When you arrive in Chamonix you’ll quickly realise that this isn’t your average European ski resort. The surrounding mountains are some of the highest in Europe and with the town nestled into the valley at a relatively low altitude of 1035m, the mountains tower high above like no other resort in Europe.
You’ll find the streets lined with seasoned mountaineers and expert skiers bearing harnesses and ropes, either heading off or returning from an epic adventure in the mountains. Look in any direction from the town centre and you can see tons of amazing off piste ski routes, from wide and cruisy tours that are perfectly suitable for intermediate skiers, to narrow and nail bitingly steep chutes attempted only by the pros.
Chamonix is arguably one of the world’s best ski resorts for off piste skiing with 4 incredible ski areas, all very special in their own way. These are Les Grands Montets, Brevent & Flegere, Domaine de Balme (otherwise known as Le Tour & Vallorcine) and The Vallée Blanche Ski Area.
The off piste opportunities in the Chamonix valley are untold. Although remember, never venture off piste alone and make sure you take all the necessary avalanche safety equipment. If you don’t know exactly where you’re going it’s best to arrange a guide or ski with a local. It just means you can make the most of this amazing valley with complete peace of mind.
I’ve taken on the impossible task of narrowing down hundreds of potential off piste ski routes in Chamonix to our 10 personal favourites. Check them out below.
Les Grands Montets
Les Grands Montets is always the first ski area in Chamonix to open and the last to close, and with such open spaces between groomed runs the off piste opportunities are vast. There are three main lifts that you’ll use to access the majority of the off piste terrain - the top of Grand Montets cable car, the Herse and the Bochard. You can ski anything from steep and deep glacial powder, to fun-filled pillow lines and relaxed gladed tree runs in the Dream Forest – great for when the weather closes in.
Les Grands Montets piste map.
With so many routes making the shortlist I’ve narrowed down 5 of my favourite off piste ski routes in Les Grands Montets:
Top of Grand Montets cable car - You'll find a plethora of incredible off piste routes from the top of the cable car. You’ll be skiing on glacial terrain with open crevasses here so the best thing to do if you don't know the area is to arrange a guide for the day so you can ski this amazing area without worrying about the consequences of getting it wrong.
The Dream Forest - The Dream Forest is located between the Plan Roujon and the Retour Pendant chair lifts. This is a great option when the visibility closes in as the trees offer contrast when it's a complete whiteout. So when everybody else is complaining about the terrible weather and nursing a hot chocolate indoors, you'll be lapping the forest waist deep in powder with all your friends.
Skiers' Right of The Bochard Lift - traverse right and you can access fields of powder down to re-join the Bochard piste or, if this tracked out, stay high and climb over the small mass of rocks and into the Herse triangle where you’ll usually find untracked snow for longer.
Herse Chairlift – there is fantastic off piste skiing both right and left of the Herse down to the Lognan or if you continue down through the gladed trees you'll rejoin the Pierre a Pic piste that leads down to Argentiere.
Combe de la Pendant - a massive powder filled bowl accessed by the Bochard ski lift. The bowl only contains one black run at the top so the rest of the area is free for powder hungry freeskiers to exploit. It’s a really nice pitch – steep, but not too steep, the only drawback is that it's quite well known so after a dump of snow it can get tracked out fairly quickly.
Brevent & Flegere
There are limitless off piste options here. So much so that you could write a book on these two areas alone! Brevent and La Flegere tend to be quieter than Les Grands Montets so on a powder day you can find fresh lines when Les Grands Montets is completely tracked out. The natural terrain is really interesting and will keep you entertained for days with lots of fun pillows and lumps, natural table tops, quarter pipes, half pipes and drops. As is always the case in Chamonix though, remain alert at all times. There can be hidden drops and nasty surprises lurking if you lose your way so always scope your lines before you ski them and make sure you have a good idea of where you are on the mountain whilst skiing at all times.
Brevent & La Flegere piste map.
Two of our favourite off piste ski routes here are The Brevent Ridge and The Flegere Bowl:
The Brevent Ridge - Take the Brevent cable car up and follow the Bozon piste. As the run takes a sharp right hand turn continue straight onto the ridge. You'll have to walk a little but there are some great steep couloirs at various distances along that take you down to the Charles Bozon piste. If you continue further along the ridge, you'll find the Col de Brevent - a great run that takes you right down to the Bozon piste and continuing further down to Chamonix's Village. These slopes are south facing so make sure you're not skiing here when the sun’s been on them in the afternoon.
