First please accept my apologies for the delay in getting this post up. The Alps has seen some of the best early season conditions that Ive had the pleasure of experiencing in 20 years and its been really fun to ski with visiting American’s Johnny Collinson and Griffin post and share some of our favourite spots with them.
An article on ski mountaineering wouldn’t be complete without a mention of my hometown Chamonix. Hailed as the birthplace of alpinism, it is the superbowl of steep skiing, where boundaries are continually pushed due to the healthy competition amongst the hoardes of very strong skiers who make the pilgrimage there to either learn and grow or cut their teeth on the established test pieces. Easy (lift) access allows the big faces to be studied close up until its judged enough snow has stuck for them to be skiable. These are serious committing undertakings, fall you die terrain, and the grave yards will testify about all those who made a slight mistake in their quest. These are the real steeps rad, gnarly, complex, and to be given utmost repect.
In an area with thousands of lines it could be hard to chose one which stands out above all others. The 800 m 50 degree Gervautti Couloir on Tacul is a beauty, the 1100 m 55 degree Couturier Couloir on La Verte is definitely up there. But for me I will go with Trevor Peterson’s and Eric Pehota’s simple philosophy of the big line on the big mountain and that means the himalayan sized West Face of Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak.
The West Face drops over 2000 m from a start point 4810 m (15780 ft). It’s a line that comes into condition late May or early June once the snow starts sticking to the ice cap high on Mont Blanc and as you ski over the upper convexity you will feel all of that exposure! The upper pitch alone is 1200 m and can be skied clean, no ropes, no tricks, just great skiing. If you then take the Quintino Sella hut couloir, the change in aspect will mean its just softening up perfectly and the 600 m exit couloir will take just a few minutes. A quick traverse of the Dome Glacier and you take the line of the summer path down onto the Miage Glacier where you glide down past all the mega couloirs under Petit Mont Blanc. The final walk down Val Veni is charming where the smells of the grass and spring flowers are a strong contrast to the snow and ice in the high mountain and about 15 hours after starting your day, you arrive at the road head tired and very happy to have skied one of the best ski lines in the World.
Sylvain Saudan did the first descent of this line and by stroke of coincidence I was lucky enough to bump into him the day afterwards while I was out mountain biking and we shared a few memories of this incredible line.