Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Skiing In The Vallée Blanche, Chamonix

March 2007: I ended my 2006/2007 skiing season yesterday on the Vallée Blanche.

Freddy, a 70 year old Swiss guy who looks 55 and is full of energy, me and 7 nurses (why do I always pick the right team?) went up to Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix and climbed down the famous 'path' to the starting point of the Vallée Blanche.

Well equipped with rope, iceaxe, chocolate, sandwiches, cool sunglasses and 3 bottles of wine, we started the most beautiful and spectacular run I have ever done. The Vallée Blanche is first of all an amazing place. The skiing is not that difficult, but being literally on the glacier is fantastic.

After a few hours in bright sunshine and several stops where Freddy told us a everything there is to know about the different summits, we stopped for lunch just above the first real glacier. It was time to get courage! Well tanked up, we started down over the glacier. It was like an intermediate mogul piste, except there is no piste and the extra 'spice' of having to deal with crevasses often 40 metres deep.

Up to this point the skiing was easy off-piste but that was now over. Very narrow paths with deep, deep holes on the side, moguls turning out not to be moguls but the edge of crevasses all over. Ten meter high blue ice formations formed an incredible landscape -- almost unreal.

I had a very near miss when I jumped a bump. Being in the air I looked down into a very deep crevasse right under me... I pulled my knees up to my chin and hoped I had enough speed. When I landed with the back of my skis over the edge and threw myself forward the nurse standing next to the hole stopped screaming... a close one.

After another glacier run we came down to the top of the 'mer de glace' which is like skiing on a very large frozen lake. Still on top of the glacier but completely flat. Unfortunately the lower part of La mer de glace had turned into la mer de l'eau, so we took the train back to Chamonix.

A fantastic visual experience, that you just have to try at least once. It can be done on snowboard if you are a really good snowboarder, and pretty fearless. Here, fearless means that even though you know that if you make one small mistake you are over the edge and gone, you don't mind and make it down. Basically you have to go with a guide, or someone who has done it several times. It is not difficult except for the 2 glacier parts, but it is dangerous.

I counted 8 helicopters in a few hours flying people out of there. It is not like skiing in any station! It is not just another off-piste run. It is in the mountains with noone looking for you. No lift to go to, no phones to call for help. You go there and you go all the way.

Try it! And remember to book the telecabine up to Aiguille du midi several days in advance. Waiting 4-5 hours is not very funny.