La Vallee Blanche 20km off-piste route
The Vallée Blanche starts at the top of the Aiguille du Midi and finishes in Chamonix’s town centre (snow permitting). It’s an unmarked, unmaintained and unpatrolled high mountain off-piste ski itinerary which offers some of the most spectacular scenery that the Mont Blanc range has to offer.
The Aiguille du Midi cable car is the starting point for this popular route. Generally, the lift company operates a number system where you can phone and pre-book your cable car in advance. This is highly recommended if you want to avoid an unpredictable and possibly long wait on a busy day. A Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass covers the Aiguille du Midi lift or single/day lift passes are available, prices here.
The Vallee Blanche routes start at the top of the Aiguille du Midi (3812m) where after exiting the ice tunnel you are straight onto the ‘arête’. This is potentially one of the most dangerous points of the route as it is essentially a ridge edge which has a 50-degree pitch on both sides. In high season, a safety rope is placed along the descending path but it is still pretty intimidating knowing a safety rope is all that there is between you and the pea-sized buildings of Chamonix town centre.
There are four main Vallee Blanche routes. The classic route ‘voie normal’ is fairly straight-forward providing you are following the advice of your hired guide. The route can be fairly busy during high season. The other routes are known as Le Vrai Vallee Blanche, the Petit Envers du Plan and the Grand Envers du Plan. These are technically more challenging and involve couloir skiing so are for more experienced skiers.
If skiing the ‘voie normal’ after descending the arête, the route heads to the right of the large rock outcrop known as Le Gros Rognon (‘the big rock’). Along the descending route you will see large séracs, crevasses and ice falls which are pretty impressive sparkling away in various shades of icy blue from the winter sunshine.
Most people make a day of the trip down the Valley Blanche; for many it is the highlight of a skiing trip to Chamonix and they want to enjoy it. If you allow for regular breaks and a bit of sightseeing on the way down you will probably take between 4 and 6 hours for the round trip from Chamonix. Don’t forget that queues can be long for the Aiguille du Midi telepherique, the arête from the Midi to the glacier, and for the return train from Montenvers.
A popular pit stop for lunch on the Valle Blanche is the Requin refuge. A number of skiers also tend to stop at the ‘Salle a Manger’ beneath the séracs. These large ice structures can collapse at any time so it is best not to hang around in this area. If you don't want to carry food with you there is a cafe at the top, at the Aiguille du Midi and at the bottom, at Montenvers.
The route at the end of the Vallee Blanche really favours skiers as it has a long flat run out which can be tricky for snowboarders to keep moving. During the spring it gets pretty slushy too so it is recommended that snowboarders take a pair of poles to push themselves along. In good snow conditions you can ski all the way back to Chamonix’s town centre; if not then the best way down is via the gondola and the Montenvers train.