A (Breathtaking) Sea Of Ice And Snow
Chamonix is a Mecca of alpine sports, where the crème de la crème of freeride skiers gathers each winter.
The cable car doors open loudly. Dozens of people carrying skis or snowboards pour out of the cabin. Most of them have their cameras poised for the perfect photo op. Getting out of the cabin as well, we are floored: Is it the thin air up here, or the gorgeous mountain panorama view? The guy next to us, a snowboarder from the United States, has only one thing to say: "Breathtaking." Yes, that pretty much sums up our feelings up here at 3,800 metres altitude, on top of the world. Aiguille du Midi. The perfect spot to feel a bit closer to Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain, without too much hassle. In merely 20 minutes the cable car ascends 2,800 metres, bringing guests from Chamonix to the mountain station at 3,800 metres. Incredible!
We all know that what goes up must come down. In our case we have two options: Get back into the cable car to Chamonix; or go on an adrenaline-filled downhill ride on skis, snowboard, wingsuit, or climbing rope. We pick option two on skis. But before we get on our planks, we have to make our way down a short, icy track to get to the plateau. Time for a final check: Do we have everything we need? Harness? Yes. Avalanche equipment? Yes. Helmet? Yes. The guts to go on one of the longest glacier runs in the Alps? We'll see…
Highly focussed freeriders pass us on their way down the steep ice ridge, tightly gripping the fixed rope, their eyes set on the icy track leading to the drop-in point of Vallée Blanche. The route stretches over almost 20 kilometres of huge glacier fields, all the way back to Chamonix. Set between the towering peaks of several four-thousanders, the run promises freeriding pleasure at its best. Last chance to turn back. Back up the ice track, into the safe cable car? Sounds tempting, but no way! We are here to experience the ecstasy of freeriding firsthand. A tip for all those who wish to follow: Try not to look down to your left too often; the ridge seems to fall straight off and we can barely believe that anyone – even the best freeriders in the world – could go down here. And yet we see some of them aptly manoeuvre their skis through the steep couloirs and crevasses.
We are quite content to take the classic route. Two clicks and we've stepped into our bindings. Off we go! The run starts out smoothly down slopes covered in fresh snow, over to Glacier du Géant and then, a bit more steeply through what seems like a maze of crevasses to Mer de Glace. We do our best to find our way between the many seracs and cracks. It is fairly late in the day, so we can follow the tracks left by those who came before us – luckily! Without them, we would surely get lost, so consider going with a guide to avoid trouble.
Approximately 12 kilometres long and 400 metres thick, Mer de Glace is France's largest glacier. It stretches through the valley and gradually levels out towards Chamonix. Some of the Alps' highest peaks tower above us. Our legs become heavier as we progress. Slowly, but surely our Vallée Blanche adventure is coming to an end. After a brief rise, the track brings us to Chamonix. We made it!
That evening we look up at the night sky and find the silhouette of Aiguille du Midi. Even from down here it takes our breath away. Breathtaking – one word describes it all.
Starting point: Aiguille du Midi
Distance: 19 km
Duration (ascent): 20 m (cable car)
Duration (descent): 2.5 h
Equipment: Skis, helmet, climbing rope/harness, avalanche transceiver, transponder, shovel
Altitude covered: 2,690m
Suited for: Advanced skiers with freeriding experience
Difficulty level: high
What makes the run appealing?
A 2,700 metres descent along almost 20 kilometres of one of the Alps' longest glaciers – enough said!
Special topographical features
Glacier faces and huge glacier crevasses
Finding your way through the maze of crevasses and cracksHighlights: View of Mont Blanc, the breathtaking mountain panorama
Best of the Alps rating
Fun: 9 out of 10
Adventure: 7 out of 10
Text: Heiko Mandl // friendship.is
Photos: Heiko Mandl // friendship.is
Nov. 17, 2017