Daily Archives: April 5, 2009

Landscape: Skiing the Grand Montets

Grand Montets TramI knew that skiing in the French Alps was going to be BIG, but I didn’t know what big felt like until I skied from the Grand Montets top lift (12,678 ft) all the way to the Chamonix Valley floor (3,415 ft). This was one of the things I wanted to do on my recent vacation, but poor weather kept us from going all the way to the top of the Grand Montets until my last day there. And it was the best way to end what had already been a fantastic two weeks. We waited in line for around 30 minutes to board a tram that carries between 50-60 people from the Lognan mid-station to the top of the Grand Montets.

I had been up this lift before to go climbing in the summer, but when I stepped out on the deck and looked out over the entire valley covered with snow, my stomach dropped at the sight of it:

View Top of Grand Montets

Getting down the lift’s steep stairs in ski boots and a howling wind was a bit of a precarious start, but it only foreshadowed the terrain and type of skiing that would follow:

Grand Montets stairs

Straight off the lift, we saw open crevasses as we skied down towards the Glacier d’Argentiere, crossing through no-fall areas such as this one where big boulders dotted the route above a cliff band:

Skiing above cliffs

The reward for skiing successfully through a place like this is seeing the beauty all around. Once we got down through the first steep section, we skied out on the Glacier d’Argentiere and had this view up the basin. One of my favorite peaks, Mont Dolent is the shark’s tooth at the valley’s head, and if this photo were able to capture all of the other peaks around, you’d also be able to see the Chardonnet, the Aiguille d’Argentiere, and Le Vert, among many others equally as impressive.

Glacier d'Argentiere

One of the things that really wowed me about this ski was a section where we skied through ice cliffs (seracs). There are no glaciers in Colorado, so I had never experienced skiing over slight snow bridges with deep blue crevasses on both sides:

Skiing Glacier d'Argentiere's Seracs

Instead of rocketing straight from the top of the Grand Montets down to Argentiere (the town at base of the Grand Montets lift), we did some traversing and skied through the Le Levancher bowl and then down into Le Levancher through the trees. This type of skiing isn’t for everybody. First of all, I’d say that you have to be okay with heights and enjoy skiing steep and technical terrain. For the first time, it’s probably a good idea to have a guide or ski with someone who knows the terrain. Luckily, my Chamonix-born, superstar-skier friend Cindy L. went with us to lead the way, and the day turned into one of the most gorgeous fun-filled days out I’ve had this season.