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"Skiing Off-Piste in Chamonix" Top 5 Page for this destination Skiing Snowboarding Tip by firechick

  Aiguille du midi arrete in off-season
by firechick

I say a lot of scary things in this tip - but just so you know - my husband and I and our friends all enjoy off-piste skiing here A LOT.

Several ski areas exist in Chamonix, with great off-piste access within the ski areas themselves. These are easy places to start to get your first taste of powder if you have never skied in it before. Be aware that the Grandes Montets is popular (too popular) and gets 'tracked out' very quickly after big snows.

The famous 26km (only in good snow years - otherwise more like 15km) Vallee Blanche run starts from the top of the Aiguille du Midi and goes over the Mer de Glace to the Montenvers station (or into Chamonix in good snow years). Get a local to go with you or hire a guide to take you. You should have a rope and ice axe in addition to normal off-piste gear as this route goes over a glacier.

The Vallee Blanche is often over-crowded in peak season. But, this run is a bit of a 'must do' on people's tick lists and of course it is very unique so don't miss it if you want something different. Just be prepared to wait a lot in high season and realize you will not have the high mountains to yourself. Out of prime season it is fabulous.

Unless you are god's gift to off-piste skiing and have full-on glacier travel knowlege too (in which case you probably are not reading Virtual Tourist for tips on off-piste skiing!!), don't go down anything but the beaten path on the Vallee Blanche, especially if no one with you has also never been on anything but the classic route. Crevasses, cliffs and avalanches await those who decide to become Darwin award candidates. Go only with other experienced skiers or guides on the other tougher routes down the Vallee Blanche.

Be sensible and err on the side of caution when going off-piste. If there is a high avalanche risk posted by the mountain guides office, they are not joking about it.

Equipment: Avalanche beacon, probe, shovel etc. are required. And be sure you know how to use your gear and how to read slopes for avalanche danger. The number of idiots we have seen here who purchase these things and put them into their packs thinking that their very presence will somehow magically cause knowlege of their use to sink in by osmosis is astounding.

Ski buddies are part of your equipment too. Don't ski off-piste alone. This is not a joke - a guy who went alone in 1998 was found dead in 2000 at the bottom of a crevasse. No one knew he was there when he fell in. He just failed to show up at his hotel one night.

Every year we here stories of people who had 'epic' experiences on the Vallee Blanche. From last season: a guy went down the classic route of the Vallee Blanche one time with a group of locals and then decided he knew what he was doing. He took an inexperienced girl with him the next time he went up - to impress her. This was after a big snow and he couldn't find the same path anymore. They ended up off the classic route and in some very big crevasses. She got very scared and cried and tried to take her skis off because it was too difficult for her and she was afraid of falling into a crevasse (but that is worse as ski boots just slip on the ice). In the end they made it back after dark into the train station and spent the night there after missing the last train......

There is NO avalanche control (except nature and unintentional human intervention) in the backcountry here. Though a lot of avalanches can be avoided by skiers who have training, some will always tumble down even when 'everyone said it was safe'.

A mountain guide who taught avalanche safety courses was killed in a massive avalanche late in the season last Spring while skiing towards the Italian side from the Aiguille du Midi, proving that even knowledge of the area and lots of experience doesn't guarantee safe passage after a big Spring snowstorm makes the snow pack unstable.

Address: Aiguille du Midi, Grandes Montets, Le Tour,Brevent
Directions: See for some photos.

Hire a guide or go with locals (buying them drinks early in your trip may help here) or buy a book on the area. Off piste sections in the normal ski areas are easy to find.

Theme: Skiing/Snowboarding

Review Helpfulness: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Aug 7, 2003
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