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As our regular blog readers already know – in February we took a trip to Chamonix to see some of the stunning nature the French Alps have to offer. We were a team of four, two intermediate riders, Peter our very advanced rider and myself, the city girl, who fell in love with the mountains some time ago. Peter and I wrote this article to give you an idea of what to expect in the Chamonix valley and how we experienced three of the most challenging runs.

Crevasses and Seracs from a Safe Distance at Point de Vue Black Run in Les Grands Montets

Going down Point de Vue. Photo: Lea

Peter going down Point de Vue. Photo: Lea

For more advanced skiers and snowboarders the Grand Montets area offers a wide variety of slopes of all difficulties. One of the most impressive things about the area is the fact that you can actually go up to an altitude of 3,275m – the second highest run after the Vallée Blanche. Once you’ve made your way up to the top (expect long queues at the middle station if the weather is good) you can enjoy amazing views of the whole valley. We where also surprised to find some good local food, prepared right up there in a tiny kitchen (make sure you check out the tiny stove in which the owner cooks the meals!) – A perfect spot for your lunch break.

For those feeling comfortable on back runs it’s only a short hike down the stairs from where you can choose between two good runs. Other options include taking the cable car back down – or if you’re a dare devil at heart you have the opportunity to attempt you first ascent on Aiguille Verte. We passed on that option and went for the Point de Vue run, the longer run down. The stunning views on crevasses and seracs on the side of the run will give you a similar experience to Vallée Blanche, but in a safer and patrolled surrounding. That means you can leave your climbing stuff at home and you are not dependent on perfect weather and snow conditions as on the neighboring mountain.

World Cup Thrills on the  Kandahar Run in Les Houches 

Getting ready for the Kandahar run in les Houches. Photo: Lea

Getting ready for the Kandahar run in les Houches. Photo: Lea

Les Houches lies 6 km down the valley from Chamonix and is one of the lower skiing resorts in the area. This spot is very suitable for beginners, with the one exception of the Kandahar run which vertically drops 900 meters. The run is very steep, the orientation of the sun often makes for a frozen piste and there is a reason it is very clearly marked as a experienced trail. It is often challenging even for the most advanced riders. But, if you’d like to get a glimpse of the only slope approved for a World Cup in Haute Savoie – this is your chance! (Just be aware that you’ll need the Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass for this)

High Altitude Adventure at La Vallee Blanche Freeride Run

Our take on Vallée Blanche. Photo: Paul Dow

Our take on Vallée Blanche. Photo: Paul Dow

For an unforgettable day in Chamonix head over Aiguille du Midi and go for the longest run the whole valley. Most people do this as a full day trip. It’s a good idea to start off early, as there is a lot to see on the way up and most likely you won’t be the only one going up. There is a ticketing system in place that will give you a number and a time on which the cable car will take you up there – we had to wait for an hour to board the cabin. The waiting time however is definitely worth it as the ascent is already breathtaking. On the very top make sure you don’t miss the view from the highest platform (an elevator takes you up another 40m). In general this day trip is not a good idea if you’re afraid of heights. (Or stoned, we have been told.) If you’re interested in Vallée Blanche – be aware and know all possible alpine risks. If you don’t – get a guide and check out Martha’s advice and links in the comment below! 

Our short story on Vallée Blanche

Remember good equipment is your best friend on the mountain.

Most people decide to bring ABS backpacks and climbing harnesses. We brought a backpack full of soft drinks, beer and sandwiches.*

Heading off. Photo: Paul Dow

Heading off. Photo: Paul Dow

But, watching the many, many people making it through the first dangerous part (a leisurely walk on the edge of a 2000m drop) entering the long white run down – we just couldn’t resist. We took all our personal safety equipment and left the bag with our friends.

With a sandwich each, sun lotion in our pockets and a bottle of water hidden away in our pants the adventure began. Not even the guy who dropped his ski another 20m down and had to go get it could convince us otherwise. Watching him do the free climb was quite a show for most tourists and did have heart attack potential. Fortunately we are young and our hearts are strong. We finally (and with the help of a good looking french man) reached the end of the narrow path and attached our boards to our feet.

Lea might have suffered a mini heart attack, showing some excellent beginner falls in the first 50meters. Nothing a sip of water and a short break from our decent couldn’t fix.

Next up was a straight and extremely wide run that seemed to last for at least half an hour. Next to the peak of the Italian summit Hellbronner we started to feel like we were on a motorway between France and Italy. Speeding it up we overtook dozens of guided groups. Some of the guides might have liked to give us a speeding ticket for that so we quickly escaped towards glacier.

Like a glacier motorway. Photo: Peter

Like a glacier motorway. Photo: Peter

Can you spot the cable cars to Hellbronner? Photo: Peter

Can you spot the cable cars to Hellbronner? Photo: Peter

Hearing the ice crack on top of a glacier is an unforgettable experience. Photo: Peter

Hearing the ice crack on top of a glacier is an unforgettable experience. Photo: Peter

It was a narrow slalom through field of crevasses. Due to the sunny and slushy conditions this was actually really fun! An hour into our journey we stopped and spoiled ourselves with the best handmade sandwiches between Argentiere and Les Houches. (Note on the side: Interestingly enough Compté, the fishy cheese, doesn’t taste much like fish up there anymore. But that’s another story) Reenergized we continued our first decent.

