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Vallee Blanche Difficulty?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Just wondering if anyone can shed some light on how hard the classic Vallee Blanche (off-piste) route in Chamonix is?

Do you need to be comfortable on all levels of black slope to tackle it, or is it suitable for a less experienced skier?

Thanks
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Entick, Consensus seems to be that a competent red run skier should be able to manage the Vallee Blanche. As with most of these types of trips the conditions on the day may influence how easy or hard it is. Done it several years ago on a beautiful sunny day when I was barely a competent red run skier. 2 falls and no submissions saw me to the stairway to heaven (that horrible climb up to the train).
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Entick, its not so much the skiing of the valle blanche , its more of the getting down the rope at the start which you would find the most daunting Smile if your not an experienced skiier seeing that for the first time may put you off Confused
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Entick, Agree with both the above, but make sure you do it with a guide (lots of crevasses) and when the guide says follow me, they mean EXACTLY in his/ her tracks not 30cm away even.

Also take plenty of snacks and water, its a long day. Also plenty of space on your memory card.........................one of my best skiing days ever, not the hardest but never said "Wow" and "Awesome" so much in one day, a great experience, do it.
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Entick: We skied it in decent snow, so it was open all the way to Chamonix - so no train needed for us.

I agree that anyone comfortable on a red run - and in powder after a snowfall - would manage ok. We had the odd bit of powder but, overall, it was skied into a piste. There are also some fairly flat stand-up-and-go sections.

The ridge descent on foot at the start is - to say the least - 'interesting.' As we've done quite a lot of mountain walking we found it ok - but it is very exposed, with drops of thousands of feet on each side. The guide ropes everyone up, so it is quite secure but you do need a bit of a head for heights.

The other interesting bit was getting off the glacier at the end of the Mer de Glace. Our excursion involved going through an ice cave and emerging to shin down an ice wall on a knotted rope - though I'm not sure whether that's the norm....

The ridge walk


The ridge from below - piece of cake!!


Vallee Blanche


Through the ice fall


Ice cave


Descent off the glacier


....and viewed from below
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Our group skied it from the Italian (Courmayeur) side down to Chamonix which is a good way of avoiding the rope part at the very top. I don't remember that so we must have started lower down. From where we started it was a few turns in deep snow, a little side slipping down a very narrow section with crevasses on either side and then a long ski to the bottom. (we could not ski to the very bottom so took the train for the last bit). This is going back quite a few years so I hope my memories are accurate. We had blue skies and sunshine and it is the most memorable day I've ever had skiing. The scenery is amazing.

I think if you are happy on red runs you would be fine. It is probably more important to be generally fit to have the stamina to do a long day skiing without many stops. The only thing I was worried about was lasting all that time without needing the loo Laughing
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Superb photographs! snowHead snowHead snowHead

The guide I did my intro to ski touring with on Sunday told me he was suspicious of people who wanted to do the VB who told him they'd skied all the black runs in Les Saisies. wink So I kept my mouth shut.
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mountainaddict, What interesting photos - so in the last two are the pale grey snowless surfaces actually the sides of a living glacier or is is a rock surface covered in ice. If it's the sides of a glacier then that's really interesting - I stood on the Corvatch glacier once, but you couldn't see the sides of it, are the darker patches the moraines and load that it is carrying - just like I studied in A level geography? I've never seen a glacier from that perspective. I doubt I'll be competent to ever go to somewhere like that, but the pictures are really great to see.
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Megamum, you can easily get up close and personal with a glacier in Chamonix without having to do any heroic skiing - you can go up the Montenvers train. Well worth a trip though it's sad to see what a pale shadow of its former self the glacier there has become.
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Entick, I have no head for heights and found the ridge to be much less scary than I'd imagined - although I was with an 8 year old and had to "be brave" Toofy Grin

The next hardest part is the very first pitch. Beyond that the classic route is very mellow and any competent blue run skier can ski it.

Don't, though, underestimate the altitude. It's pretty high up there and MrsFS didn't cope well with it the first time we went to the top. And whilst it's "only" a blue run it's very, very, very, very long and made harder by the altitude.

There are, of course, all sorts of "adventure" options beyond that classic route...
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Great photos mountainaddict, really captures the essence of it, except perhaps the fear and exposure on the initial arete. But you wil be roped up OP so no risk whatsoever to you, just a slight bit of jelly legs.

