In general the European Alps are civilized. By civilized, I mean that it’s not uncommon to find a café / bar / restaurant nestled at 10,000 feet in the mountains, accessible not by hiking, but cable car. You might see people drinking a few beers, smoking a cigarette, and eating a off a cheese plate. I’m not going to lie, its pretty cool – minus the cigarettes. I like drinking coffee in a warm café surrounded by mountains and French chatter.
But let’s get real, most of us are not going to the mountains for civilization. For me, its the opposite of sitting at my office. As cliché as it may be, I go to feel wild, uninhibited, free of e-mails, computer screens, and the daily pressures that come along with working in an office. If you’re reading this you very likely understand that I want to trade these things for a different type of discomfort. I want to get a little cold , tired, dirty, feel insignificant, and put life back into perspective.
Chamonix has a brief off-season where you can accomplish all of the above. There’s too much melt to properly ski, but also too much snow to bring in the masses of hikers. The valley is calm and the trails are virtually free of traffic. If you’re not going to Chamonix for peak shredding or summer hikes, but instead to play in the big mountains without the crowds, cigarettes, and general civilized mountain atmosphere, then around April 20 to May 1 is the time to make your trip. Oh yeah, and the busses in the valley are free during this period. Not to mention, there is a legitimate place to get a burrito in the valley (this is a tough find in Europe).
Of course, there are a few caveats. The trails are no longer marked, so you need to plan ahead and know where you are going. Portions of the trail are covered in snow and it can be a pain to navigate, but again, no crowds. No people at all actually. If a relaxed visit to Chamonix has been in your purview, shoot us a message and we can help you out with all of the specifics.
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Here’s a few shots from our off-season trip.