The Haute Route Ski Tour

This year, I had the pleasure of spending almost 1 month ski touring in France and Switzerland. I received a fantastic offer from John and Olivia Cussen to work with them at the Northwest Mountain School for their spring ski tour programs. I had a blast doing 3 Haute Route Ski tours back to back! John and Olivia have their Europe Programs dialed for logistics, and in this case logistics are more than half the battle!

Somewhat iconic as a ski tour, this route through the Alps was first done on foot in 1861. Sometime after that, and I’m not sure when, skiers picked it up as a great trip between two very famous alpine destinations: Chamonix and Zermatt. Now, there are a few variations of the tour and we had the Verbier Variation planned as our main goal. This variation suits skiers well, has some great downhill sections and good options for bail-outs if the weather turns bad.

At times, the use of mechanized transport such as trams, buses and trains are used to help move through the mountains. Some may look at this as some sort of cheating, but I would argue that it actually adds to the experience and allows skiers to see some great spots along the way.

At any rate, the tour typically begins by taking a bus from the town of Chamonix to the Grand Montet tram to get a great boost into the mountains. Here is a picture of our first group waiting at the bus stop.

After a quick bus ride, the Grand Montet tram wisks us up into the mountains to begin the tour with a huge downhill run to the Argentiere Glacier. Looking across the valley, you can see the Col du Chardonney, our first big climb of the tour.

Some of the biggest climbs and more technical type climbing and descending occurs the very first day! The descent from the Col du Chardonney is 80 meter roped descent, and the bonus is that you get to enter Switzerland on a rope! Below John says goodbye to France and hello to Switzerland as the weather fogs in on our second trip.

A bit later in the day, over the Feinetre de Saleina, we had some fairly serious belayed climbing and even had to make a few rock moves with crampons on! This was exciting ski mountaineering!

After overcoming these obstacles, our first night in the Trient Hut was a welcome relief! For our first group, we had an amazing glide in the sun to the hut. On the second trip, it was a bit of a fog fest, and I was glad I had the huts coordinates in my GPS!

Here Christopher and Gillian enjoy some front porch time at the Trient Hut with a beer. Now this is living it up!

Hut living is a great way to go in the Alps. There are many aspects of the huts that take some getting used to such as shared bathrooms, tight (but comfortable) sleeping arrangements and the many rigid Swiss rules at each hut. But the trade-offs that include great food, beer and wine and light packs really allow moving through the mountains to be a joy. No sleeping bags, tents or stoves needed! What a great way to travel!

Each hut dinner begins with a soup, then comes a salad, and then a main course. The main courses are usually some type of beef with rice or pasta and don’t worry, you can get as much as you want. There is also a small but tasty dessert too! Breakfasts are a little spartan, in my opinion, but I got used to the bread, jam, and muesli and made it work. A couple of the huts had crepes, and even a hard boiled egg later in the trip.

The morning of the second day begins with an exciting ski down the Trient Glacier icefall. An icefall typically forms where the glacial ice is stretched out over a convex rollover or steep section. This causes large crevasses to form, and great care must be taken on the descent. Slow careful negotiation is required to safely descend. Here Jennifer, Sarah, John and Erik pause on the descent.

Exciting the icefall itself below. Real glacial skiing, that’s for sure!

After this descent, come a technical climb over the Col des Ecandies. Again, some crampons on rock and a bit of steep snow get us up and over this technical crux.

Below Sarah, John, Jennifer and Erik enjoy the first rays of sun on top of the Col des Ecandies.

Next comes a long ski down the Val d’Arpette- a 1400 meter run down to the little quaint town of Champex.

Looking back up to the Col after a long descent. This was a fun ski descent. Arriving in the town of Champex on foot, both groups had a little time to hit the grocery store for some junkfood and wait for the bus.

This afternoon, our group will take a bus to the train and then a tram up to the famous ski town of Verbier. Here are a few pictures of our various groups enjoying a bit of mechanized transport.

And finally…at the Mt Fort Hut after skiing an icefall, climbing to a technical Col, taking a bus, taking a train, and then a tram! Let’s have a beer!

Starting out of day 3, we leave the Verbier ski area and head for the backcountry. The sunrise was fantastic on the first trip, with great views and lots of color.

