Grands Montets Ski Area in Chamonix Off-piste & Steep
Les Grands Montets Ski Area
Freeride centre of Chamonix valley, from 3300m to 1235m
Les Grand Montets is situated above Argentière and with over 1800 hectares, is the largest of the pisted skiing areas in the Chamonix valley. In comparison to linked ski-systems across the Alps, the Grand Montets area isn’t huge but the sheer number of combinations of possible descents both on and off piste combined with the consistent steepness and difficulty of its slopes is one of the reasons why Les Grands Montets is a favourite with many skiers and riders in the valley.
Les Grands Montets has a reputation for offering some of the hardest pistes in Europe, and this is a reputation fully justified. Don’t be put off though: there are still long, wide slopes that can be attempted by daring beginners that suit an advanced skier just as well. There’s usually a board/skier park built here but if that’s not your thing, then there are plenty of runs to get the blood flowing with the Bochard and Lavancher bowl both lots of fun. Most of the area is above the tree line with large expanses of open terrain. The upper skiing areas are located on a glacier so you need to keep your wits about you when skiing there, but it is generally a fairly straight forward process to keep within the pisted markets and thereby avoiding danger.
Les Grands Montets can be very cold in the mornings and its shady northwesterly aspect at high altitude can mean that in mid winter it barely gets any sun until mid-afternoon. Later in the season Grands Montets starts to get more sun but it is generally the least sunny of all the areas but this can work to the skiers’ advantage as it means that conditions will often be well-preserved till May.
What You Say:
Les Grands Montets Beginner Ski Areas
Nursery pistes, drag lifts & some more challenging blue runs
The Grands Montets area is known for its steeper runs and more challenging pistes. With no green pistes in the area Grand Montets is not the most beginner friendly place to go in the Chamonix valley however, there is a nursery slope located at the bottom of the ski area, which can be great for those just starting off.
If you’re staying in Argentiere there’s the Les Chosalets beginners’ slope (1252m) on the valley floor. You’ll find it at the lower end of Argentiere just up from the turning for the Grands Montets car park. From the Chosalets bus stop, walk uphill on the narrow lane through the houses to get to the slope. It’s surrounded by trees and has a small snack hut at the bottom of the lifts. It is served by two draglifts one very short and slow, one much longer and slightly faster. This north-facing shady area normally has good snow for those making their first turns.
The two slopes are very different. One is very short and flat with its own draglift for those putting on skis or a board for the very first time. The adjacent slope is much longer and wider, and just as gentle lower down but steepens nearer the top making it a good slope for progressing on. From here you can see the Grands Montets cable car taking skiers up to the higher runs above: in no time you’ll be ready to ride it too.
If you are feeling more confident and would like to head up higher at Grand Montets then we recommend you take the Plan Joran chair up followed by the Tabe chairlift. You will then have access to the blue pistes that take you down to the Retour pendant, Plan Roujon and Tabe chairlifts. To get back down to resort you can hop back on the Plan Joran chairlift, which can actually be quite a fun ride down!
These blue pistes are the most gentle runs to be found in the Grand Montets area, although they can be steep and very challenging in parts, so you must make sure you are ready before heading up here. Grand Montets is known for its steep runs and with no green pistes it is not the most beginner friendly area in Chamonix!
Les Grands Montets On Piste
High descents, steep pistes & great snow
Looming above Argentiere, the Grands Montets area is made up of several high altitude and north-facing bowls that make for great-quality snow from December through to May.
Access to the pisted skiing area for Les Grand Montets is by either the Lognan cable car which departs from the main car park at Argentiere, or by the slow four-man chairlift to Plan Joran and either Tabe or Plan Roujon chairlifts after that.
Personally we prefer the chair route (weather permitting); although it is considerably slower (and much colder as it’s usually shaded), it’s less of a squeeze as the queues flow much faster. It also offers a great ride up through the woods. In April 2010, the Compagnie du Mont Blanc announced that this chairlift will be replaced by 2012 which should ensure that access to the area is speeded up considerably, especially during peak times.