Lea taking a break in the ice cave. Photo: Peter

Lea taking a break in the ice cave. Photo: Peter

At the end of the glacier we discovered a huge ice cave that had an ice pillar reaching from the ceiling to the ground right in the middle of it. After this final Kodak moment we had to hike up a short and very busy slope to reach a totally overcrowded snack bar that must have turned into some kind of party place for glacier survivors.

Happy faces, beer and chanting. Good times. If only we hadn’t left our beer 2.222 meters above us at the summit. Ah well.

The rest of the trip is a long narrow path down through the forest until you end up where all of us started – the beginner’s slope (Les Planards). We decided to call it a day and finally give in to the desire for a beer. To make the day even more perfect we recommend you take the cable car across town Planpraz up (skiing area of Brévent-Flegere) and enjoy your drink in a sun chair.

Warning! Taking in the view on the summit and the run you’ve just done might make you consider doing it again some day. At least that’s the way we felt.

Article by Peter Anegg and Lea Hajner.

Disclosure: We were invited to the Chamonix blog trip (#ExpediaSnow) by Expedia UK to produce snow content and test their snow companion app on facebook. All opinions on the region and everything else (including the muscle pains) are Peters and mine alone.

* And so was the risk we took going down Vallée Blanche and we’d like to advise everyone to carefully consider taking a guide if you don’t feel comfortable on your own. Edit: Peter grew up in the mountains and I did several courses in mountain engineering and safety. Don’t let the fun we had writing the article distract you – there are alpine risks you need to consider – and if you’re not sure what they are you definitely need a guide! 

If you’re all exited about Chamonix now, make sure you check out the snowboarding video made out of our footage. 

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  1. MarthaNo Gravatar
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Just what Chamonix needs, another breezy article about what a good laugh the Vallee Blanche is, and how it’s fun to cut past the guides, all you need are some beers and a smile!

    I know you’ve put a small disclaimer on the end. And it looks like your picture is in the ice cave, not on the main route. But most people will skim over it, and take away that it’s a fun and easy day out, and that it’s fine to remove your board, walk around and take pictures. Because there are plenty of articles like this floating about. And every year, a few of these people die.

    How is someone who’s never experienced the dangers of the high mountains supposed to “carefully consider taking a guide if you don’t feel comfortable on your own” ?

    The normal route is pretty easy in terms of grade, and if you’re competent on red runs you will be fine, but you’re riding over vast, 80m deep crevasses, which are often concealed by thin snow bridges. It’s the route finding that is literally russian roulette if you don’t know the area. The climbing harnesses are not for show – they are a part of the equipment the guides carry to get people out if they fall into a crevasse and are lucky enough to survive. And often, they have to help out people like yourselves that get into serious trouble because they cut around the route the groups are taking, to get into temptingly untracked areas.

    It’s good that you enjoyed yourselves, and it’s a wonderful day out – it’s great that you did an article and I like the pics a lot. I hope that one of you, at least, was more experienced that you imply, and that maybe you weren’t acting as daft as it looks. But the impression that’s given overall is that you don’t really need a guide, and that’s an impression that causes regular, serious accidents.

    I would suggest that at the very least, you add a clear and prominent link to a more balanced view of the route, such as this one from Chamonet

    or this one from Pistehors

    and rephrase your disclaimer to give a clearer idea of the level of expertise needed.

  2. RobinNo Gravatar
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    Reading this my first reaction was to post a comment regarding the Vallee Blanche but Martha has said it all perfectly already.
    Wise up – not just for your own sake but for the sake of your readers.

  3. leaNo Gravatar
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    Hi Martha,

    Thanks for your comment – you’re absolutely right about the possible dangers and I edited another prominent link to your comment and some more info about our background. We did have a great day and we had fun writing the article so we might got carried away there.

    With Peter growing up in the mountains and being very comfortable reading them and me being very devoted to hiking and winter sports, I easily forget how others judge the situation. This is from our point of view and for us it was the right decision. But, again to be clear – just like any other alpine sport – you need to know the risk you’re taking and if you don’t – don’t do it or get a guide.

  4. leaNo Gravatar
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Hi Robin,

    I just edited more warnings and I realize how differently others might read this. So, again – we knew the risk we took and speaking for myself I carefully considered it and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t feel comfortable. I don’t want anyone to think this is something you can do without considering alpine risks and knowing how to protect yourself. I knew what I was up to and I had someone with me I trusted to go with. There are plenty of warning signs up there and there is a reason for it. Btw. I also wouldn’t advice going down Vallée Blanche if you’re not a good skier/snowboarder – some of the people we saw with guides in groups could hardly make their way down.

  5. DaphniseNo Gravatar
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

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