This is one of my favorite days of the trip, because we typically include some skiing on Rosablanche, a peak climb that is along the way.

Here is Gillian, Christopher and Mike heading up the final pitch on Rosablanche. A great climb with nice views (if the weather is nice).

Team Oregon up on top! One of best things about climbing up a mountain is skiing down it, and this was no exception!

Dropping the additional 2000 feet down to the Praflueri Hut, the first group enjoyed a sunny afternoon lounging on the deck.

Day 4 begins with a climb on skis to Col de la Roux, followed by a long ski traverse above Lac du Dix. This part of the trip has some fun gliding above the lake, but eventually everyone’s left leg was tired from using the same muscle group! The views more than made up for the pain!

After the long climb out of Lac du Dix, lunch at the Dix hut was fantastic!

Its not a bad lace to grab a bite! After lunch it is possible to go for a tour on La Luette, but quite a few people take a nap instead.

These turns were a lot of fun! A nice little 670 meter run after lunch.

Day 5 started with a crazy mass exodus from the Dix Hut. Good weather and a good forecast had everyone scrambling to leave after breakfast. Here is a look up some of the terrain that is covered on the way up to the Pigne de Arolla. This is some big glacial terrain!

On the way up this huge climb, we were rewarded by amazing views of Mt Blanc de Chelion, an amazing peak opposite us.

After about 700 meters of climbing we emerged onto the ice cap at the top of the massif and made a quick climb up to the top of the Pigne de Arolla- the highest point on the Haute Route at approximately 3800 meters. Here is a picture of our second week’s group.

During the first trip, we had excellent visibility on the descent from the Pigne to the Vignettes Hut. With all sides dropping off into space, we skied a glacier perched in the sky down towards the hut.

Approaching the Vignettes Hut is really something out of movie. The hut is perched out on a cliff and the views are really something else if the weather is good. Below is the final approach to the hut.

The Vignettes Hut has some of the best Rosti on the whole Haute Route. Here are a couple hungry ski dudes waiting for me to take the picture so they can slay these potatoes!

The last day of the tour is a long one! Comprised of almost 25 km of skiing with close to 1200 meters of climbing, its a pretty solid push into Zermatt with unreal view of the mountains. On my 3 tours, I only made it once on this final day! Weather and poor visibility stopped us on the other attempts. Oh well, sometimes mother nature has her way with things. Below is a shot of our team climbing up the Col du Mont Brule, one of the only boot crampon climbs on the route.

Here is one of the biggest climbs on the whole route to the Col de Vallpeline. Its a long climb on skins, but none of it is too steep, its just really long.

Here is picture of our group on the Col de Valpelline enjoying the view of the Matterhorn before our descent down the Stockji Glacier.

Some of the views on the way down:

And finally….in Zermatt! Here Christopher and Michael in the center of town enjoying the ambience.

The Haute Route is an amazing trip! For folks who enjoy traveling through the mountains on skiis with a light pack, this trip is just  the thing! After doing this a few times, here are 5 tidbits to think about if you are interested in the tour:

1. Bring plenty of Swiss Francs for the huts, they don’t like credit cards.

2. Bring Starbucks Via instant coffee to add to your hut coffee if you are from the Northwest.

3. Always obey the hut warden’s rules at every hut or your life will be hell.

4. Before the trip make sure you practice side stepping and traversing efficiently.

5. Count on spending extra francs at the huts for wine and lunches, you will enjoy it! And…don’t make the conversion in your head to US Dollars.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sam C.
    Apr 02, 2013 @ 09:03:17

    Great write up! Could you share GPS coordinates? Im doing the route with some buddies in a couple of weeks. Thanks!


    • petekeanemountainguide
      Apr 03, 2013 @ 01:30:55

      Hi Sam- thanks for the positive comments. I’m over here now doing the HR now. There is a lot of snow and conditions are good at the moment. I don’t typically like to share my tour plans, because if you get into trouble following them, you’ll hate me! Feel free to email me though if you have any questions, ill have sporadic access to email.


  2. telecharger livres
    May 19, 2014 @ 18:38:58

    These are in fact impressive ideas in concerning blogging.
    You have touched some nice factors here. Any way keep up wrinting.


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