TheLognanarea is where you need to be for access to the highest runs. From here you can take theBochard gondola(2765m), theHerse chair(2595m), or even head straight for the very top on the mainGrands Montets cable car(For holders of the Chamonix Le Pass lift ticket), there’s an additional charge ‘per ride’ on this one, however, if you have the full Mont Blanc Unlimited pass then access is included. Traversing high into the Lavancher bowl and heading as far skiers-left as you can opens up a huge area for you to enjoy.
If you have purchased a Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass, or you have paid the additional fee to take the Grand Montets cable car to the very top then there are a couple of pistes that start from the lift station that are definitely worth checking out. The Point de Vue and Pylônes pistes passes close to the Argentiere glacier and gives great views over the area towards Mont Dolent (3823m). As a top tip if you decide to do this run it is best to go early morning as the light reflecting off the séracs is pretty impressive. These runs are marked on the piste map and controlled by the local ‘Security de Pistes’ however they are not groomed and therefore require a good technical standard of skiing. Both runs are also on an area classified as ‘high mountain glacial terrain’ so you need to make sure that you don’t stray from the piste markers unless you are appropriately equipped to do so.
The Marmottons area is accessed by taking either the Tabé or Plan Roujon chairlifts. This is really the centre of the Grand Montet ski area and from here beginners can find their ski legs and perfect those wide carving turns or the more daring can dip off into the board park which is situated just to your left at the top of the Tabe chairlift.
Les Grands Montets Advanced Runs
The home of steep & deep skiing in Chamonix, from 3275m to 1252m
Grands Montets is the home of steep and deep challening pistes in Chamonix. The highest point being 3275m at the top of the Grands Montets cable car you can make your way all the way down to 1252m at Argentiere.
For one of the best options head to the very top taking both cable cars up from Argentiere. From here there are two marked runs that you can take, either: Point de Vue, which heads around the back of Les Grands Montets and skirts by the side of the Argentiere glacier; or across to the front of Les Grands Montets on Pylones. These runs are graded black and are not bashed so can develop moguls if it hasn’t snowed for a while, coupled with the steep gradient they’re guaranteed to give you a good workout.
If you fancy a slightly shorter version of this route you can stop at the cable car mid station at Lognan instead of going to the valley floor. However, it’s worth doing the full descent if you want to make the most out of these runs. If you follow Point de Vue, you’ll have the bonus of some truly stunning scenery as the run takes you very close to the amazing seracs and crevasses on the ice falls of the Argentiere glacier; sometimes you’ll spot ice climbers going up these vertical walls. As the run briefly flattens out on its way back to Lognan take a right turn onto the red run Variante Hotel.
If you are following the Pylones run at the front, just as you get to the top of the Herse chairlift, take a skier’s right onto the black run Blanchots (unbashed but marked) which leads to the Variante Hotel red run and the Chalet Refuge de Lognan. You’ll notice the Chalet Refuge de Lognan (on old stone building that serves fantastically good lunches) on your right, just above the tree line. It’s a good place to stop to rest those weary legs, but if you’re feeling strong carry on down the Variante Hotel run, which is similarly unbashed and again can be home to huge moguls. This run through the trees leads onto the Pierre a Ric, which is the final run down to Argentiere. Pierre a Ric is normally well groomed and will allow you to let rip for the last part of the descent. When you reach the bottom you’ll have clocked up just over 2000 metres of vertical.
Another favourite of ours at Les Grands Montets when we want something steep and fast is the Chamois piste in the Combe de la Pendant. This run begins just off the top of the Bochard gondola; take a left after the top narrow section and head along the cat track and you’ll be standing at the top of the piste. What we love about this run is that it’s often pretty deserted and well groomed so you can really fly down it without too many distractions from other skiers and boarders. The run has one or two quite steep sections that can be a little icy so you’ll need to keep your wits about you. You may find a few moguled sections on this run too to keep you on your toes.
