Chamonix Skiing Picture Fest!

Argentiere Icefalls

The temperatures in the weeks before we came out to France had been well below freezing, as low as -20°C, so the icefalls next to the snout of the Argentiere glacier were fat! Alas, the week we arrived temperatures rose considerably and as we approached the falls we could see they were wet, detached from the rock, and incomplete. A couple of large (car sized) chunks fell as we watched! 😮 Plus, as we skinned up the glacier, there were some massive full depth avalanches triggering by the high temperatures and subsequent melt water running beneath the snow pack. One particularly scary avalanche swept right across the glacier and up the opposite bank leaving a wall of debris some 6m high across the route back down. Luckily – and clearly ‘cos we are still alive – we were some way above this avalanche and merely got a grandstand view of the devastation! Although it did mean we had to climb some way up to get past the debris where we would have normally been able to ski straight through on the way home.

Ski approach to the Argentiere Icefalls
The Ski approach to the Argentiere Icefalls
Laetitia approaching the Argentiere Icefalls
Pete digging a snowy bench for lunch!

Les Grands Montets & Le Tour Skiing

In between attempts to reach melting icefalls we enjoyed several days skiing on the fun-side of the rope at Les Grands Montets and Le Tour. Both of these ski areas have massive off-piste potential, although with the warm weather we were cautious of conditions and avalanche… The best off-piste area at Le Tour is nicknamed the “Scandie Trap” as some time ago an avalanche buried and killed two Scandinavian skiers! 😯

Téléphérique at Grands Montets
A well earned Magners after a great powder day at Les Grands Montets
Dave and Laetitia at Le Tour
Dave & Laetitia emerging from the trees at one of Le Tour's many off-piste areas

Vallée Blanche

The highlight of the week was when Dean & Dave overlapped their week’s skiing with the end of ours and we joined up for a weekend of fun that ended with a descent of the Vallée Blanche…

Dean was worried that he might not have found his ski legs and fitness in time for the descent on Sunday, but after a couple of runs at the Brevent area he thought it would be OK. We caught the lift to the Aiguille du Midi at 11AM, normally that’s plenty of time to get back to Chamonix, it gets dark at 5.30PM-ish. However, the avalanches around the valley had also claimed the Montenver railway! 100 train passengers got an unexpected helicopter flight the day before when 25 flights were arranged to rescue the passengers as the railway was swept by another massive release.

What this meant for us was that the normal end to the Vallée Blanche descent was extended with a ski from Montenver down to Chamonix. Normally this is a great bonus, but Dean’s legs were already well past their best when we reached the Geant Icefall, absolutely knackered at the normal end (Montenver), completely ruined by the time we had ascended to the buvette at the top of the Montenver track, barely walking (not skiing) as we approached the top of Les Planards ski area, and nearly passing out as we stumbled back in to Chamonix well after dark!

A great day out, with spectacular scenery, but it was a team effort to get down safely… Hopefully Dean enjoyed the day despite the over commitment! ❓ I know the next day was a forced day of rest! 😉

Dean & Dave fitting crampons to their ski boots
Dean & Dave at the top of the snow ridge down to the start of the Vallée Blanche from the Aiguille du Midi station
Descending the Aiguille du Midi snow ridge
Pete near the start of the trickiest bit of the Vallée Blanche, the Geant Icefall
Laetitia emerges from the Geant Icefall
Dean showing the signs of exhaustion!
Time pressing on, the Big Shadow of the mountains!
Laetitia gets a round of beers in at the buvette that enjoys the last of the day's sunshine - still a long way to go though!

A weary team, well after dark, enjoying a beer at the end of the Valleé Blanche

A bit of snow and a bit of sun –
A Stella Artice moment

Yesterday it snowed, but that didn’t stop us. We went down the Valnontey Valley for a bit of fun, but we forgot the camera. Doh!

We commiserated with a traditional Italian Pizza.

My! What a big pizza

Today was gloriously sunny, so we decided to try the interesting looking Stella Artice. We’d heard that it had an interesting move through a window!?

Stella Artice

Luckily, despite the Sterling Alpine start of 9.30am we were the first to the route. The sun was already on the other side of the valley and making it’s impression on the recently fallen snow. There were regular avalanches.


We decided we should move pretty fast, and come down by 1.30, when the sun was scheduled to hit our side of the valley. The first pitch was easy enough, leading us to a cave of ice. The second pitch starts inside the cave and takes you through a tiny window and on to the face. By the time Pete made it to the window, it was pouring with water and the sun had hit the face. He quickly scampered up the wet ice to the belay, watching two avalanches pass him on the left and on the right. There was also a loud “ATTENTION!” from some French guys playing around on mixed ground, and then a huge crash as some ice came crashing down. I couldn’t see what it was while I was in the cave, but at least I heard the French guys laughing so I knew everything was ok.

I followed as quickly as I could and we decided to call it a day. The temperatures seemed a bit high and we didn’t want to be submerged in the white stuff.

Climbing in the cave toward the tiny window

The sun was still strong so we strolled back to the apartment and enjoyed left over pizza and coke.

Relaxing with left-over pizza

A good end to a good week.