Classic Off-piste Runs – Chamonix in January

These two first weeks of 2010 we have had great skiing on many of the most famous off-piste runs in Chamonix. It is a lovely, quiet time in Chamonix in January; not very busy in the mountains, cold snow and beautiful winter landscapes. Some of the runs we have done are Chamonix classics, others are more rarely skied. Below is a little selection of terrain that is in good conditions now in the early season 2010. Just to give you an idea of the variety of off-piste skiing we have in Chamonix.

Note! All runs listed below go through serious off-piste terrain and demands proper knowledge about avalanche and glacier safety, as well as route finding skills and being well informed about the local weather and snow conditions.

Back and Front side of Grands Montets

The top lift of Grands Montets opened on the 8th of January, before that the glacier was too open to ski. We spent 2 days skiing from this lift, making a lot of fresh tracks in slightly wind packed, fast powder. The glacier still has a lot of open holes, but the front side can be skied close to the rock ridge skiers-left, and the backside is good most places skiers-left of the big freestanding rock. The backside offers a large area with open slopes, ridges and couloirs where we can make fresh tracks all day! Even more options will open up once the snow cover gets thicker.

These runs are suitable for all levels of off-piste skiers. But you should not go off-piste here without a guide if you are not capable of judging glacier terrain and know about crevasse rescue techniques.

Pas de Chevre

Taking the lift to the top of Grands Montets and skiing all the way down to Mer de Glace. We have several options where to ski on the first part, then we pass underneath Le Dru, one of Chamonix’s most beautiful peaks, and get some fun skiing on the moraines. Once down on the Mer de Glace glacier you can either take the train or ski down to Chamonix after a small hike. Right now the trail is well filled in and the skiing is enjoyable all the way to Chamonix village. We skied Pas de Chevre on the 10th of January, making first tracks.

This run is suitable for experienced off-piste skiers. There is no big crevasse danger, but the run demands avalanche awareness on slopes differently exposed to sun and wind. The good exit couloirs can also be tricky to find and the run should not be skied in bad visibility.

Rectiligne Couloir

The Reciligne is a bit more advanced variation of Pas de Chevre, taking a narrow couloir on the skiers-left of the classic run.
Once into the couloir you have plenty of room to turn and it is very nice to ski in powder. When you have too many tracks ahead of you it is not so great any more and it is obviously a terrain trap, so the time and the snow conditions need to be right. We skied it on the 14th of january in 20cm of fresh and loose powder.

Petit Envers off Aiguille du Midi

The 10th of January we also skied off Aiguille du Midi for the first time this winter. The normal Vallee Blanche run is not safe to ski yet due to crevasses danger. Also the steep pitches on the Grand Enverse (the most direct line from the Aig. du Midi to the Requin hut) had slid completely and only blank ice was left. So our choise this day was the middle way, called Petit Enverse. The run offers some short steeper pitches, a bit of zig-zagging between crevasses, and some large open slopes. We skied 2800m vertical back down to Chamonix in mainly soft snow, some places on hard wind pack.

In order to ski any variation of Vallee Blanche safely with a guide you need to be able ski all sorts of snow in perfect control. Most of the skiing from Aiguille du Midi will be safer later in the season.

The hike up from the end of the Mer de Glace glacier is a 15 min walk in a winter-wonder-land. After we ski the “James Bond” trail leading back to the Montervers train station in Chamonix, which is well filled in all the way .

From the Mid Station of Aiguille du Midi

When we get a lot of snow all the way down to Chamonix town we can ski in the trees from the Plan de l’Aiguille (middle station of Aiguille du Midi). Here is especially good to ski when it is snowing hard, since you are skiing among trees and bushes. We spent the whole day the 6th of January doing laps left and right of the cable car. The upper parts are open slopes, the middle part contains a lot of fun pillows to jump on, and the bottom parts is skiing through dense trees and bushes. It is quite easy to get lost here if you do not know the terrain, so good local knowledge and route finding skills are needed. The skiable area is large and offers a great adventure away from the glaciers.

Marbree

The Helbronner cable car is situated on the Italian side of the Mt Blanc tunnel. The Toula glacier offers mellow and playful terrain on a less crevasses glacier then the Vallee Blanche. However there are steeper off-piste runs all over this ridge lines left and right of Punta Helbronner.

Aiguille de Marbree (between Helbronner and Dent du Geant) is reached by a short hike east of the top station. We have several options where to ski this face. On the 7th of January we skied from the skiers-right ridge of Aiguille de Marbree. The powder was deep and soft on the steep upper mountain side, a bit sun effected snow on the lower slopes. The run gives us 2500m vertical os skiing back down to the Helbronner cable car. The top part is a no-fall zone, so it is suitable for experts only.

A few days later we also skied into the face from the col east of Aig de Marbree, and had cold powder also on the lower spines facing west.

Another great run in the same category close to Punta Helbronner is the south-east face of Aiguille d’Entreves.

Update 29 Jan 2010

In Chamonix the snow kept falling with regular intervalls during the 2nd part of January, and the areas that had weak snow cover before filled in better, including the tree skiing in Le Tour and the classic Vallee Blanche. By the end of Jan we skied from all lift systems all the way down to the valley floor, enjoying the short-lived season of skiing the couloirs top to bottom in Flegère and Brevent, as well as the trees of Près de Rocher from Aiguille du Midi mid station.

As crevasses have also filled in better we are now happy to guide skiers on any variation of Vallee Blanche.

Ski Touring

The ski touring season also begun for real. Tours in the Aiguille Rouges and the Argentiere basin have now been tracked a few times, and have thus become safer avalanche wise. On sunny days, a few days after the last snow fall, we have been making a lot of powder turns from the Aiguilles Rouges down to Buet, tracked the Tour Glacier via Col de Passon, and Glacier de Berons making a great round-trip from Le Tour to Trient.

By taking the lifts to start with, just a few hours of skinning and maybe a bit of boot packing, take us over from one mountain range to another. We ski thousands of vertical meters into hidden valleys, unreachable from the resorts without touring equipment. The amounts of day-climbs to do around Chamonix is practically unlimited and therefore new adventures and fresh tracks can always be made!

More…

The Chamonix Snow Report bloggers clearly agree on the excellent conditions in Chamonix right now, having skied some days the same places as us, some days elsewhere.

Guided off-piste skiing in Chamonix. We take you where the conditions are the best for the day, but only places suitable to your level of skiing. Our guides are passionate skiers and instructors.

Avalanche Awareness courses and Glacier Safety and Crevasse Rescue courses in Chamonix. We cover one theme per day.

Categories: Off-Piste Skiing and Ski Touring.

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