As the most famous off-piste ski run in the world, the Vallee Blanche has a lot to live up to…Happily the 18km journey with 2800m of vertical descent through some of the world’s most stunning glaciated alpine scenery rarely disappoints! Thanks to the huge height gain (2742m) given by the Aiguille du Midi cable car, this magnificent ski journey can be undertaken in a short day by skiers of suitable ability. A descent of the Vallee Blanche is often the highlight of a ski trip to Chamonix and will provide a truly memorable experience and some great photos.
Ski Vallée Blanche Facts & Figures
- Start altitude (Aiguille du Midi): 3777m
- Finish Altitude (Chamonix): 1050m
- Vertical Descent: 2727m
- Length: 18Km
- Season: Varies with snow conditions and weather but usually January to April
- Time: Varies according to skier’s ability and priorities but commonly 4-6 hours, Midi-Chamonix
- Busiest Time: Weekends and later in the week in Feb / March when up to 2500 people may make the descent per day
- Quieter Times: Early and mid-week in Jan and April. Even in Feb and March it is often quieter earlier in the week as folk wait to get their holiday ski legs ready for the big day!
Ski Vallee Blanche FAQs
Is The Vallee Blanche difficult?
In pure skiing terms the Vallee Blanche classic route is similar, in angle alone, to a pisted red run. This however does not give a good impression of the overall length and seriousness of the environment which includes the mountain hazards of crevasses, avalanche, sérac fall, high altitude and challenging navigation in sometimes poor weather. None of the ‘management’ of a normal ski area is in place such as groomed slopes, flagged runs and avalanche control.
Also worth noting that, for more advanced skiers, there are many steeper variants that provide potentially superb sustained skiing. The Petit Envers is quite a bit steeper than the classic route. The Grand Envers and especially the Col du Plan route is a fair bit steeper again and can offer some very fine steeper pitches up to around 45 degrees.
Am I a good enough skier?
Skiers wishing to enjoy a smooth and safe descent of the Vallee Blanche should be capable of skiing pisted red runs with confidence and in complete control. They should also have experience of off-piste skiing and be able to turn accurately and stop at will in variable snow / off-piste conditions. Side slipping confidently is also an essential skill. In good conditions during busy periods large mogul fields can develop, so the ability to ski large bumps over long & sustained mogul fields is required. A good level of ski fitness is also required so that you are able to cope with C.25km of off piste skiing with nearly 3000m of vertical descent in variable snow conditions and starting at high altitude.
What is the snow like?
Varied! Due to the huge altitude range from the Aiguille du Midi to Chamonix, it’s possible to experience all kinds of different snow types and conditions on a single descent of the Vallee Blanche. Factor in the constantly changing weather, seasonal variation and how many skiers have descended the route, and it’s hard to make generalisations about what the snow will be like. However often good powder can be found in winter and fine ‘carpet like’ spring snow in spring, with a slightly later start. In sunny weather in peak season the snow becomes skier compacted like the side country immediately next to a popular piste. Often this is quite easy and pleasant to ski although bumps develop on steeper and narrow sections like the sustained passage next to the Geant icefall. In these conditions you need to be skilled and confident skiing bumps, sometimes very large ones! In early season and after a storm great powder conditions can be experienced. This is fun to ski but you will need decent off piste skills and good fitness to handle it. Sometimes a sun / wind / melt freeze breakable crust is present and this can be tricky to ski, so it’s best to ski in the tracks or wait until another day…or learn to ski crust!
Is there some mountaineering to descend the snow ridge from the Midi station?
Yes, although in good conditions in high season, this is turned into a solid path with a rope handrail offers a spectacular but easy 10 minute roped walking descent carrying skis. In poor conditions or early / late season the arête may be icy and require the use of crampons and a smaller ratio with the Guide. In these conditions it is more secure to fix your skis to a rucksack and leave your hands free for handling the fixed rope. Large queues can form on the ridge which is at high altitude (3777m) and exposed to the wind. Wear plenty of layers, warm gloves and have goggles, neck ‘buff’ and hood to protect your face and ensure a more comfortable wait if you get stuck in a queue!
Is It Necessary To Hire A Mountain Guide?
It is by no means obligatory to hire a Guide and experienced and competent ski mountaineers in good weather and conditions may choose not to. However skiers without an awareness of, and an ability to deal with, all the mountain hazards described above would be strongly advised to ski with a Guide to increase their safety margin and add an extra dimension to enjoying and interpreting the amazing mountain environment along the way. In sunny weather with great conditions and lots of skiers, it can all feel pretty friendly, but do remember that the combined hazards of crevasses, avalanches and seracs need managing with good decision making and good route finding and if you are not confident doing this it would be better to hire a guide.
How Much Does It Cost?
The price of a single trip to the top of the Aguille du Midi is around 45 euros. If the snow cover low down is limited you might want to take the train down from Montenvers and this means a c. 60 euro Mt Blanc unlimited pass is the best option. More information on Chamonix lift pass prices here. A Guide will generally cost around £400 for the day for one person (This includes avalanche and safety equipment loan but not your lift pass). Whilst the cost increases for larger groups the individual price goes down. Our off piste ski guiding prices are given here.
Is it possible to ski The Vallee Blanche twice in a day?
