The Southern Alps are home to some of Europe’s most beautiful ice climbing sites. From the Ecrins to Queyras, from beginners options to challenging routes, climbing these frozen waterfalls will immerse you into the heart of the winter in the mountains.
Historically, ice climbing was merely part of a rock climbing or mountaineering adventure. But over the years, the discipline truly developed. Nowadays, ice climbing can be a wonderful activity in itself. Keep reading to know more about our selection of the best ice climbing spots in the Southern French Alps!
1| Aiguille falls, at Queyras
In the charming village of Aiguilles we find a vast artificial icefall. It is well maintained and the difficulty level is maximum 4+, making it ideal for beginners who wish to have their first ice climbing experience. There are many available routes, some of them easy enough for you not to take much time mastering the climbing, anchoring and belaying techniques. And the area has artificial lighting in the evening, until 11 PM!
Starting point: Aiguilles
How to get there: There are 3 airports at a short distance: Marseille Provence (3 h-drive), Turin Caselle (3 h-drive) and Grenoble (3:30 h-drive). You can also take a train to Oulx or Montdauphin.
Best period: This waterfall freezes quite early in the winter season due to its north exposure. You can climb there until late March, but with fewer routes available.
2| Ceillac falls, at Queyras
Located at the heart of the Queyras natural regional park, the Ceillac natural icefalls are reputed for their outstanding aesthetics. They are a great choice both for beginners and experienced climbers, and a renown ice climbing destination in Europe. There are many routes, including Les formes du Chaos, Sombre Héros, Y and Easy Rider. The descents are easy, either abseiling (well equipped) or via a path. Another highlight is that the falls are easily accesible by car.
Starting point: Ceillac
How to get there: There are 3 airports at a short distance: Turin Caselle (2:30 h-drive), Grenoble (3 h-drive) and Marseille (3 h-drive). You can also take a train to Montdauphin, only 30 minutes from Ceillac.
Best period: Excellent conditions are practically guaranteed throughout the winter for the Easy Rider, Y and Sombre Héros icefalls.
3| Schappe icefall, at Briançon
It takes only 10 minutes to approach this gorgeous artificial icefall. The frozen terrain of the Schappe icefalls are ideal for an initiation to ice climbing. The easy access renders them ideal for a regular practice that doesn’t have to take a full day. The icefalls are visible from the main road of the small village, although it also offers a small optional corridor.
Starting point: Briançon
How to get there: There are 4 airports at a short distance: Turin Caselle (2 h-drive), Grenoble (3 h-drive), Marseille Provence (3 h-drive) and Lyon (3 h-drive). You can also take a train to Briançon.
Best period: From December to late March.
4| Freissinières valley icefalls, at Freissinières
Located in the Southern Alps, the Freissinières valley offers several icefalls with a characteristic verticality. Here, you can look forward to enjoy breathtaking views and very aesthetic stalactites. This splendid valley is reserved for experienced climbers, who will marvel at the majestic environment. Note that although winters here are very cold, milder weather can do great damage to the icefalls.
Starting point: Freissinières
How to get there: There are 3 airports at a short distance: Turin Caselle (2 h-drive), Marseille Provence (3 h-drive) and Grenoble (3 h-drive) . You can also take a train to L’Argentière-les-Ecrins, only 15 minutes from Freissinières.
Best period: From December to March.
5| Fournel valley, at L’Argentière-la-Bessée
The Fournel valley is home to nearly a hundred icefalls. Located near L’Argentière-la-Bessée, this ice temple has many options for all levels. There are many long routes of around 200-300 meters. But keep in mind that, depending on the snow conditions, the access road is not always cleared. Therefore, the approach walk can be rather long, at least 1:30 hours for the first icefalls. The silver lining is that in that case you will find the terrain uncrowded!
Starting point: L’Argentière-la-Bessée
How to get there: There are 3 airports at a short distance: Turin Caselle (2 h-drive), Marseille Provence (3 h-drive) and Grenoble (3:30 h-drive). You can also take a train to L’Argentière.
Best period: Icefalls are formed every year from December to March. The best period is mid January, although the road can be closed, which lengthens the approach.
The Southern Alps are a fantastic option with plenty of possibilities if you are planning an ice climbing trip. There is something for all tastes and levels, always in a wonderful frozen setting.
Check out our selection of ice climbing trips in France and book your place for an exciting adventure!