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Guide to the Vallée Blanche: What to Expect on the Most Famous Off-Piste Ski Run in the World

The Vallée Blanche starts at the top of the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car and finishes at either the Montenvers train station, or (snow conditions permitting) back down in Chamonix’s town centre.

A 17 to 22km long journey – with 2800m of vertical descent – winding through some of the most stunning glacial scenery on the planet, the Vallée Blanche should be at the top of every skier’s bucket list.

 

Skiing the Vallee Blanche – Top Tips

Pack lots of warm layers: The run starts 2800m higher than when you get on the lift, it’s going to be much colder up there than in town.

Check the weather forecast: Skiing 22km in a white out isn’t very much fun.

Plan for lunch: The Vallee Blanche run takes most of the day – pack a lunch or bring cash so you can eat at the refuge halfway down.

Have the gear and the knowledge, or hire a Guide: If you don’t have experience skiing on glaciated terrain, and all the proper equipment (avalanche beacons, shovel, probes, harnesses, ropes, carabiners, ice screws, etc) make sure you hire an IFMGA qualified mountain guide.  Even though this route is popular, there are always dangers inherent in high mountain skiing.

A professional guide will provide the knowledge, skills and equipment to keep you safe.  Following another guided group could be very dangerous as they may be embarking on a more difficult route than you are expecting.

 

Guide to the Vallee Blanche: A Typical Vallée Blanche Itinerary

The Way Up 

The Aiguille du Midi Cable car rises into the clouds in Chamonix

In the morning, you’ll meet your guide in town and head up together to the top of the Aiguille du Midi – 3842m above sea level in the heart of the Mont Blanc range.

Once at the top, your guide will kit you out with all the safety equipment you’ll need for the day.  Generally speaking, conditions in the Vallée Blanche are quite safe but you’ll still need to carry an avalanche transceiver and wear a harness in case a crevasse rescue is required – this is high mountain skiing in the wilds of the Mont Blanc Massif after all!

Your guide may also ask you to carry an collapsible avalanche shovel, a probe and/or an ice axe.  You may also need to wear crampons to safely descend the next section but if they’re necessary your guide will provide them.

High above Chamonix, the needle of the Aiguille du Midi lift station sits in the sky at 3842m

The Arête

Once you’re kitted out with all the gear you’ll head out to make your way down the arête – the sharp ridge edge that drops all the way back down to Chamonix town.

Many people consider this walk to be the most intimidating portion of the entire run, but during most of the season there are fixed ropes in place for you to hold on to.

Skiers walk down the snowy ridge of the Arete towards the Vallee Blanche below

Keep in mind that during peak periods this section can get very busy and it could take you up to an hour to walk down the ridge.

 

Skiing the Vallée Blanche

Once you make it safely down the arête, it’s time to start skiing!  There are four main routes to choose from in the Vallée Blanche: the Voie Normale, the Petit Envers du Plan, the Grand Envers du Plan and the Vrai Vallée Blanche.  

The Voie Normale is the most common route and is generally suitable for competent red run skiers. All of the other routes are more advanced and best reserved for expert skiers, comfortable with couloir skiing.

Skiers head towards the entrance of the Voie Normale route of the Vallee Blanche in Chamonix

The Voie Normale begins by heading to the right of an enormous rock formation known as Le Gros Rognon (‘the Big Kidney’), on the route down from here you’ll pass gigantic séracs, ice falls and crevasses glittering like blue diamonds in the winter sun.

Allowing for a few breaks and a pace which allows you to appreciate your majestic surroundings, a trip to the Vallee Blanche generally takes about 4 to 6 hours.  That said, you’ll want to plan ahead for lunchtime.

A skier enjoys fresh powder in Chamonix's Vallee Blanche

Your two choices for eating in the Vallee Blanche are packing a lunch and eating al fresco, or stopping at the Refuge de Requin (aka the Requin hut) for a hot meal.  Should you decide to eat at the refuge keep in mind that you’ll need to bring cash – there’s no WiFi for a card machine in the middle of the Valley Blanche!

If you’re in the mood to get through things quickly and don’t want to stop to eat, there’s a cafe at the top of the Aiguille du Midi lift, and another at the bottom, next to the Montenvers train station.

 

Getting Home

The run out at the end of the Vallee Blanche is quite long and flat – not much fun for snowboarders.  If you are going to snowboard the Vallee Blanche it’s a good idea to pack a pair of collapsible ski poles to push yourself along.

When the snow cover is good it’s possible to ski all the way back down to Chamonix town centre via the ‘James Bond Route’ – and who wouldn’t want to take the James Bond Route?

If the snow isn’t in perfect shape it’s often best to finish your run by taking a gondola up to the Montenvers train station and catching a train to Chamonix.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to keep enough energy in reserve to hike a bit at the end, no matter which option you choose.  Hiking up to the ridge for the ski back down to Chamonix will take you about 20-30 minutes, while there are 500 steps to climb in order to get back to Montenvers.

Going via Montveners also means that you get to exit through an amazing blue ice cave!

Three skiers walk through a cave of blue ice on their way back from the Vallee Blanche


We hope you have a great time skiing the Vallee Blanche – if you have any questions feel free to drop us a line!

Kene E.

Originally from Canada, Kene had never been snowboarding before a holiday to Val d'Isere 12 years ago. He's literally lived there ever since.

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