© Jez Wilson
The lifts are preparing to open and the Christmas holidays are on the horizon.
We can expect sports competitions, opening parties, and there will obviously also be lots of festive celebrations including a visit from a certain Papa Noël. As you're no doubt aware, most things in December revolve around the last two weeks of the month, schools break up and travellers from near and far descend on the valley. There are a plethora of events coming up, from parades to special Christmas menus and New Year's blowouts.
Read on for a look at what we like to do in resort throughout December.
What are the weather and snow conditions like?
Whilst there will be snow up the mountains, a white Christmas is never a guarantee in the town itself. However, it's definitely cold with temperatures averaging from -3°C to 5°C, with around 10-11 days of snowfall. Make sure thermals are on your Christmas list.
What's on in Chamonix in December?
At this time of the year a Christmas market pops up in the centre of town with stalls in small wooden huts, selling wares of all kinds, plus food and drinks. A perfect spot to pick up a last minute gift, or something to take home. You can browse local, handmade gifts, jewellery, soaps and a lot more while you indulge in some vin chaud or a local beer. Open from mid-December until the new year.
Christmas in Chamonix
With so many families visiting the Chamonix valley for the festive season, there is a real child-like excitement as the big day draws ever closer, and usually there's an opportunity to spot the main man himself meeting and greeting people around the town. There is normally a parade through the streets of Chamonix with Papa Noël followed by the local school children, held around the last day of term when the streets lights are turned on and it's hard to ignore that Christmas is nearly here.
To prepare you for your French Christmas, here are a few festive facts that make the French Santa Claus a little different:
- Rather than a red hat, Père Noël wears a red cloak with a hood trimmed in white fur - a small difference easily unnoticed.
- Children do not wake up to presents under the tree on Christmas morning, because traditionally le Père Noël brings toys to good little boys and girls after evening Mass on Christmas Eve.
- Children do not leave milk and cookies for Papa Noël, but at the very least they'll leave him a glass of Calvados or wine.
- Children do not hang stockings, but rather leave their shoes and slippers out and if they have been good Père Noël will fill them with treats.
- Children in France behave around the holidays out of fear of Le Père Fouettard, who follows Père Noël to discipline naughty children.
Whilst Chamonix is full of great après-ski spots, the mother of all that is La Folie Douce, who opened their first hotel in Chamonix at the foot of the Brévent slopes, and this winter they will no doubt throw as crazy a night as ever. Four restaurants and their signature après-ski parties, complete with champagne spraying, live DJs and performers, will draw the crowds to their terraces overlooking the Mont-Blanc range this winter.
The local Chamonix ice hockey team, Les Pionniers, play in France's first division, the Magnus League. Head down to the ice rink by the sports centre to cheer on our players. Allez Les Pionniers!
School holiday skiing
The Compagnie du Mont Blanc usually schedules a partial opening of the ski areas in the Chamonix valley around the middle of the month, with full opening planned by Christmas. Of course, this absolutely depends on snow conditions, so keep an eye on our news page and social media as we'll let you know as soon as there's any new information.
Christmas and New Year is a popular time for families so the slopes are noticeably busier as soon as the holidays begin. Fortunately, the Chamonix valley ski area is so vast, that even in high season you can find quiet slopes and minimal lift queues. Here are our insider's top tips for the school holidays:
- It will be almost impossible to book private lessons over this period, group lessons are the best option. Make sure to get your ski and snowboard lessons booked well in advance to avoid disappointment.
- If you're not in ski school, be an early bird. Arrive at the lifts before they open so that you get up and away before the ski school classes set out around 09:15.
- Ski over lunchtime. The slopes are calmer between 12:00 and 14:00 while the French take a leisurely lunch break.
- Pre-book your lunch and avoid the queues. Some restaurants offer a Click & Collect service. It's the best way to avoid the queues and make the most of your time in the mountains.
- Seek out the peripheral areas. Try to avoid the busy main ski areas closer to Chamonix town, mainly Brévent and Flégère, and head to the edges of the valley as Le Balme / Vallorcine and Les Houches may be a bit quieter. If you have a Mont-Blanc Natural Unlimited pass, remember that you can also head across the border into Italy and ski in Courmayeur.
- Get off-piste. Competent off-piste skiers can book a local mountain guide and explore the vast off-piste areas in the valley or even go touring to find complete solitude in the backcountry.
Things to do in Chamonix
Christmas is synonymous with school holidays. As hundreds of children and their families descend on the pistes, the Chamonix valley puts on a show for them. There are lots of activities to keep the little ones entertained on and off the mountain. Les Houches, the most family-friendly of all the resorts in the valley, has paret sledging – a traditional wooden sledge – once a week after the lifts have closed.
Want to maximise slope time? Then head over to Le Tourchet beginners ski area in Les Houches, for some night skiing – the two drag lifts are open one evening a week and the pistes will be floodlit. Over in Chamonix, Les Planards nursery slope will be open one night a week. It’s a great chance for beginners to get some extra practice or for skiers and boarders to do a swap evening, which always results in some hilarious spills. There will also be hot drinks on offer and music blasting through giant speakers.
If skiing on the flat is more to your tastes, every Thursday evening the cross-country Nordic piste in Chamonix opens up for some night time ski de fond.
Bars and clubs
If, like a lot of people, you like to follow several hours of exercise with several hours of drinking, especially during the festive season, you can hit up any of a number of local après-ski sessions. Down at the bottom of the Brévent slopes, you'll find world-famous La Folie Douce, or head to Rue du Moulin for a range of eateries and bars, or to Cham Sud where you'll find bars offering great music, delicious food and happy hours. For late-night entertainment, the clubs hold special nights on most days of the week.
New Year's Eve
Always a big night in Chamonix, the town is full of revellers who tend to congregate in Place Balmat for the countdown to midnight, some fireworks and popping of Champagne corks. The restaurants will be busy, so it would be best to make a reservation to ensure you can get a table, and many of the bars and clubs are ticket-only, so if there's somewhere you plan to see the New Year in, make sure you've planned ahead.