Chamonix: Vallée Blanche

It’s been quiet around here except for Ethan and Peter handing you the keys to the Grand Traverse castle and a couple other random tips. Even though Taylor and I went to Japan for Christmas, I still haven’t even downloaded those photos. It’s been crazy time, but the crazy time ended when we finally got married on February 25th, and to celebrate, we headed to France to ski and drink wine.

Isn’t she pretty?

It was a long trip over with PDX -> Denver -> DC -> Paris and then a couple of trains to Chamonix. The wait was worth it. I’ve never seen such a place. It’s a verdant valley, somewhat quaint, with intimidating and tremendous mountains rising thousands of meters to both sides. Unlike other mountain towns in France, Chamonix retains some dirtbag character, and there’s a funny mix of tourists, townspeople, and outdoors folk milling around town. Every third person on the main street is an IFMGA guide, seems like.

Victim of the duration.

The size of the mountains is a bit intimidating for a couple humble Northwesterners, and we needed to gather some supplies and pack before heading out on the main event, the Haute Route (more to come on that). So, our first day in town we grabbed a reasonably good coffee and shelled out the big bucks to ride up the Aiguille du Midi, where a cable car takes you up 2800 meters in about 20 minutes; green valley floor to 12,000-foot alpine crags in the blink of an eye.

Step 1: Coffee. Sure, the place is run by an American, but real talk: the french suck at coffee.

From there, we skied out the Vallée Blanche, one of the world’s most celebrated ski descents on account of it’s sheer length (20 km) and incredible scenery. Many variations are possible, and because the valley is heavily glaciated, most go with a guide. Still, with good visibility, it’s a straightforward ski that sees a lot of traffic.

I’ll let the photos tell the story.

From the midstation on the Aiguille du Midi, the top tower starts to catch the morning light. This span is 1.78 miles.
The summit of the Aiguille is capped by Europe’s highest radio tower. It’s a bit vintage.
Right above the tunnel leading the snow a gent was already drilling bolts up the rock face. Vertical work in the vertical world.
Taylor on the observation deck, with Mt Blanc sprawling in the distance.
Even the walk down from the obs deck has a pretty airy feel.
A view into a dream trip for next time, the Passerelle couloir. Accessed by rappelling straight off of the Aiguille du Midi sky bridge.
The classic exit from the Aiguille: an arête with a slippery snow walkway and token hand rope to keep you stable over a few thousand feet of air. At the end of the walkway, you turn right for the Vallee Blanche, or turn left down the North face of the Aiguille for some insanely committing skiing.
Before leaving the Aiguille we caught sight of these folks. They turned left. Good on ya’ chaps. (I think that this is the Mallory route, and boy did it look thin.)
Down from the arête and ready to get skiing.
Do I look stoked? I feel stoked.
It was far from untracked on the way down, but weaving in and out of the crevasses and icefalls is what this route is really about.
Taylor, with max ambiance.
In midwinter, the valley skis all the way to Chamonix. The rest of the time one must climb 400-some steps up a rock face at the end of the Mer de Glace to reach a short tram that leads to the steepest damn downhill train ride I can imagine.
Soaking up the vibes at the tail of the Mer de Glace. This place is insane.
Ratcheting downhill on Le Montenvers train with a mix of skiers and disoriented tourists.
By mid-afternoon we were back at the Airbnb to pack and enjoy the other part of France that we came to sample…

That’s all for now.

Coming soon I’ll have a two-parter about our six days on the Haute Route, and after that I plan to put together a short guide post on doing a self-guided haute route trip, because that information is too damn hard to find right now.

Stay tuned!

For lightweight ski mountaineering, or just about any skiing off-piste in the alps, you’re going to need a lightweight harness. The BD Couloir harness is my choice for the mix of stupid-light and stupid-tough. Grab yourself one and support Mountain Lessons!

Category: Adventures, Travel, & WritingSkiing


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