Ski Touring areas in Courmayeur Ski Area
In addition to a lifetimes worth of ski touring accessible from the Courmayeur ski area, there's a wealth of incredible skiing lines that don't require ski touring equipment. Be aware though, whilst all these lines start from ski lifts, you are not in a controlled ski area and everyone in the group needs to be fully aware of the potential consequences of skiing in these very serious areas. If any doubt at all, hire a guide and enjoy a much less stressful day in their expert hands.
In the Courmayeur area itself, the highest lift (Arpy) gives skiers the choice of several long itineraries. One of the most popular is the Val Veny route. Starting from the lift station, traverse the sunny slope heading west to the Col de Youla, with a short sidestep or boot pack to the col. From the Col de Youla the first pitch is down the wide open slopes of the combe below the steep flanks of Mont Favre.
Stopping on the flat moraine bench overlooking Val Veny a range of ridge and gullies line up below you. This point is also accessible by traverse from the lower Youla lift. All these gully lines lead to the floor of Val Veny, however, they are not always in easily passable condition. Particularly in the early or late season, the snow can run out and be replaced with frozen waterfalls and rock bands. A good clue is if there are no or only a few tracks going into a gully, and a boot pack line coming out.....you might want to think a bit before dropping in!
Once you've exited the gullies you need to cross the Torrent La Doire on one of the snow bridges that form, then follow the snowed over summer road out to the Zerotta lift and another lap, coffee or pizza depending on the group's energy levels. The road out is quite flat and snowboarders might find a ski pole useful to aid progress, though if you're lucky a friendly snowmobile rider will give you a tow.
If you don't want to wait in the queues for Arp, another option for a big descent with quicker lifts is the Vallone Dolonne. From the Col Checruit gondola traverse across the Le Greye drag lift and piste to find yourself overlooking the Vallone Dolonne. The initial gully is relatively protected but once in the main combe the huge slopes of the Tete du Arp, frequent stop of the Freeride World Tour, tower above you......and frequently shed large avalanches.
Route finding is relatively simple, stay in the fall line, enjoy the wide open slopes, and keep heading downhill as the valley narrows. After over 700 vertical metres of open slopes, the exit gets quite tight as you follow the river out through the valley walls. This section requires good snow cover to bury the river and rocks. When in good condition it resembles a (very narrow and technical) boardercross track and is not suitable for less confident or less competent skiers. The exit track eventually exits to the Dolonne homerun, via a short section in the trees and a 5-metre sidestep, arriving just above the village of Dolonne itself.
There is another side to skiing in Courmayeur. Literally. Opposite the Courmayeur ski area, next to the Val Veny parking, lies the Skyway Monte Bianco. Italy's answer to l'Aiguille du Midi, the Skyway was re-aligned and opened in 2015. From the Val Veny parking, the two-stage cable car rises over 2100 metres to the Punta Helbronner, revolving all the way to give you full 360-degree views of Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco, it is the Italian side after all) and the Aosta Valley.
Skiing from the top of the Skyway is the same as skiing from the top of l'Aiguille du Midi. Completely off piste, on glaciated terrain, and totally at your own risk. The best skiers in the world ride from these lifts, and as a result some of the ski tracks can lead to some incredible places that really are not for 99% of the skiers on earth, but it's not all gnar. The "normal" ski line from the Punta Helbronner down the Glacier de Toule is accessible and gives a great 1200 vertical metres or so of powder or spring snow skiing, depending on conditions. Though more serious and demanding than the glacier itineraries from the Grand Montets, the skiing is easier than the harder variants of the Vallee Blanche such as the Grand Envers.
From the lift station, a rising traverse line needs a bit of a walk up to the Col des Flambeaux (remembering that this is glaciated terrain now, and it's much easier to fall in a crevasse on foot than on your skis) followed by a skate round to the Col Orient de Toule. A staircase gets you down the initial steep section, sometimes finished with a short downclimb whilst holding an in situ rope over a bergshrund (I did say you're not in a ski area anymore didn't I?).
Once off the stairs and onto your skis you can admire the view over Courmayeur and down the Aosta Valley. You can also survey the vast expanses of snow in front of you, waiting for your skis! The safest descent takes you down the massive combe of the Glacier de Toule towards the skiers left of the basin, avoiding the menacing seracs in the centre of the glacier. After the mellow angled first section of the descent, the slope angle steepens as you descend, sandwiched between rock walls to your left and the seracs to your right. An atmospheric spot for sure but, with the possibility of avalanches from the rocks above and the seracs beside, perhaps not one to hang about for too long in.
Once through this section, you should keep trending towards the left and the long moraine bank that separates the basin of the Glacier de Toule and the area below the lift cables. After crossing the moraine ridge it's just the simple matter of another long descent towards the pavilion mid station, choosing where you want to ski as the snow conditions dictate. To really get the best of the skiing around the Skyway lift, hiring a guide is strongly recommended, and even without a guide the serious nature of the skiing makes knowledge and practice of glacier travel and dealing with avalanche terrain an absolute must.
NB: Off-piste skiing and mountaineering are dangerous. The opinions expressed in these articles are very much time and condition-specific and the content is not intended in any way to be a substitute for hiring a mountain guide, undergoing professional mountaineering training and/or the individual's own backcountry decision making.
Also see: Ski Touring in Chamonix, France