Chamonix, France is the trail running capital of the world. Sitting at the base of Mont Blanc, this mountain town is home to the Ultra Trail du MontBlanc (UTMB), an extraordinary event that features five rugged ultramarathons, including the UTMB, TDS, CC, OCC, PTL, as well as the #YCC and the Mini UTMB. It is also the home to other races, such as the Sky Running World Championships and the Trail des Aiguilles Rouges.
Not to mention that some of the biggest names in trail and ultra running live or train in Chamonix.
A visit to Chamonix makes you realize just how big trail running (mountain running & sky running) is outside of North America–and how much growth awaits the future of this endurance sport outside Europe.
Just walking around Chamonix or from a seat at a Brasserie sipping Cafe au Lait in the Centre, you can practically feel the trail running energy surrounding you. That energy also permeates nearby towns, such as Les Houches and Les Contamines-Montjoie, and even spills into Italy’s Courmayeur on the other side of the Mont Blanc tunnel.
It seems that nearly everyone runs (or hikes) in Chamonix, including families with children, people of all ages, from the recreational level to the elite. If you’re not wearing a hydration pack or carrying trekking poles, you’re practically an oddity…well, at least before and during UTMB week.
As I sit writing this post with a stunning view of the Mont Blanc Massif, I can’t help wonder why I am at my computer and not out running with the kids. Then I remember…their little legs need a bit of a break from all of the trail running and hiking adventures we’ve had in the Alps.
Where to Run in Chamonix
You can run almost anywhere in Chamonix and in the surrounding mountain towns. Lovely yellow trail markers dot the towns and mountainside. Trails are well marked. Trail markers include time estimates for getting to destinations, so if you’re running, obviously your times will likely be faster than posted.
Right in Chamonix, there is an easy, flat route from the Centre of Chamonix to Les Praz that runs along the river for a bit (near the Sports Center) that is great for young kids. You can ask around at sport shops, your rental apartment/house owners, hotels, shop owners, information office, etc. for other route suggestions. You can also grab a Randonee Map (Carte) at a shop which shows hiking routes. You can also pick up a copy of Kingsley Jones’ book Trail Running Chamonix for other trail running route ideas.
Running to a Refuge for a snack, lunch, or ice cream is a must, especially with kids! Look for the food symbol on the yellow trail markers to know where to head toward a Refuge. Many markers will also indicate whether the Refuge is open (ouvert) or closed (ferme).
Where to Stay in Chamonix
I am a huge fan of renting apartments via Homeaway or VRBO when I travel. I’ve had mixed luck with AirBNB. If you’re traveling with kids, you can often save lots of money (especially when you rent for a longer period of time) compared to hotels, plus you get a lot more space and often very cool digs. If you’re running and working out, as is really a no brainer if you go to Chamonix, a rental also typically gives you a washer/dryer, so you can pack lighter and wash your workout clothes.
We’ve rented three different rentals via Homeaway/VRBO in the Chamonix area. One was in the heart of Chamonix. The other two in quieter mountain towns. Although Chamonix is a cool little town, with hiking and running trails accessible directly from the town. I much prefer the nearby quieter, quaint, smaller, and less touristy mountain towns.
What to Look for in a Homeaway/VRBO Rental in the Chamonix Area. A Few Considerations.
- Reviews. I always suggest going with a rental that has reviews from past guests for the best experience. Take the time to read through all of the reviews. Translate them into your language if you must.
- Rental size. Look for the size of the rental unit or ask if you don’t see it. We travel and stay comfortably in small spaces, but once I booked a rental that was unknowingly much too small to spend any time in it unless for sleeping–although it did have enough stated sleeping area for everyone.
- Deposit. Find out if you need to bring a cash deposit. This is common in France.
- Contract. Read your contract. Avoid any surprises, such as a 30 Euro late fee if you show up 15 minutes past your stated arrival time. Yep, I’ve seen it.
- Linens. Find out whether your rental includes linens and towels. One of our rentals did not include towels, and I couldn’t bring myself to pay the optional price per person/per set, so I went out and bought some microfiber sports towels (I wanted some before the trip anyway, but I didn’t expect that I’d be returning with some as a souvenir)
- Backyard space. If you’re traveling with your kids, find out if there is a yard, play area, or common space outside. I love rentals that feature a big yard and a big window, so my kids can play while I do things like fold workout laundry and write.
- Washer/Dryer. If you have a big family as I do, you may want to confirm that there is a washer and/or dryer. Some rentals do not have either, and in France, many rentals don’t have a dryer (only a drying rack). While I love line drying, sometimes it’s not practical with so many people, especially if the weather isn’t ideal for quick drying. Also, in one rental, the washer was actually a micro-sized washer and could only fit two pairs of pants at a time. Doing laundry for 6 people took forever there.
Where to Shop in Chamonix for the Latest Trends and Practical Trail Running Gear
Chamonix has several awesome trail running shops that feature some of the coolest and latest gear for trail running and racing. Stuff that has yet to be seen in North America. Three of my favorites:
Ravanel & Co. 53 Galerie Alpina, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. Features an upstairs level dedicated to trail running gear. Also features gear you need for UTMB racing. There’s a super helpful and knowledgeable French guy with a New Zealand accent who works in the trail running department.
Otavalo. 163 rue Vallot, 74400 Chamonix-Mont Blanc. A small store that specializes in trail running (and telemark). Has a good selection of trail hydration vests and cool beanies.
Snell Sports. 104 rue du Docteur Paccard, 74400 Chamonix. The largest sports store in Chamonix, located in the heart of the town. Features a variety of trail hydration vests, running shoes, and trail running accessories.
Have you visited Chamonix to run or play? What’s your favorite place, trail, shop, refuge, restaurant, etc?