Think powder's only for pros? We've got five of Chamonix's Mountain Guides and off-piste skiing instructors telling you otherwise. To get you touring, they've come up with their favourite beginner ski tours in and around Chamonix.
These tours should only be undertaken by those with appropriate avalanche awareness and navigation skills. In addition, crevasse rescue and glacier travel skills are required for the two tours beginning from Chamonix itself. If in doubt, hire a guide.
Col du Tour Noir 3535m
by Andy Perkins
Chamonix isn’t really the spot for ski touring beginners. The terrain is steep, the glaciers are serious, and the adrenaline comes thick and fast. Choosing a good intro tour can be tough, but I often use the Col du Tour Noir.
Take the Grands Montets cable car to the top of the ski area and then navigate down onto the Argentière Glacier. Not a descent for beginner skiers, that’s for sure, and you’ll need some knowledge of tactical glacier navigation and crevasse rescue procedures too.
Strap on skins, and stroll up the glacier with the stunning Droites and Courtes on your right. Gradually the steepness increases, allowing an intro to kick turns. Arrival at the col gives an awesome view into Suisse and the reward of a cool ski back down. And the best thing is that, being an aller-retour style of trip, you can go just as far as you want depending on weather, conditions and fitness, then turn back when ready.
Andy Perkins is a mountain guide based in Chamonix: www.andypmountainguide.com
WATCH: How to put skis on when it’s steep: Backcountry Essentials on BMC TV
Col d'Entreves 3527m
by Caroline Ware George
Few beginner tours provide such amazing views in such a dramatic setting: the austere south face of Mont Blanc and surrounding world-famous climbs and summits. This short tour isn't technically difficult but requires glacier travelling skills and good visibility for the downhill.
From the Aiguille du Midi, follow the classic Vallee Blanche itinerary to the Col du Midi. Enjoy beautiful turns along the the spectacular east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. Be mindful as you quickly cross under menacing active seracs between the Pyramide du Tacul and the Pointe Adolphe Rey.
Find a safe place to transition to skinning at 3100m. After crossing the main crevassed area, follow the base of the Aiguille de Toule and the Aiguilles d'Entreves. The pass is not the obvious wide open one at the base of the Aiguille d'Entreves, but the tiny notch with a beautiful needle in the middle of it. You'll know you're there when you are blown off your feet by the spectacular view you earned!
Follow your tracks back down but instead of crossing the maze of crevasses continue straight down to reach the classic Vallee Blanche track and follow it to the Montenvers train station, or on to the Chamonix valley if you're in luck with the snowpack that time of year.
Caroline is an IFMGA mountain guide who loves to share her passion for the mountains with her clients: www.intothemountains.com
Aiguillette des Houches 2285m
by Dee O'Neill
A lovely introduction to ski touring with stunning views of the Mont Blanc Massif and great powder fields for descent, or steeper gullies for the more adventurous skier. A great little backcountry adventure with no steep ascents and very few kick turns required.
Starting from the small hamlet of Le Betty (1350m), 15 minutes down the valley from Chamonix, your journey winds up through forest then opens out onto big powder fields as you approach the Chalet Chailloux. Continue climbing above the chalets then bear right at about 2000m in a north-west direction and continue towards the Aiguillette des Houches, passing under Pointe de Lapaz.
On reaching the summit you can descend the same way or take the steeper north-west facing couloirs back towards Pierre Blanche to return to your starting point at Le Bettey.
Dee is an off-piste skiing instructor. Check out her adventurous women's camps: www.basschamonix.com
WATCH: How to transition from skinning to bootpack: Backcountry Essentials on BMC TV
Rochers des Enclaves 2465m
by Jonny Baird
Les Contamines, 40 minutes drive down the valley from Chamonix, offers some fun, easier ski tours. This route is great for first-time tourers as there is virtually no steep ground to climb, so no kick turns are required. It’s possible to descend on slopes less than 30 degrees, so it's also generally a good route for days when other ski tours are at risk from avalanches. The terrain can be featureless, however, so requires good visibility or very good navigation skills.
The circular route starts from the top of La Bûche Croisée chairlift. From here you traverse in a southerly direction to a flattening at 2000m (a part of the tour that requires careful assessment of avalanche conditions). Then you skin gently up to the Col de la Gittaz at 2359m. From here you can continue to the summit or start the descent. It’s gentle, along a wide ridge until 2050m. From here there is plenty of scope for north-facing terrain and good fall-line skiing to the bottom of the Telecabine Ruelle in the Hauteluce system.
Col de la Cicle 2377m
by Stuart MacDonald
From the top of the La Bûche Croisée chairlift in the Les Contamines ski area, you head right to start Jonny’s ski tour recommendation, or left to reach mine.
Col de la Cicle is a beautiful journey into the wilderness: after starting in a busy ski area you are very quickly transported into the Beaufortain range. It's stunning; you can’t see any towns, villages or the ski area.
After a short initial descent from the chairlift, it's a very straightforward 300m skin up, where you often don’t have to do any kick turns at all, rising on a gentle traverse around the Roches Rouges (red rocks) to reach the Col de la Cicle.
Then it’s a fabulous, mostly north-facing ski down all the way to the car park at 1210m. The initial gradient is 35 degrees, then it gets more gentle.
Sign up to one of Stuart's intro to ski-touring courses running next January: www.avalancheacademy.com
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