Chamonix in winter – what to wear
Some practical ideas for when you’re not on the mountain…
I’ve been asked a few times recently for advice about what clothes to bring, so here’s what I came up with – practical suggestions, things that I’ve found useful to have.
How cold does it get?
Although the town itself is quite low (1000m) , temperatures in winter can range from +10 °C to -25 °C so it’s best to be well prepared, especially in January and February.
Though it’s well worn advice, layering really is the best idea as you may need to put everything on at once if it gets really cold. Wool and silk are much better than cotton – warmer, and dry faster
Do I need smart clothes?
It’s a very informal atmosphere and, whilst I’ve seen everything in the restaurants from eveningwear to clothes that have clearly seen a week’s ski touring without being removed, most people are happily somewhere in the middle. If you do fancy getting dressed up, there are some nice places to go for a smart night out, but on the whole, it’s a casual place, nothing like the ritzier end of ski towns like St Moritz or even Zermatt, and jeans are ok everywhere.
It’s really useful to have some waterproof boots with good treads as the pavements can get icy, snowy or slushy. The classics are the Canadian boots Sorel Caribou – available for men and women, fleece lined, warm, waterproof and should last a lifetime if well looked after. Very popular in Chamonix…..also last winter I saw a Vogue journalist wearing them in Soho when London got snowy! These pictured are a collaboration with Parisian boutique Colette – tres chic…
Sorel also make a range of boots if the Caribou isn’t right for you – I have the high, faux-fur-trimmed Sorel Arctic myself.
Merrel and Timberland are also good bets, or of course any hiking boot – DMs are also fine The main thing is to have something waterproof and grippy – if you’ve only got trainers, you may find even a short walk to the bar leaves you with wet and freezing feet.
You can also get very good clip on grips for boots to make them better in the snow. Most sports shops in Chamonix will sell them, (Chaines à chaussures) or buy them before you go, they are widely available.
Wool socks are also really handy and will keep your feet much, much warmer than cotton – I especially recommend merino such as Smartwool and Icebreaker.
Finally don’t forget the humble slipper! Skiing, snowboarding and walking in big boots are all tough on the feet, and it’s wonderful to get into warm, soft slippers to slop about at the end of the day. A small, light luxury to pack that makes a big difference. Ugg do lovely sheepskin ones ( at rather supermodel-esque prices it must be said), or go mountain style with tent mules from The North Face.
A warm coat is a must – most people will of course have a warm ski or snowboard jacket, but if you aren’t skiing, you will need to take something quite substantial. Places are generally kept warm inside, so a thick scarf and warm hat will keep you protected from the elements without overheating you once you’re in. If you feel you need more warm hats, it’s a good place to get them! Zero G is my favourite shop for this. Scarves are something I feel is better from home, but Buffs are nice and available everywhere.
It’s really nice to bring some extra gloves for going out in, too. You’ll almost certainly need them and it’s good to have a change from wearing the gloves you’ve been skiing in all day, which may well be drying on a radiator anyway.
Jeans are fine, though it’s not a bad idea to have a thin pair of long johns to wear under jeans or as leggings under a skirt. Corduroy can be a bit warmer and is a good choice.
Thermal layers can make all the difference to your comfort – lending normal clothes the extra you need to keep you warm in a cold Alpine winter. I really recommend a warm underlayer – Howies, Icebreaker and Smartwool all make nice tshirts in thin merino.
Icebreaker also do very pretty camisole vests which I find invaluable – you can wear them under most things to keep you warm. Decathlon in Chamonix do inexpensive merino, and Icebreaker have regular sales which help reduce their rather eye watering prices. Good merino is an excellent investment though, and my faithful Icebreaker camis have served me well for years, whether mountaineering in the Himalayas or at winter weddings in Britain.
However, Uniqlo‘s HeatTech range, though not made as well, is really good for the price and makes an excellent inexpensive option – their quilted jackets are another good buy, a great range of nice colours at a tenth of the price of down.
If you did want to go an bit more fashion…
For something a bit more niche and interesting, check out Arcteryx’s Veillance line or Japan’s White Mountaineering.
If you’re not taking to the slopes, a pair of walking poles are very useful, both for general use in slippery conditions, and for the winter walking trails. Collapsible ones are handy but not essential; ski poles are fine. They can easily be hired or bought in Chamonix if you prefer. A more traditional option is a carved wooden walking pole – these are surprisingly inexpensive (starting at less than ten euros) and make fun souvenirs too.
Finally don’t neglect your skin – the dry, cold air and strong, reflected sunlight can be hard on it. Bring rich moisturiser and sunscreen – you can buy this easily in Chamonix but it’s hard to find cruelty-free brands so if this is important to you, it’s best to bring your own. Good quality handcream is also highly recommended.