Lower down you have two options, either: head under the bridge back to Plan Joran; or carry on in the Combe de la Pendant to Retour Pendant. If you do this run down to the bottom of the Retour Pendant chairlift you need to head onto the blue run Arolles, but if this is too flat for you then head straight down the off piste moguls that you’ll find between this zigzagging piste. If you head under the bridge, keep your speed up as this flat connecting section can leave you walking to the bridge if you don’t go full speed. All in all it’s not as long a descent as the one from the top of Les Grands Montets, but still it’s one the most testing runs in the valley!
Les Grands Montets Off Piste
Off-piste glacier skiing with great snow all season long
Les Grands Montets is always the first ski area in the valley to open and the last to close. Early in the season (December to early January) it’s often quite rocky off piste as it can take several metres of snow before there is a sufficient base. By mid to late January conditions are normally good as the base starts to build.
Because the top of this skiing area is on glacial terrain, it can also take a while for the very top cable car to operate because the glacier has many open crevasses which take a while to become covered by the falling snow.
As well as the really obvious stuff between the pistes, there’s plenty more off piste in Chamonix within easy reach for just a little bit of effort. The lifts in the Grands Montets give access to endless exceptional steep and deep off piste powder and glacial terrain, but because it is so easy to get to from the lifts it can tend to get tracked out very quickly on a powder day. When venturing off-piste always take the proper equipment with you (for the benefit of others as well as yourself) and, unless you specifically know where you are going, you should seriously consider opting for the services of a mountain guide (who, when you go with a group, will cost you less than a night out – small price to pay for the advantage of an expert) or a ski school.
Favourite off piste routes in Les Grand Montets
Route 1 : Combe de la Pendant
The open nature of the terrain off the main ski area at Grands Montets makes off piste easy. The two main lifts that we use most are the Bochard and the Herse. The Bochard gives access to a huge amount of off piste either into the Combe de la Pendant or onto the slopes above Lognan. The Combe de la Pendant is a huge bowl above the village of Le Lavancher. The top area of the bowl only has one pisted black run – the rest of the area is a freerider’s paradise. The pitch is steep without being scarily so and you can usually be guaranteed to find great snow here after a fresh snowfall. The only drawback is that everybody seems to know this so you find that by mid morning, it's already fairly well tracked out! The lower section of the bowl has some good pitches through small bushes and trees but don’t forget to traverse skier’s right back to the Retour Pendant chairlift or you’ll find yourself heading through the woods all the way down to Le Lavancher.
Route 2 : Runs from the Bochard Chairlift
From the top of the Bochard traversing skier’s right onto the lower edge of the glacier enables you to either head straight down and rejoin the Bochard piste or to get into the Herse triangle by climbing up a small moraine into the bowl below. The small climb and traverse are usually enough to keep the snow relatively untracked for a little while here. The options are endless from Bochard: one of my favourites is following the ridge between the main bowl and the Combe de la Pendant. There are usually plenty of drifts and little cornices to have fun in before you reach the little U-shaped gully we call the cigar. There’s nearly always a cornice on its right side, almost like a natural halfpipe, which is fun for slashing or dropping off.
Route 3 : Runs from the Herse Chairlift
The Herse chairlift has some great off piste below it too. Head left or right – it’s all open. If you traverse far right it gets a little rockier but pick your way through and you’ll find yourself above a large bowl called the Combe des Amethystes. There’s a CATEX avalanche tube above the bowl so you know that it should have been blasted and will be safe. As you enter the bowl there’s normally a large cornice above it with a steep landing, great fun for dropping if the slope below isn’t too mogulled. From the bottom of the bowl head left to get back to Lognan on the cat track or carry on down left of the Hotel Refuge to rejoin the Pierre a Ric piste that leads back to Argentiere.
Route 4 : Blanchots and Plyones
If you don’t like the idea of going completely off piste, Grands Montets has several runs that are unbashed but still marked and patrolled. Two of which start at the top of the Herse chair: they are Blanchots and Pylones. While in fresh snow they can be great, it doesn’t take long before they turn into mogul runs, so beware of them if you don’t like bumps and it’s been a few days since the last snowfall!!
