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Pssst! Here’s a Secret about the Alps

Pssst! Here’s a Secret about the Alps

Mar 27, 2014

To everything thing– turn, turn, turn, there is a season—turn, turn, turn.

I am a sucker for some pretty clichéd folk songs, including that one from Pete Seeger. (Probably in large part due to having gone to a summer camp run by Pete’s brother, John.)

Pete had weightier things on his mind when he wrote that song, but the same premise is true of places and pursuits. Each place has its ideal time for a given pursuit. Often, these are not the ones known to the casual observer. The Northwest is famous for its rainy spells, but summers can be consistently dry and beautiful. Here in the Northeast, us locals know the best time for skiing is… April? You bet!

When it comes to trail running in the Alps, here’s a secret: September is awesome.*

Like all mountain ranges, the weather in the Alps can be mercurial. A few days of cloud-lashed summits and unsettled weather can be part of the game in any big mountain range. Those lush meadows don’t appear from blue skies alone, after all.

Most visitors come in July or August. School’s out and jobs have quieted down. It’s vacation season and it’s a great time to be in the Alps. But, for those who can afford a bit for flexibility, here’s a tip: the last week of August and all of September in the Alps is awesome. Fair weather prevails.  Temperatures moderate. The villages are quieter. Up high, a trace of snow can come and go. Annual Désalpes celebrations are taking place, with elaborately-decorated cows traipsing down to their winter accommodations.

Désalpe: It's a good day to be a cow.
Désalpe: It’s a good day to be a cow.Image courtesy of

For those who can make the dates work, we’ve pulled together a great fall trail running trip, featuring a variety of areas and events. It offers some of my very favorite Alp trail running, including:

*Grindelwald, with access to a dozen or more really stunning runs throughout the Bernese Oberland, including the high-elevation Eiger Ultra route, the run from Meiringen to Grosse Scheidegg, and Stechelberg to well, any direction you can run! We’ll watch the world-famous Jungfrau Marathon, too.

*Zermatt, with its iconic view of the Matterhorn, neighboring 4,000-meter peaks, and no shortage of trails. And, when we’re there, the car-free village should be much calmer than in August!

Dan Patitucci runs the Hardergrat. A portion of this run could be
on the agenda! Photo courtesy of PatitcucciPhoto.

*Champéry, my adopted village in the Valais, so I’m biased. Quiet, on the border with France, and filled with great running through the pastures below the Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches ranges. A hut, with fresh bread and cheese for lunch, or a fresh blueberry tart, is never far away!

*The Trail DM Ultra. Whether you’re running the entire event, running the relay, or just taking in the scene along the course, this is one of my favorite races. Here’s why.

If it snows more than a half-inch on the tour, I owe everyone a café au lait. If it doesn’t rain a drop, and the weather’s beautiful, well, then, I’ll be perfectly happy raising wine glasses to a great trip, and I promise not to say, “I told you so!”

Full tour details are right here.

*Troy, from Alpinehikers, points out that June is pretty fabulous, too, and I have to agree. Long days, wildflowers everywhere, and big waterfalls make it a pretty special month, too!

Doug Mayer
Doug Mayer is the founder of Run the Alps and lives in Chamonix, France with his labradoodle, Izzy. He is the author of The Race that Changed Running: The Inside Story of UTMB and writes for Outside Online and Ultrasignup News. His upcoming book is a graphic novel about Italy’s 330km long Tor des Géants trail race.