle or 3-4hr mountain bike ride without being totally exhausted. If you are into challenges – then the thought of doing a road sportive, or training to do a 1/2 (or maybe even a full) marathon, wouldn’t seem too ridiculous. Eg: you should be able to do the full Langdale Horseshoe: Langdale – Pike of Stickle – Angle Tarn – Bow Fell – Crinkle Crags – Pike of Blisco – Langdale in a day without finishing up exhausted.
Fitness Level 4
You do 4+ hours CV training/sport per week. A 70+ mile cycle ride, or 20+ mile hillwalk on a weekend would hold no fears. If so inclined, you might be the kind of person who has done longer road sportives/challenge rides, a ~3.30hr marathon or other similar endurance events. Keen hillwalkers who happily knock off 3-4+ munros in a day also have this kind of fitness and endurance.
Fitness Level 5
You do 5-6+ hours training for competitive sport per week, have a background in the same, or you are annoyingly talented! Either way, doing a 100 ml bike ride or about a 3hr marathon wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Summer Alpine Kit List
Above all, alpine climbing kit needs to do the job, but be as light as possible. We work with various manufacturers including Arc’teryx, whose products we can thoroughly recommend.
- Waterproof jacket – lightweight breathable model
- Overtrousers – with long side zips
- Socks – warm ‘Smartwool’ type, plus thin liner socks and spares
- Gaiters – made from breathable material (or trim fitting trousers with ankle volume adjuster)
- Wicking thermal tops – long sleeved and light colour is ideal!
- Fleece mid layer – or equivalent light insulating layer
- Mountain trousers – light/mid-weight windproof softshell model
- Thin gloves – windproof ‘hardfleece’ model is good
- Warm insulated gloves – wind and waterproof
- Warm hat – must fit under a helmet
- Spare warm layer – fleece or lightweight synthetic belay jacket
- Water Container – at least 1 litre
- Headtorch and batteries
- Map, compass and whistle (optional, but a good idea)
- Personal medications and blister kit – zinc oxide tape, compeed, painkillers etc
- Sun Glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Goggles – for windy/snowy conditions
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Sun hat
- Wallet and passport
- Alpine Club/BMC card (if you are a member) and insurance docs
Hut Overnight Items
- Small wash kit
- Spare lightweight t-shirt/socks/pants
- Silk sheet sleeping bag liner
- Ear plugs
- (Hut slippers for indoor use, and blankets/duvets and pillows are provided by the huts)
- Rucsac – 35/45l is perfect for general use
- Rucsac – superlight 15/20l model, for taking on long multi-pitch rock routes (for technical courses/private guiding)
- *Rigid mountaineering boots – Axe, Boot and Crampon advice
- Rock boots – must be comfortable enough to wear for several hours (can be hired in resort if nec)
- Approach shoes or trainers
- Trekking poles
- Harness, locking karabiner and belay device
- 2 prussik loops + karabiner – if in doubt, bring 3m of 6mm climbing cord!
- 120cm sling + locking karabiner
- Climbing helmet
- Crampons with antiball plates
- Ice Axe classic type for intro and general mountaineering courses
- Technical Ice Axe and Hammer – required for parts of the Tech Alpine/Cham Alpinist/Ice and Mixed/North Faces courses
Your guide will have ropes, climbing rack, first aid and survival equipment.
*Boots: These are VERY important to the success of your trip! Its best to have your own boots and break them in well before the start of the trip – see advice below.
Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website or our blog for equipment advice. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!
Backcountry UK in Ilkley offer an excellent mountain boot fitting service and general equipment advice.
Please see our Equipment Hire page for more details.
For this trip you must have specialist travel insurance providing medical, emergency search/rescue and repatriation cover for the following activities: rock climbing and mountaineering in glaciated areas requiring the use of ropes, up to 5000m altitude. We also strongly recommend that you purchase cancellation cover, in case you’re unable to attend your trip due to personal circumstances or injury.
Please arrange your insurance as soon as your trip is confirmed to run.
Insurance for UK residents
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives you reciprocal health care in European countries. You can apply for an EHIC card online here or from most Post Offices. You need an EHIC in addition to your travel insurance.
European residents (non-UK)
Austrian Alpine Club. Available to all European residents. AAC insurance is cheap and works ok for minor accidents and rescues, but is not as comprehensive as many other insurance providers. The medical cover included would not be enough for complex treatment or a prolonged stay in hospital. It also doesn’t include cancellation cover. If you choose to use AAC we recommend you take out extra medical cover with another provider, to ‘top up’ the AAC medical limit, as well as a separate cancellation policy.
Travelex. For US citizens – a range of policies with comprehensive cover.
For any nationality
Global Rescue. Cover offered to all nationalities via a combination of GR membership and their separate insurance policy.
If you choose an alternative provider, or if there is any doubt about the scope of your chosen policy we recommend that you send your insurer the link to the relevant Alpine Guides trip webpage, and ask them if cover extends to those activities and has the required components (search/rescue, medical, repatriation and cancellation). It’s worth mentioning that rescue and medical expenses in Switzerland can be significantly more expensive than in other countries, so a decent level of cover is required for Swiss tours.
We recommend that you send us your insurance details before the trip commences, and they must be brought to the course briefing at the start of your trip. However, we cannot check the detail of every individual policy, and it is your own responsibility to ensure you are adequately insured.