Route 5 : Top of Grand Montets cable car
From the top cable car at Grands Montets the marked runs are the same – unbashed but patrolled so they can become mogulled within a few days after a snowfall. From the top of the Grands Montets all of the runs are on glacier. While the marked runs are patrolled, if you head off piste you should be wearing a harness and be equipped and trained for performing a crevasse rescue!
Route 5a : Face of the Grand Montets
A definite favourite! From the top of the Grand Monetes cable car, walk down the steps from the top station and take a right turn, cutting below the cable car. The pitch here is steep but with good snow it’s fantastic. If it looks icy, it’s best avoided as you don’t want to slide here since there are sometimes there are open crevasses below. If you cut skier’s right you can normally find some fresh powder before opening the throttle for a flat-out descent all the way to the top of the Herse chair. There’s a whole plethora of routes from the top of Grands Montets, and the best thing to do if you’re not familiar with skiing or riding on glaciers is to hire a guide or go with someone that knows the area well so you can enjoy the high mountains in relative safety.
Route 5b : Point du Vue.
The Point de Vue route is one to try on your own as it’s marked all the way and leads to the edge of the Argentiere glacier with its stunning seracs and crevasses, which are always worth a few photos.
Route 6 : Dream Forest
It’s not all high-mountain glaciers and powder fields at Grands Montets. There are also some great tree runs for when the weather turns bad. The Dream Forest often lives up to its name with its bouncy pillow lines and tranquil glades. The Dream Forest is situated in the triangle between the Plan Roujon and Retour Pendant chairs. The lower edge is marked by a footpath that leads to the bottom of each of these chairs. Depending on how far left or right you go, you have a good walk to whichever chair you think is closest (it’s never more than a ten-minute walk either way). The good thing about the walk is that it deters most people, so you can normally find untracked powder here for days after the last snowfall. When it’s snowing thick and fast these lower chairs often keep running and the trees help with visibility when it’s a whiteout, which is a winning combination that’ll keep you doing lap after lap of waist-deep powder while everyone else has stayed indoors. Make sure you don’t go past the footpath. If you do, you’ll be heading into the nature reserve below and taking a couloir to the bottom of the valley. These can be fun, but are avalanche prone and not for the faint-hearted!!
Les Grands Montets Backcountry Routes
Classic backcountry routes like the Pas de Chevre & Col du Passon
Some of the world's best backcountry terrain is to be found in Chamonix, especially high up on the glaciers accessed from the Aiguille du Midi and Grands Montets cable cars (Argentiere). These offer kilometres of high mountain powder with even more if you like to hike for fresh lines.
There are several excellent guidebooks with descriptions of the many possible routes both within and beyond the lift areas. There are two published by Vamos called Mont-Blanc Ski tours (ISBN 2910672085) and Chamonix Hors pistes-Off piste (ISBN 2910672107); these books are bilingual, in English and French. An even more extensive guidebook with more difficult routes is Mont-Blanc et Aiguilles Rouges à ski (ISBN 2960025520), written by Anselme Baud and published by Nevicata; it’s only available in French but is worth struggling through even if your French isn’t so good as it gives very accurate descriptions and has good explanatory photos. But remember, in the backcountry there are many dangers not least from crevasses, seracs, cliffs and avalanches so you should always hire a mountain guide.
If hiking isn’t your thing but you love powder then heli-skiing/boarding could be for you. Whilst helicopter drop-offs of this nature are illegal in France (as you land on National park), Chamonix is well located with plenty of companies offering heli-drops on the Mont-Blanc massif just over the border in either Switzerland or Italy. For backcountry skiing and snowboarding from Grands Montets it is strongly recommended that you use the services of a local mountain guide unless somebody in your party is local to the area and knows the country really well. You need somebody who knows their mountaineering because it’s all on glacier and the route finding can be complex. Some of the more popular routes are the Pas de Chevre and Col du Passon. The Pas de Chevre has a few variations in route and difficulty. We recently hired a local Chamonix mountain guide to show us round the Rectaline couloir variant.
