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 course offers a full 6 days of training and climbing and has been carefully designed to teach the skills needed for safe travel on glaciated alpine terrain. The week builds to making an ascent of a classic first alpine 4000m peak, which makes a perfect climax to the trip.
Who is this course for?
If you’d like to begin your Alpine mountaineering career, but you haven’t used an ice axe and crampons, or done any rock climbing or belaying before, then this is the trip for you!
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, and also to showcase 2 very different parts of the Alps, providing variety and helping to expand your knowledge of the area. Firstly, Chamonix is a perfect base to facilitate our training, with its superb variety of granite peaks and rapid cable car access, allowing us to pack each day with summits and skills. Then, at the end of the week we visit either the Swiss Val d’Anniviers, or the Italian Gran Paradiso National Park. Both are beautiful areas renowned for their wildlife, quiet valleys and friendly huts. Here, we put everything into practice by making an ascent of a classic alpine 4000m peak as an excellent finale to the course.
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 walking 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, as is plenty of enthusiasm and willingness to learn some new skills! If you’d like to practice some skills in the UK before the trip, then take a look at our Lake District scrambling course and North Wales scrambling course, which both make for an ideal warm up.
- Full 6 day program
- Suitable for beginners
- Valley accommodation options
- Equipment hire included
- Climb your 1st 4000m peak!
Read our choosing an alpine climbing course article for help choosing the right skills course.
If you don’t see your preferred dates on our schedule, please get in touch to discuss your requirements – other departure dates may be available, given sufficient notice.
NB – courses taking place in the first week of September will have an amended timings. They will meet on Sunday night, and climb Monday to Saturday – thereby avoiding the busy Mont Blanc Ultra Trail weekend in Chamonix at the end of August.
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: 35L backpack, 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 quad) sharing basis, but if you prefer a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.
This course is also available without valley accommodation – so you can choose your own hotel/gite/camp to suit your budget (course price £1295, including guide fees/expenses, local travel and hut fees).
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.
Please Note: there are numerous different huts in the region and we frequently vary our itineraries to suit conditions and hut opening times etc – eg we may start the week based at the Orny Hut on Sunday and Monday nights instead of the Albert Premier Hut, then move on to the Trient Hut on Tuesday as described below. We cover the same skills and training on each course.
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 may 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 either the Swiss Val d’Anniviers (for ascent of the Bishorn) or the Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy (for ascent of the Gran Paradiso) and walk up to an alpine hut for the night.
Evening briefing – planning for the following days’ ascent.
Ascent of Bishorn (4151m) – via the classic northwest flank route.
Leaving the Tracuit Hut at dawn, we head to the edge of the glacier and don ropes and crampons in order to traverse the Turtmann Glacier to it’s far side. Here the angle increases and we climb the still glaciated northwest flank, negotiating various crevasses along the way, to a snowy col at 4100m. The final stretch climbs up the snowy east ridge to the summit.
The views from summit of the Bishorn are superb, with the mighty Weisshorn nearby and a sea of 4000ers in the Valais and Bernese Oberland, before starting the long descent back to the valley.
Alternative 4000m Summits – if weather or conditions prevent us from making an ascent of the Bishorn, then we’ll attempt one of the following other 4000m peaks instead: Allalinhorn, Breithorn.
Ascent of Gran Paradiso (4061m) – 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 great 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.
To enjoy this trip you should be comfortable operating at Fitness Level 2, and Tech Level 1 (as appropriate for the style of climbing on this trip ie Alpine, rock climbing or ice climbing).
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.
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.
To view all climbing Technical and Fitness Levels, and for advice on trip preparation and training, please visit our training advice page.
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.
- Wicking thermal top – long sleeved and light colour is ideal!
- Softshell Jacket – mid weight, wind resistant, light insulating layer (or a mid weight fleece jacket)
- Spare warm layer – lightweight synthetic/down jacket or other warm layer
- Waterproof jacket – lightweight breathable model
- Mountain trousers – light/mid-weight windproof softshell 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)
- Thin gloves – windproof ‘hardfleece’ model is good
- Warm insulated gloves – wind and waterproof
- Warm hat – must fit under a helmet
- 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 climbing shoes – 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 Otley offer an excellent walking 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 climbing and mountaineering activities as outlined in the course itinerary. 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.
Please find further details on our insurance info page.