If you can ski reds yuo can easily ski VB. The only time you might have real problems would be if there was a lot of fresh snow and you had no off piste experience. Even at that, skiing the VB in fresh snow would be a privilege and not something to worry about.

Enjoy!
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
A few more pics...
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Megamum The grey patches are the bare glacial ice. On the last photo, the people at the top of the rope are still on the glacier - the person
below (guide, with backpack) is off the glacier, on terra firma so to speak.

The guide advised that the 'gap' to the left of the photo was not a crevasse proper (though you wouldn't want to fall down it!) but was technically a
'Bergschrund' - which a quick internet search defines as "A type of glacial crevasse that separates the moving ice and snow from the snowfield at the
top of a mountain valley." In other words it's the end, or edge, of the glacier. But being a glacial boffin, I bet you already knew that wink.....

Like you, I find glaciers really fascinating. In terms of your 'I'll never be competent enough' quote - you don't need to be! As mentioned, any red run skier could probably manage the VB in decent conditions. Regardless, at the top of the Hintertux Glacier in Austria (at about 3300m) you can go on guided walking tours inside the glacier! So we did - it was totally amazing and highly recommended! The ice is hundreds of metres thick and thousands of years old!

They didn't allow photos but here's the website link - there's a video to click on towards the bottom of the page - the reality was actually a lot better than the video:
http://www.hintertuxergletscher.at/en/news/0/Natureispalastenglisch.html
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mountainaddict - feck! that knotted rope off the end of the glacier looks hairy! An abseil might have been safer?

It was seeing fantastic photos like this from my friends' descent of the VB five years ago that inspired me to start learning to ski; and has opened up a whole new wonderful world for me. It's still high on my wishlist of things to do..
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mountainaddict, I've had a look at the video, if I ever got the chance and was in the vicinity I think I'd love to see inside a glacier and a real Bergschrund - and yes, I have got notes somewhere about those!! Laughing . To my mind the power of mother nature was what geography was about, the study of 'people' (Humanity type) geography didn't really interest me, but the ice, wind, water, etc. physical features were the really fascinating things. The trouble in the UK is that you only get the chance to see what glaciers 'did' (past tense), rather than a chance to see them doing it. Mind you I can still remember all about my physical geography, as my poor kids have to put up with everytime we visit hills and mountains or rivers and seas!
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
snowymum wrote:
Our group skied it from the Italian (Courmayeur) side down to Chamonix which is a good way of avoiding the rope part at the very top. I don't remember that so we must have started lower down. From where we started it was a few turns in deep snow, a little side slipping down a very narrow section with crevasses on either side and then a long ski to the bottom. (we could not ski to the very bottom so took the train for the last bit). This is going back quite a few years so I hope my memories are accurate. We had blue skies and sunshine and it is the most memorable day I've ever had skiing. The scenery is amazing.

I think if you are happy on red runs you would be fine. It is probably more important to be generally fit to have the stamina to do a long day skiing without many stops. The only thing I was worried about was lasting all that time without needing the loo Laughing


That's exactly what we did. There was no ridge walk at the start, and I remember that narrow bit with crevasses too.

The scenery is the most stunning I've ever seen, it's worth it alone for that.

To get off the glacier at the end was a leap of faith over the top of a huge ice cave, it was a tiny narrow path which you couldn't turn on, so you had to point your skis straight down and hope you could stop at the bottom..

Those stairs were neverending, but we were all buzzing at the end, and we treated ourselves to BIG beers in Chamonix!

Do it!
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I've done it from the Italian side as well, starting at Pointe Helbronner above the Troino Hut. That was back in 1983, I did an exchange with the Alpini Regiment. Must go back and do it again. Is it normal for everyone to use guides these days or is it just folk without the mountaineering know how?
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So it's a breathlessly tiring crevasse-infested off-piste route involving skiing precisely in the tracks of a mountain guide in order to avoid death, abseiling down glaciers on ropes, and crawling through caves, that any bog standard red-run piste skier can easily manage.

