Pros and cons
One of my favorite things to do is ski La Vallée Blanche with people who are first timers at Chamonix — it’s a great entry-level route. The going is easy and the skiing is inspiring especially works great if you’re trying to get someone interested in the backcountry skiing. In my case, I wanted to get my kids excited and motivated so we’d have even more to do on future vacations (and this one).
The environment and landscape is so unbelievable that most of the people remember it for life. There’s also a little bit of a scare factor at the beginning but nothing too crazy, just enough to get your adrenaline running and keep you focused and sharp. You get great adventure value for effort invested.
Getting to the goods
Before anyone gets to ski anything, though, you have to get to Aiguille du Midi – a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif. There’s a cable car for that called Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi, which leaves from Chamonix and takes you from point a to point b in breathtaking style. Get there super early — 6:00am, no joke — or otherwise you’ll be too late for untracked powder. Ticket reservations are available too, just saying.
The ride on the tram for some people (not me) is pretty thrilling, considering you gain 9,200’ in elevation in only 20 minutes. Don’t be surprised if there’s people screaming their heads off and going nuts on your way up. It is beautiful ride, though, and once you get close to the top you can see how the station is basically bolted to the mountain. First timers are often a little leery, but the station’s been there for decades and I’ll bet on my luck that it won’t come tumbling down while I’m there…
Crevasses, seracs and views for days
Once the cable car has deposited you at the top, it’s truly hard to say which view from the ridge is the more beautiful. On one side Mont Blanc’s peak is visible as is the Trois Monet route. Behind you is the rest of Aiguille du Midi and the Cosmique Ridge (which also happens to offer world class granite climbing). On the other side you’ll see huge crevasses, seracs and one-of-a-kind blue glacier ice that looks so unreal it’ll get you hundreds of likes on Instagram…
Now things get interesting
Do you feel the adrenaline kicking in yet? Once you start looking around and checking out the steep slopes on each side, how can you not get excited? You’ll walk over the bridges where some skiers rappel right into the couloir and go through the tunnel system that’ll take you to the area where the descent begins. Once there, you’ll need to put on crampons, rope up and start walking down the narrow, exposed ridge for about 100-200m. With proper gear, crampons, a ski axe and some short rope it’s super safe. I learned how to do it by pretty much watching YouTube videos and felt quite comfortable! However, if you’re in a bigger group or touring with less experienced people, definitely consider hiring a professional guide who’ll make for the best and safest experience.
But first, a word on safety
Skiing is easy on big open fields, but I’ve seen this place in the summer and the crevasses here are HUGE. You don’t see them of course because it’s winter but they can always give way under your weight and no one wants to find themselves underground between big walls of ice and snow. Falling into crevasse can be fatal and basic crevasse rescue skills are required. Everyone who wants to ski here should be equipped with a harness, rope-climbing kit, a couple of ice screws and a rope. All that gear without the proper understanding and training on how to use it is useless. Get educated! You might get lucky adventuring without taking proper care, but remember, your actions can lead to major consequences for those around you.
What about the skiing?
The best snow is in the morning as it still isn’t too wet and heavy, conditions are also safest then because nothing has had a chance to warm up and melt. If there was snowfall the night before and you catch one of the earliest lifts you’re in luck because you’ll get to ski some amazing snow. The skiing on La Vallée Blanche is great for pretty much the entire descent, about 20 kilometers or so. Fast skiers can do it in hour or two, but for most people who want to get in some with some sightseeing it’ll will take around 4-5 hours.
Getting back to Chamonix
By the time you’re done with your tour, you may think the coolest part of your day is already behind you. But there’s more! To get back to Chamonix you have to make your way to the Refuge du Montenvers – Terminal Neige, and ride the famous Montenvers train back to Chamonix center where you can grab a beer and burger at Elevation 1904 with hundreds of other people who also just came from the mountain…