There are ski runs and then there is Vallee Blanche 10km of glacier on the the top of the Alps. This is one ski adventure you can do as an intermediate and still feel you have done so something special, memorable and beyond the ordinary
Located in the French ski Mecca of Chamonix, Vallee Blanche is a guided ski experience on the peak next to Mont Blanc Europe’s highest peak. Accessed by cable car the route takes down the glacier from the top of adjacent peak. The fact it is a glacier accounts for the fact that this is trip is guided. Daily ice movements open up new crevaces and ice holes for the unwary to be consumed by.
The sheer magnitude comes into the experience as the cable car ascends from the valley floor and gently climbs to the summit. Perhaps the biggest adventure is getting onto the glacier. This requires a team effort and all participants being roped together as you shimmy across a narrow and precipitous walkway around the edge of the summit. Guides determine the order – they put the biggest risks at the front I guess so hey can pull them in should the start to fall off toward the valley some few thousand feet below.
This is safety barriers euro-style where liability and other stuff is often met with Gaelic shrug – “you want in then suck it up” there’s probably a cool french way to say but body language is pretty clear from the French guides.
Safely on the glacier you are struck by the sheer magnitude of the glacier. The silence once we get going is monumental. One can’t help but wonder what the a US treatment would be – probably a McDonalds a top or sponsor signage affirming the experience you are about to participate in is brought to you Microsoft Surface or something.
Two things strike you – the sheer silence that only be in a high place can bring – its the same in Sonoma when you look at the night sky without ambient light from the city. This is the same there is no ambient noise from a ski resort or traffic – because there isn’t any!it creates a church like respect and hushed discussion. The second thing is the sheer enormity of the skiable area. To someone who has really skied moderate and moderately steep terrain this is very different. Way down in the distance skiers are tiny specs. Up above too in the high crevaces extreme skiers as doing their moves. This looks like a Warren Miller movie location. However everything that appears close is just big as the little skier dots add scale and perspective to the grandeur of the area.
Beyond the worry of can I ski this? We slip gently on to the glacier route. The sky is deep blue and we wind down the route that someone had hopefully got up early and tested for changes in the shifting sea of ice. Technically this is a moderate descent – just happens to. Be really long one. We stop at series of ice formations – it looks like a sapphire jewellery source. Deep deep blues caused by the light hitting the frozen ice forms – staggeringly beautiful formations are formed and we take the time enjoy.
Further down we negotiate a couple of small step sections – again nothing to too technical just requiring a little patience and not running into some of the less competent folks.
Further still we get to do a small jump (literally a couple of feet) but then when you’re not expecting it you stomach will jump into your throat and your teeth will rattle. I just manage to keep on my skis and get my weighted distributed correctly so I don’t end up as one of the plonkers who end up shooting forward skis ahead , arse trailing on the ground.
Finally it is down to the train station and we wait for the little mountain train to take us back to noisy Chamonix.
An amazing day