Chamonix off piste skiing and snowboarding is what’s made the town famous and to many, it’s the entire reason to come here.
Classic descents like the Pas de Chevre, with its wicked triptych of couloirs, are a challenging and spectacular day for advanced powderhounds, whilst the stunning Vallee Blanche is very accessible as a guided day to most skiers, if you’re competent on a red run. Always take a guide when venturing off piste. Books have been written on the subject, so I’m just going to do an overview here…
La Vallée Blanche
The famous Vallée Blanche off-piste classic is 17km long with a vertical descent of 2800m. Unbelievable views and true wild mountain environment, it’s accessible by intermediate skiers or boarders, but you MUST take a guide as the potential dangers are enormous, as are the crevasses. If there’s just one or two of you, you can join a guided group. Pistehors has a good overview of the Vallée Blanche. Wait for a sunny day as the scenery is indescribably spectacular, and photos don’t do it a shred of justice – it really is 360 degrees of wonder.
The state of the Vallée Blanche varies a lot throughout the year and the standard you need to be varies accordingly, but it is not particularly difficult or steep in itself and in general a competent red run skier can do it. You need to be well controlled as there are places where you will cross glacier bridges and skirt crevasses.
For snowboarders the standard is a little higher – you must be comfortable with long traverses and there is a long flat run-out where you need to keep your speed up.
Take a collapsible ski pole in your backpack to prod yourself out of any sticky spots – if you don’t have one, we usually have a couple in the ski shed, or ask the guide to bring a spare for you to borrow.
It’s one of the most amazing days it’s possible to have skiing from a lift, so do it if you possibly can!
More questions? Have a look at this very in-depth look at La Vallee Blanche from SeeChamonix.
The Pas de Chevre
(The chalet is actually visible in this photo if you know where to look!)
Another Chamonix off piste classic descent, but unlike the Vallee Blanche, this is for advanced skiers and boarders only. It has very steep couloirs which can also be rocky, and a section that must be abseiled. Accessed from the Grands Montets, three parallel couloirs lead to amazing powder fields with beautiful views over the valley. Then a spectacular run right below the massive north face of the Dru, and a final (tricky) exit onto the Mer de Glace. In the right conditions it’s indisputably one of the best lift-accessed off-piste runs in the world.
You can see the exit couloir from the lower section of the Vallee Blanche. You do the same short steep hike for both of them, skiing back to Chamonix on the long winding track known locally as the “James Bond Run”. So if you’re thinking of doing both, it’s a good place to take a look at it. As with everything, much depends on current conditions and your guide will be able to advise you on what’s best.
Les Grands Montets has many other brilliant off-piste routes that don’t need any ski touring experience, many of which will take you down past the glacier with incredible views. Skiers are dwarfed by the glacier at the Grands Montets in this photo:
Le Tour is also very good – the classic descent here is the Couloir des Posettes but there’s lots of interesting terrain to explore.
Brevent & Flegere both have many hidden gems.
A day out with a guide in any of these areas will be brilliant – they also have plenty of more relaxed off-piste if you don’t fancy the steep stuff.
Courmayeur also has wonderful lift-accessed off piste, well worth checking out if conditions in Chamonix aren’t ideal. It’s also a great place for ski touring & splitboarding if you’d like to take your adventures further afield. A guide will be able to recommend what’s best at the time you’re there as conditions are highly variable.
Your guide will equip you with an avalanche beacon. You should ideally have your own shovel and probe, and the knowledge of how to use them.
I personally always take an ABS avalanche bag too, and you can hire these at various shops if you would like to take one.