The Flegere Bowl - The Index chair drops you right at the top of the bowl so just take a (skiers') right off the lift and drop in! With just one piste that runs through this gigantic bowl there are limitless options with huge open fields of powder. Some will go as far to say that you'll find the best off piste skiing in Chamonix valley here!
Domaine de Balme - Le Tour
Domaine de Balme is a less obvious option for off piste as its lower and less steep than Chamonix's other ski areas. In spite of this you can find some of the best off piste skiing in the valley on its day with big stashes of untracked powder available when the more obvious and popular areas are completely tracked out.
It can be quite windy as the wind funnels up the Chamonix valley. As a result you should be weary of wind lips and loaded slaps that can trigger avalanches. Again, if you go with a guide or can ski with a local you'll make full use of the terrain without stressing about unknown hazards.
Domaine de Balme - Le Tour piste map.
A couple of great off piste routes are the Combes de la Vormaine and the Aiguille des Posettes that runs down to La Tour.
The Aiguille des Posettes – The Aiguille des Posiettes is another great off piste option in La Tour that can be access from the top of the Aiguillette drag. Traverse skier's right below the ridge staying as high as possible until you reach the avalanche barriers. You'll be skiing down the slopes above the car park at La Tour where, if you keep left, you'll find great open fields of powder and on the right you’ll find gladed trees and bushes to weave between whilst skiing down.
Combes de la Vormaine - On its day, the Combes de la Vormaine offers some of the most amazing steep and deep chutes right down to the valley that lead into the beginner’s ski area of La Vormaine. They’re not visible from the lift which means that the chances are, if you get there pretty soon after a dump, it'll be untracked. You can get to them without hiking by traversing (skier's) left from the Autannes chair. When you reach the top of the chutes you have the choice of several that vary in pitch, from steep to very steep, so only attempt these if you have confidence in your off piste ability.
The Vallée Blanche
The legendary Vallée Blanche is a completely unmarked and unpatrolled 20km off-piste itinerary. It begins at the top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car at a breathtaking 3812m and continues down the glacier, dropping 2,800m of vertical before finishing at the Montenvers mountain rail terminus or, if the snow permits, in the centre of Chamonix. It offers some of the most spectacular scenery with wide open views right across the Haute Savoir, down the Chamonix Valley and, in the other direction, right into Italy. It's an absolute must for any keen skier heading to Chamonix.
It can get pretty busy, especially towards the end of the week, so to avoid a long wait you can pre-book your cable car.
The main route, the ‘voie normal’, is pretty straightforward so can be tackled by intermediates. A guide is strongly advised if you are at all unsure about the route and your ability on glacial terrain.
Before you even strap on your skis, skiers must take on “The Arête” – a knife edge ridge going from the ice tunnel at the top of the cable car down to the top of the glacier. It’s the most dangerous section of the Vallée Blanche in terms of deaths with a 2000m drop down a 40 degree slope on one side; one wrong step at this point and it’s goodnight Vienna. During peak season the route is marked with a safety rope, even still, you’ll need crampons and a line to rope up with a buddy.
Most people ski the voie normal. It’s the easiest route that follows the valley floor down to the Col du Midi at which point there is a massive rock outcrop named the Gros Rognon on the left. From here you'll traverse, making a considered effort to avoid crevasses, towards the Mont Blanc du Tacul. After this, you'll turn North where the route narrows considerably and you'll see crevasses and an impressive ice fall to the right that glows vivid shades of blue. It's steeper here and you'll be skiing on fragile ice bridges that cover crevasses, so with the added pressure of other routes re-joining it's important to remain composed to avoid stumbling and placing additional pressure on the ice.
You'll then traverse to the Refuge du Requin which is a great stop for lunch. From here you enter the Mer de Glass. This is a pretty flat section where you weave between crevasses down to the Montenvers train, and if the snow permits you can ski back down to Chamonix.
There are a host of different routes down the Vallee Blanche other than the voie normale for example the Petit Envers du Plan; a steep route through impressive ice formations for strong skiers only, and the Grand Envers du Plan; probably the steepest and most technical Vallee Blanche route.
If you’re planning to head to Chamonix for an off piste adventure check out our wide selection of accommodation, hotels and apartments in Chamonix here and if you’d like to chat to a member of the PowderBeds team just call 0845 180 5000. We’d love to hear from you.Have we missed anything here? Are there any other off piste routes in Chamonix that we should have included? If so leave a comment below; we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Posted on Thursday 04 Apr 2013