(The Gear Loop) - With the clear mountain air, rocky peaks, an abundance of sunny days and the cardio vascular workout the only training at altitude can deliver, the mountains aren’t just for skiing or snowboarding during the winter months.
Whether you’re after long lunches following a demanding hike, the best spots for sport climbing or wild swimming next to a fantastic camping spot, the mountain peaks of Europe have it all.
So if you fancy swapping that fly-and-flop summer holiday for something a little more action-packed, look no further than our guide to some of the best high altitude locations for adventurous activities.
Best for climbing
San Cassiano, Italy
This tiny village set in Italy’s Alta Badia is a Mecca for climbers. The dramatic limestone of the Sass Dlacia cements San Cassiano’s reputation of having the biggest sport climbing area in the Dolomites.
With more than 200 routes on this steep and imposing crag, there are pitches with grades ranging from F5a to F8a+ with a number of bolted single and multi-pitch classics.
At the base, there’s a well-used BBQ area and of course the Alta Badia is renowned for its gastronomy - though try not to overindulge to maintain that climber’s physique.
Other great resorts for climbing: Chamonix (especially for climbers seeking instruction) and Zermatt (Matterhorn, anyone?).
Best for cycling
Maurienne Valley, France
The Haute Maurienne Vanoise, a little-known valley sandwiched between the Tarentaise and the French-Italian border, is home to a series of small ski resorts including Valloire and Val Cenis - but it also markets itself as "the largest cycling area in the world".
Within the Maurienne are 16 famous road bike climbs including the Col du Galibier, Col de la Croix de Far and Col de l’Iseran, as well as 60 mountain bike routes, a newly opened 10km e-bike trail in Valloire and some specific gravel bike routes.
All summer there are mountain bike, gravel, road and e-bike events held throughout the valley, which has a special website to help visitors make the most of it all and includes details of 80 cycling-friendly establishments, multiple bike rental shops and even a cycling-specific picnic service.
Other great mountain resorts for cycling: Aspen, Colorado (for the iconic Independence Pass) and Morzine, France (home to one of Europe’s biggest mountain bike parks).
Best for trail running
Arguably one of the best all-round mountain destinations in the world, it’s not by chance that Chamonix is a leading light in the trail-running community.
The resort, which is wedged between two steep-sided valleys served with cable cars, has its own specially designed map and accompanying app to help runners make sense of Chamonix’s hundreds of kilometres of single-track trails, climbs and huts perfect for trail running.
In late August, Chamonix hosts the week-long Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) where tens of thousands of amateur and elite runners flock to take part in seven races and around 50,000 spectators come to watch.
Other great mountain resorts for trail running: Verbier, Switzerland (21 routes launched in 2020 covering 415km) and Les 3 Vallées, France (offering the same choice of trails in summer as it does pistes in winter).
Best for hiking
Hiking is without doubt the best way to explore mountains all over the world, and the Rockies, Dolomites, Pyrénées and the Alps - to name just a few - are criss-crossed with single and multi-day hiking itineraries to for every kind of adventure and adventurer.
While it’s hard to single one out, hiking in view of the magnificent Eiger (3,967m) in Switzerland has to be right up there with some of the best.
The gateway to the Jungfrau Region, Grindelwald is the quintessential Alpine village with some 300km of summer hiking trails - and the base for climbers attempting the iconic north face of the Eiger. Grindelwald is also a good base from which to reach the Jungfraujoch (3,400m) on the new Eiger Express lift and the Lauterbrunnen Valley, which is home to a whopping 72 different waterfalls and spectacular scenery.
Other great mountain resorts for hiking: Lech, Austria (350km of marked hiking trails with BBQs set around the mountains) and Jackson Hole, Wyoming (for variety, courtesy of the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone).
Best for summer skiing
There are lots of glaciers on which to hone your ski skills during the summer, with technique camps and race training the order of the day.
If you've never tried it, summer skiing is a unique experience. Heading up the gondola to ski early each morning before the sun spoils the snow, then sunbathing by a lake or hiking the lower slopes in the afternoon.
Austria’s Hintertux Glacier is the most reliable bet for skiing 365 days a year. While it’s not the biggest, Hintertux offers steeper terrain than most glaciers. There’s around 20km of pistes from early spring to late summer.
Other great mountain resorts for summer skiing: Zermatt (the largest summer ski area in Europe, shared with Cervinia) and Tignes (unlike some glaciers, the Grande Motte is reached within minutes from town).
Best for all-round summer fun
You could argue that most mountain resorts have something for everyone, but if pushed into a corner our vote would go to Morzine.
It has one of the biggest mountain bike parks in Europe along with 600km of trails and 19 chairlifts modified to carry bikes across the Portes du Soleil.
There’s lots for kids from treetop rope adventures to a summer sledge run, and there’s white-water rafting on the Dranse river, an aquatic centre and SUP, canoeing and kayaking - as well as wild swimming - on nearby Lake Moriond. If you’re after some more adrenaline, Morzine also has a via ferrata and half a dozen paragliding schools.
Other great mountain resorts for all-round summer fun: Whistler, British Columbia (bear viewing safaris, multi-day white-water rafting) and Andermatt, Switzerland (18-hole golf course, road cycling and 500km of hiking trails).