The Vallée Blanche
The most famous off-piste ski descent in the Alps
A definite must as part of your ski holiday if staying anywhere near the Chamonix area. The 2-stage Aiguille de Midi telepherique lift takes you up to the starting point at 3700m. After taking in the amazing view and the noticeably thinner air there are many variations of descent which will suit differing abilities which can take you all the way back to Chamonix, 17km and 2800m of descent later! Quite a remarkable journey that takes 2-5 hours to complete, depending on snow conditions. The different routes have been simplified as follows:
The Classic Vallée Blanche
This journey allows reasonable piste skiers to access the very centre of this vast glaciated landscape. It’s not going to be for every one; you need to be happy skiing on red piste-ed runs and ideally have done some off-piste skiing. In particular, there is an exposed arête at the very start which you will be roped up on as you descend on foot, carrying your skis. But once you’ve got over that part and get your skis on, the slope opens out and you have this fantastic space to ski in.
The upper section of the Vallée Blanche sweeps round and down in a huge bend, so the view is constantly changing and eventually after many turns, you find yourself alongside the impressive Géant Icefall. This is the zone where the glacier tumbles down more steeply in a complex array of seracs and crevasses, and which skiers happily avoid completely by skirting round to it’s side. Finally, the journey meets the great flat section of the glacier. After perhaps a picnic lunch on a section of exposed moraine, the journey continues down the great ‘Mer de Glace’ all the way to Montenvers and the train, or if there is enough snow, you can stay on your skis (with one 1/2 hour uphill walk) all the way back to Chamonix. Arriving back in town it’ll be amazing to think back to all the places you’ve been to that day.
The Envers du Plan
For those with more off-piste skiing experience, various more direct lines can be chosen by descending the Envers du Plan glacier. At once you will find yourself skiing steeper pitches amongst crevasses! Great sections of skiing on good slopes, then importantly, following the trails that wind crucially around the holes before finding another great pitch to ski. Not something that is ever done in a whiteout or in poor weather!
But when the snow is good and there are new tracks to be made, these descents can be some of the best in the area that are obtained by mechanical uplift, and if your legs are up to it, further descents can be made in the same day making the most of your ticket!
The Italian Vallée Blanche
Across the glacier from the Aiguille du Midi is Point Helbronner which sits on the French/Italian border. There is lift access to here from the village of Entrèves on the Courmayeur side by, and in turn Courmayeur is reached via the Mont Blanc Tunnel.
From Point Helbronner are a range of options for skiing the Vallée Blanche and it also allows you to avoid the scary arête from the Midi if this perhaps is your greatest fear… The slopes you ski down look across at the Classic and the Envers and you appreciate the amazing sense of space as you sweep down these north facing slopes.
Combined with a descent of the Glacier de Toule on the Italian side, to return all the way to Chamonix by this route makes for a very memorable day.