Ski La Vallée Blanche
Simply put, the Vallée Blanche is one of the most famous ski runs in the world, and not without due cause: it offers 2,780 vertical metres of descent and is 22km long, which makes it the longest run in the world however you’re measuring! You’ll start from the top of the Aiguille du Midi lift and ski down France’s longest glacier, the Mer de Glace.
If the snow conditions are right, you can ski all the way down to Planards in Chamonix, or later in the season you’ll finish at the Montenvers train station and take the train back down to Chamonix.
Aiguille du Midi cable car
The Vallée Blanche is accessed via an approximate 30-minute ride in the Aiguille du Midi cable car. There is a mid-station – Plan de l’Aiguille – at 2,300m, before passing across the north face and the Pélerins Glacier, finally arriving at the top of the Aiguille du Midi, a 3,842m rocky ‘needle’ on the shoulder of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain.
Possibly as well known as the run itself, the arête, or ‘ridge’, is the first hurdle you have to tackle before taking on the glacier. Once you have exited the Aiguille du Midi via a tunnel, you must descend about 150 metres along a ridge to reach the glacier. From early January the ridge is equipped with a safety rope and steel posts for people to use, as you will descend on foot, with crampons if it’s icy and usually roped together with the members of your group and your guide. However before this time it is not roped up and you should only consider skiing the Vallée Blanche with a guide. You certainly need a good head for heights due to the steep drops on either side of the ridge and many have been known to turn back at this early stage!
Once you are down at the col at the bottom of the arête, there are four main routes down, but many others if you are touring: The Vallée Blanche normal route, The “real” Vallée Blanche, The Petit Envers du Plan and the Grand Envers du Plan with each one being technically more demanding. The Petit Envers and the Grand Envers make for some very interesting skiing and involve some steep pitches and couloir skiing. From the bottom of the arête you continue straight ahead to ski directly down to the Refuge du Requin. There is also a steep and technical couloir directly below the Requin hut which leads to the Salle à Manger.
If you cannot ski right back down to Chamonix due to snow conditions, normally at the end of your run you’ll take the traditional Montenvers train back to Chamonix town centre. Be aware that from the glacier, you reach the Montenvers train station via the cable car which provides access to the ice cave/grotto (also worth a visit), but you’ll need to climb the 400+ steps to reach the cable car which can be tiring after your off-piste descent (they rebuild and add to the steps every year as the glacier moves/retreats). It’s totally worth it though!
When to do the Vallée Blanche
It is obviously best to ski the Vallée Blanche when the weather is good as the scenery on the way down is stunning. Also it is more enjoyable if you can avoid the crowds; most people wait until the end of the week to go once they have ‘warmed up’ their legs, so we recommend booking for early in the week or even changeover days (Saturday and Sunday). Also, for most people it is only possible to ski the Vallée Blanche once the the Arête has been roped up from early January.
To Ski or to Snowboard?
Both skiing and snowboarding are feasible, but you can come a cropper on a board if conditions are not great. There is a long shuss at the end of the run which can be a pain on a board. Don’t be put off as riding the powder on the Vallée Blanche is awesome, but it helps to take telescopic poles as you may need to push yourself along in places. These can be bought or hired easily in the town centre.
You can join a group of similar skiers or snowboarders to enjoy the Vallée Blanche, or hire a private guide. Prices for these will not include your lift pass, but both the Aiguille du Midi cable car and Montenvers train are included on the Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass.