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Fitness & Experience Required

All Alpine Climbing and Skiing is physically demanding and we'd like to be sure you have a suitable level of fitness and ability before arrive in the Alps. A course that is too hard will be less enjoyable for you, and possibly less safe - tired legs are more likely to trip over. Most weeks are planned with an easier "rest" day mid-week, but doing a full 6 day week in the Alps is always tiring - turning up fit means you can do more, and enjoy it more!

Running, cycling and gym sessions (in fact, any regular sport) all provide good fitness training for summer alpine courses, but it's hard to beat good days out in the hills. If you don't have easy access to hills, your gym training will need to be carefully planned - mountain days are long, low-intensity exercise, which is hard to replicate in short gym sessions. Strength exercises (squats, step-ups, stair-climbing with a rucksack) are gaining favour over speed exercises (running, spinning)

If you have doubts about your fitness or ability, or would like more detail about the level needed or how to prepare for your trip, please ask before you book and we will try to help. We also run preparation weekends in the UK which would give a good test of fitness, with time to improve before going to the Alps.

Alpine Mountaineering Holidays and Courses

  • Introduction to Alpine Mountaineering: Experience using axe and crampons is helpful but not essential - essential skills are taught from beginner level. Roped climbing experience is not required but good fitness is necessary to enjoy these courses. Alpine hut approaches can involve 1000m ascents or more, and summit days can be up to 10 hours and 1200m of ascent, but there will be easier days in the week. You should be comfortable with UK hill walking fitness, carrying up to 10kg rucksack, and have a good head for exposure - classic UK ridges like Striding Edge on Helvelyn, or Crib Goch on Snowdon.
    To gain experience in the UK before coming to the Alps we highly recommend Moran Mountains' Winter Mountaineer and Skye Mountaineer courses, or our own Preparation weekends
  • Alpine Progression, Progression PLUS These weeks are aimed at people who've done some Alpine climbing (at least PD grade) but also suit people with UK winter (grade 2/3 min) and rock climbing experience. You don't need to have completed an Intro course first! There's time for instruction too - tell your guide what you want to learn.
    Fitness is important. Many hut approaches will involve 1200m ascents as the Valais doesn't have the easy lift-access of Chamonix. The Dent Blanche hut walk is 1600m ascent!
  • Grandes Courses,

    You will have already climbed Alpine AD routes or similar in other areas, so should be familiar with the effort involved!

  • Oberland Odyssey: This week aims to head into the Oberland for 5 days travelling hut-to-hut. That means carrying a bit more weight and linking a lot of days in a row - hard work! Typical routes are PD or harder (Finsteraarhorn, Gross Grunhorn - PD but very long!, etc) with lots of possible itineraries.
    Fitness levels should be similar to Alpine Progression courses.
  • Mont Blanc & Monte Rosa Dufourspitz: Often under-estimated, the 2 highest peaks in the Alps both need good crampon skills and some airy scrambling. They are definitely NOT walking peaks. Whilst people sometimes climb Mont Blanc as their first Alpine peak, it's much better if you have some experience with crampons and UK scrambling. Our UK preparation weekends will give you a good head-start. Monte Rosa is the harder of the 2 as the tricky bit although short is at the top, above 4300m. Careful acclimatising is important for both peaks so the first 3 days are planned in huts with 1 or 2 summits, whilst saving energy for the big summit. There's always a BIG day on these courses - 1700m+ ascent - hard work at altitude.
  • Matterhorn, Eiger, North Faces You should already have some Alpine experience, but UK winter grade 3/4 and rock grade Very Severe wouldn't be out of the question. Fitness is crucial. Eiger/Matterhorn routes involve pulling on fixed ropes so arm strength helps - work on this if you're not a rock climber! Both peaks involve lots of down-climbing (an over-looked skill in the UK as we can walk off most climbs) Train by linking scrambles up and down, or by going to Skye where there's no choice! It's usual to have timed "cut-off" points on the Matterhorn - 2.5 hours to Solvay for example. This comes from guiding experience on the route, and is a very good pointer to overall time on the route. The old adage that "the summit is only halfway" is very true on the Matterhorn - in fact it often takes longer to get back down so having some reserve fitness is vital. North Faces weeks often mean carrying extra weight - 2 axes, warm clothes, etc. Strong calves help when front-pointing!

Off Piste Skiing and Ski Touring

For our ski tours and ski touring courses (intro and intermediate) we recommend you have a good general fitness level as a starting point (involving regular cardiovascular exercise e.g. hill walking, running, cycling). It's worth adding some strength exercises too - squats with weights, 1-leg squats, step-ups, etc) Strong muscles (and good technique) are crucial to avoiding injury - and you'll have more fun skiing.

  • For the Steeper Skiing weeks you should be comfortable making 1000m of ascent per day at 400m/hour and able to confidently ski at least 40 degree slopes off piste.
  • For the Ski Mont Blanc week, you should be able to spend long days on the move (the summit day is 1800m ascent, around 7 hours uphill) and be confident and experienced off piste skier. Some mountaineering experience is useful - we will need crampons and an ice axe.
  • The Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route involves long (7 hours) consecutive days in the mountains (up to 1000m per day of ascent) including off piste skiing with a rucksack. The first day (Grands Montets-Trient) is long and at altitude. You should be a strong off-piste skier (confident black pistes) with some experience of touring. It's worth taking modern, lightweight skis, bindings and boots. The extra kilos may feel fine on day one but you'll curse them on day 3!
  • The Winter Room Haute Route often involves trail breaking in deep snow and some fairly big days - between 1000 and 1500m vertical ascent every day in 2013. It's much harder work than a "normal" Haute Route, as we'll be carrying 3 days food for huts (10-15kg rucksack) Expect colder weather, no tracks, arriving at cold huts and having to melt snow and cook food, etc. A trip for the adventurous!

Ice Climbing Courses

  • Introductory courses: No prior climbing experience is required but a good level of general fitness is recommended. Some prior rock climbing experience is useful. Ice climbing needs some upper body strength, and calves can take a beating when front-pointing(!)
  • Progression courses: You should have done some ice and/or rock climbing before - either an Introductory course or have climbed grade 4 as a "second". No leading experience is required. Again, a good general level of fitness is recommended. A great follow on from our Introductory course. but there's scope to climb WI 5/6 routes if you want to.