Route 1 : Rectaline Couloir This route starts at the top of Grands Montets and heads towards the infamous Mer de Glace below the spectacular Aiguille du Dru. It starts gently enough with an open powder field but soon rolls overit is into a steep and narrow couloir. The top can apparently be quite rocky, sometimes requiring an abseil, but we were lucky with the snow and side slipped into the top without too much drama. Some fresh snow had fallen recently and our group was fortunate enough to get fresh tracks down the couloir. It is steep – we would reckon a 45 degrees slope at the top then, 40 degrees for the rest – and the snow was unstable and sloughing as we rode down. There were a few spots at the sides where we could stop to let the sloughs past before we finally rested at the bottom in the shelter of a rock.
It’s a route that wouldn’t look out of place in a ski or snowboard movie, except we were taking it a little less quickly than the pros! Once out of the couloir you are onto a glacier and into open powder fields at a much gentler pitch. You have to keep your eyes open for crevasses and then before you know it you’re off the glacier and not far above the Mer de Glace. Next comes the tricky part, finding the exit couloir to get across the Mer de Glace. That’s where knowledge of our mountain guide proved invaluable as he was able to guide us safely through the crevasses and took us right there. (If you go wrong at this stage you’ll find yourself on top of some very large cliffs wondering if you’ll ever get home.) There’s a short walk back up the other side of the glacier before the descent through the trees on a narrow path back down to Chamonix (snow conditions permitting) or via the Montenvers funicular down to town.
Route 2 : Col du Passon The Col du Passon is more of a ski-touring route than the Pas de Chevre as it involves a 2–3 hour hike. It starts at the top of Grands Montets but heads in the opposite direction to the Pas de Chevre down onto the Argentiere glacier, before heading up over the Col du Passon then down to Le Tour. Our mountain guide took us through the powder fields skier’s right of the Point de Vue piste leading us safely between the crevasses until we were at the side of the Argentiere glacier. From there we started the long hike (– roped up and wearing snowshoes) to cross the glacier.
We had set off early in the morning as the slopes we were climbing warm up rapidly in the sun and so are prone to sliding. We zigzagged our way up for a couple of hours until we reached the bottom of the couloir to the col. At this point the steepness meant we had to use crampons: if you’ve never used them before they give you a feeling of safety that’s hard to beat as the spikes dig into even the iciest snow. A few minutes later and we were all at the top, with the Le Tour glacier and open fields of fresh powder waiting for us below. However, we took a well deserved break and stopped for lunch.
From this point there are several possible routes down but our guide took us on one to the skier’s left. The top section started fairly mildly but soon rolled over into a pitch that was just about perfect for pulling fast powder turns. It was a long powdery descent with lots of room to manoeuvre high above the tree line. It wasn’t long before we started a long traverse skier’s left into some open trees and then the final, quite picky and steep descent through the bushes to Le Tour. The final section was probably the trickiest of the whole day and looking back up the slope it was possible to see plenty of very steep sections and cliffs where things would have gone badly wrong without the knowledge of our local guide… who knows what could have happened had we taken the wrong turn!
Route 3: La Trapette, marked ski tour route for beginners and ski touring training.
This official Grands Montets ski touring route, called the Trapette, allows beginners to get a taste for the sport without having to head off into the unknown.
The marked trail starts at Les Chosalets, La Rosiere or from the bottom station of the Plan Joran chair lift - the choice is yours. The route is marked along the way and climbs 730m over a distance of 4.5km's, to reach the bottom of the Tabé chairlift.
From here you can ski back down the Pierre e Ric run or continue upwards using the lifts.
The climb up takes between 2 and 3 hours depending on level of fitness.
This Grands Montets ski tour trail is a great introduction to the sport, as the route is clearly marked and has been chosen for it's safety and accessibility. You don't need to be an experienced off-piste skier as the end of the trail brings you out into the centre of the pisted ski area. Touring kit of skis, boots, bindings and skins can be hired fairly inexpensively (30-40€ per day) from most Chamonix sports shops.