The Vallee Blanche

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The Vallée Blanche in Chamonix is probably the single most beautiful ski run in the world, and certainly the most famous off-piste route in existence. The route winds down from the massive Aiguille du Midi cable car, (3800m) zig zagging through a truly beautiful mountain environment.

A word of warning though, this is off piste skiing. There are no safety rails or attendants, and the route can be littered with crevices that could gobble you up in moments, never to be seen again.

Only recently a skier wearing jeans and a leather jacket emerged at the Aiguille du Midi asking “where’s the piste?” He disappeared not long afterwards.

You would be well advised to take an off-piste skiing course before you attempt your first descent of the Vallée Blanche – and if you have never skied off piste before, at least make sure you are with a group of people who know their stuff. Being familiar with avalanche transceivers and crevice rescue should be an absolute minimum.

The skiing (all 22 kilometres!) down the Vallée Blanche is technically not that difficult – it is the hazards – crevices – and potential avalanche that makes the route dangerous.

A guide is highly recommended, as people die on the Vallée Blanche every year. Helicopters are regularly seen looking for missing skiers and boarders.

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Getting to the start of the route can be a little hairy too. You emerge from the Aiguille du Midi by going through a tunnel in the ice, to find yourself at the top of a sharp ridge (shown above) which makes its way downwards, with lethal drops on either side of it. Normally, in winter, there is a path dug down the ridge and a rope to clip onto, as well as a handrail. Even with these safety measures though it can be a very harrowing experience to the uninitiated. A fall here would not be good.

Further down the Vallée Blanche there are a number of points where crevices have to be crossed using snow bridges, which can be tricky at the best of times. Do not linger on snowbridges. They do collapse.

The classic route, “La Vraie”, is the longest and most straight forward. Initially heading south, this route turns to the east and then the north. The the Glacier du Géant is the first major obstacle, which can be a little bumpy – but once this is over you’re ready for lunch at the Refuge du Requin – a welcome refueling stop in outstanding surroundings.

Further down you’ll cross the Mer de Glace, one of Europe’s longest glaciers – a sweeping mass of ice making its way down another beautiful mountain valley. Following this it is possible to actually ski all the way back down to Chamonix, or of you’re feeling it, jump on the Montenvers railway for a rack and pinion journey back into town.

Read more about the Vallee Blanche at Pistehors.

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