For those who place maximum skiing time as a high priority over a more relaxed journey, taking photos and enjoying breaks, it is certainly possible to ski the Vallee Blanche twice or more times in a day. In order to achieve this an early start and organised approach must be taken and a sense of momentum maintained. For those with this approach in mind it may be possible to ski another classic Chamonix off-piste run after a descent of the Vallee Blanche e.g. The Argentiere Glacier from the Grande Montets.
I’ve skied the classic Vallee Blanche and would like to do a harder variant, what would you recommend?
As described above, the ‘classic’ Vallee Blanche descent is pretty easy angled and this can actually cause problems with momentum in deep soft snow, especially for snow boarders. There are some superb steeper variants which are very popular as Chamonix is full of good skiers! The Petit and Grand Envers are the classic variants with the latter offering some particularly fine steep pitches including the impressive steep descent down towards the Col du Plan, having skied along the first section of the Midi-Plan snow ridge. A spectacular route!
I would like to do a longer journey and get some more fresh tracks, is that possible?
There are some great options to extend the journey down the Vallee Blanche by adding a ski touring element and climbing, for example to the Col Freshfield. This offers access to much less frequented terrain, great views of the Swiss & Italian Alps (including the Matterhorn) and often some fresh tracks on the descent. Skis with touring bindings and climbing skins are required for this and these can easily be hired in Chamonix. This is a great experience but the ascent can feel physically tough with the high altitude air and particularly if there is soft now.
Gordon & Matt, Vallee Blanche, Jan 2011
Good company, good humour, great safety awareness as well as interesting insight and conversation on the various aspects of the vallee as we descended….Thankfully a friend told us to get ourselves a good guide… we did and an even bigger thanks to Rob, he was the perfect guide and got us down the Vallee Blanche in one piece!
Vallee Blanche – Skier Check List
Please read our description & FAQs above regarding what is involved in a ski descent of the Vallée Blanche.
Then answer the following 4 questions:
- Considering the description of the terrain involved and variety of snow conditions likely to be encountered, are you confident that your off piste skiing ability is sufficient for you to be able to accurately follow the line of the guide and make a safe, efficient and enjoyable ski descent of the Vallée Blanche?
- Do you have any off piste skiing experience on similar terrain in similar snow conditions?
- Do you have a good level of fitness that means you can maintain good ski technique for a long descent lasting several hours and starting with a challenging mountaineering descent at high altitude?
- Do you have all the required off piste and glacier skiing equipment? See our Vallee Blanche equipment list below and note that guests booking guiding with us can borrow avalanche transceiver, harness, crampons as required included in the guiding fee.
Ski Vallee Blanche Equipment List & Preparation Notes
As with all our ski courses, we recommend you prepare as much as possible in advance with relevant ‘ski fit’ preparation and then arrive at least a day or two early to both warm up your ski legs & check equipment. This is especially important if you will be renting boots or skis & bindings. Please also make sure your skis are well serviced & bindings correctly adjusted. Check our ski Vallee Blanche equipment list here and Ski Vallée Blanche Guest Pre Course Info here.
2019 Vallee Blanche Booking & Private Guiding Fees
To book your guided day, please visit our private guiding booking page here.
1 person: £405
2-3 people: £425
3-4 people: £440
5-6 people: £460
This includes the Guide’s fee, Guide’s expenses and use of avalanche / mountaineering safety equipment (harness / transceiver / crampons if necessary) but not the cost of a lift pass (C.60 Euros depending on snow conditions) or ski / boot hire etc.
Please note that good weather is required to make a safe descent of the Vallee Blanche and it is sometimes necessary to cancel due to excessive cloud and / or wind. In these conditions we will offer an alternative off-piste skiing option to make the best of the conditions. Often the bad weather which means we can’t ski the Vallee Blanche gives great powder skiing lower down / in the trees etc.
Graham Parry, Ski VB Feb 2016
A quick thanks for a great day out on the VB last week, it completely lived up to our expectations. Please pass on our thanks and appreciation to John Taylor. His huge experience and approach made the day even more special: careful preparation and briefing prior to going out on the mountain, timing our start to avoid the bottlenecks and judging us capable of the variant route.
Good luck to you both on the Etappe Du Tour!
2019 Ski Vallee Blanche Open Days
If you would prefer to join an existing group to ski the Vallee Blanche, to keep the guiding costs down and enjoy a sociable ‘team’ element to the descent, we organise a number of ‘open days’ throughout the season. To join one of these days you must have the required off-piste ski ability & fitness. Please make sure you have read our Ski Vallee Blanche FAQs above and can confirm you are capable of skiing the descent in good style. If you are not sure about this we can arrange a Vallee Blanche training / preparation day in advance but you must not commit to the descent unless you are confident in your ability to complete it safely and effectively.
Very good weather is required to make the descent of the Vallee Blanche due to the crevassed glacial & high mountain terrain. In the event of the weather or snow conditions not being good enough for a Vallee Blanche descent on the day we will provide a good suitable off piste alternative in the area. Often poor winter weather means powder so there is some good alternative skiing to do.
A brilliant trip down the classic route, with lunch at the Requin Hut. It lived up to our expectations in every way – a very enjoyable and memorable experience. Thanks Rob, you made the day for both myself and Catriona!