Thanks for clearing that up, snowHeads community! Smile
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paulio, Laughing

Probably not suitable for red-run prada skiers Very Happy
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My mate (with a fair bit of moutaineering experience) did it on his third day on skis - the ridge (which I'd heard has got easier as they dig a trench down it instead of just the handrail) was the worst as we stood for 40 minutes waiting for people to move - he ended up with black fingertips on one hand. But the skiing is easy peasy in good conditions - just a couple of tightish turns above the salle a manger. I think most of it's blue run ish. But then again, I've only ever done it in good conditions - the hardest part for me was the interminable track at the bottom to get down to town - I thought the train was a far better way down!
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OwenM The guides are doing it many times a week and know the terrain, the glacier shifts and crevasses are exposed/ covered up by fresh snow all the time, best to be behind one of them as they ski across a snow bridge rather than skiing aimlessly in dangerous areas. When I did it in 2003 a crowd of snowboarders, we came across had literally lost their friend down a crevass and they were all stood about bewildered and were crying out for help. Our guide stopped and assisted, and got the emergency team there, but also gave them a massive rollicking - one of the most spine-chilling things I have ever witnessed. Needless to say they werent with a guide, dont know the outcome but there was a great deal of heli activity.
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Caves and abseiling are optional! We certainly did neither on our route.
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That rope is the worst piece of mountaineering I have ever seen. Please somebody tell me this is a staged joke picture.
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James the Last wrote:
That rope is the worst piece of mountaineering I have ever seen. Please somebody tell me this is a staged joke picture.


Like the old 'Batman climbing a rope up the side of a building' rotation trick? Smile
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I thought fixed lines for tricky but not actually hugely dangerous bits were pretty common. That looks like it's just for assistance whilst sideslipping/stepping past the small step you can see from here:

http://www.snowmediazone.com/the_zone/data/500/Ski_Touring_Chamonix_II_Mar06_096.jpg
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looks like a handrail for people not used to sideslipping rather than a serious mountaineering set-up.
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Markymark29, Yes I do know what guides do. I asked the question because when I last did it, as I said a long time ago, there weren't that many parties on it and I don't remember any of them being guided.
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Do it through your tour rep, or book it with a reputable trip organiser. They will fit you up with a tranceiver (If you don't have one) a harness and a guide. The cost will also cover insurance in case you need to be evac'ed. You think it won't happen but we did VB on the first day it opened after a week of heavy snowfall, and watched one girl snap her ankle backwards. As for where you start from it can decide a lot on your guide and the competence of the group you are with, we started from Cormaeyeur and hiked for the summit. Whe Winds and temperature can change even the best laid plans. That aside, I concurr with what the others say - it is a great trip - take a camera
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This is what the ridge is like before they rope it up for you to walk down


Skiing out the Door from Tom Greenall
http://vimeo.com/34555644

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adge cutler,
Quote:

Do it through your tour rep, or book it with a reputable trip organiser

Or organise a guide for a more interesting variant than the normal tourist route - you can find details of the various VB routes >>here<<

This shot is from the Petit Envers variant (guided by Rick Marchant) ...
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 Poster: A snowHead
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That video is a proof if ever it were needed, that everyone should know how to side slip!
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richjp, yes, as I commented to the guy who shared it to me the skiing itself looks fine, it's just the exposure that scares me senseless - it;s 3000m vertical down to chamonix if you get that wrong!
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James the Last No joke, the pic is exactly how it was on the day, as can be seen on my second photo, which shows the same descent from lower down. The rope was already there when we emerged from the ice cave & the guide told us that it was our easiest route off the glacier....
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Great post and brilliant photos. I wanted to board the vallee blanche at xmas time but it wasnt safe so was pretty gutted. It looks amazing and would love to try it one day.
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nbt, OMG!! Nope, not going there, not even if I was paid to!! I'm fairly OK on heights, but that video gave me a severe dose of vertigo!
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I needed a change of underwear just looking at the video - I don't think my heights phobia would like that Shocked
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I skied with Tom, the skier in that vid, a while back. Seem to remember that his attitude was that as someone with a skiing background, he felt more secure relying on his skis' edges on something like the arrete, than using crampons. I'd choose crampons myself Skullie
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Megamum wrote:
nbt, OMG!! Nope, not going there, not even if I was paid to!! I'm fairly OK on heights, but that video gave me a severe dose of vertigo!


brrrrrrrrr sweaty palms watching that!! Don't worry, we did nothing like that. I wouldn't have done it even with a rope!
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I was at Uni with Tom and this video doesn't really surprise me (first time I have seen it today). I learnt very quickly that it was never a wise move to try to keep up with him on skis!
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Vertigo? Sweaty palms? Nope, for me it is full on queasy! That would scare me into paralysis I think!
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