Skiing from the top of the Alps

Anyone who is serious about ski touring has a bucket list of peaks they want to ski. Mont Blanc is definitely at the top of the list of the top ten most desirable ski tours in the Alps. Europe’s highest mountain offers a royal tour of the glaciers and the whole ascent and descent takes two days. Such a demanding tour naturally requires acclimatisation, the Mont Blanc is just shy of five thousand meters. We therefore recommend a tour to Grand Paradiso, Monte Rosa or Breithorn, all of which are above 4000 meters and a good stepping stone to skiing Mont Blanc.  Any of these tours can be done from the Aosta Valley on the way to Chamonix.

Ski touring the Mont Blanc

The full program takes 5 days, but the ascent and descent off the peak of Mont Blanc is a story in itself. On the first day we take the gondola up to the starting point, the middle station of Plan de l'Aiguille (2,317 m). Soon we're strapping on our skis and after a short climb we face the often sketchy traverse below the Aiguille du Midi, followed by a short descent to the Bossons glacier. Next is a spectacular climb below seracs of all shapes and sizes to La Jonction, where we substitute our skis for crampons and ice axes a few times. The final part of the ascent to the Grands Mulets hut (3,051 m) is rather steep. Usually the snow gets softer due as we approach midday, making the ascent easier, but otherwise we put on ski crampons. Leaving the skis on the snowfield below, we climb the protected climbing route up to the hut. The whole ascent usually takes about five hours. In the morning we take the first tram to give us enough time to rest at the hut and avoid the afternoon heat.  Ludovic, the long-time caretaker of the hut, knows all of us mountain guides very well. Dinner is early at 18:00 and it's time to go to bed because the next day is a long one.

Breakfast is usually at half past three in the morning. Now we have two options, in good conditions we climb the Bossons glacier to the Grand Plateau on touring skis, or we climb the ridge to the summit via the Vallot shelter. The other option is the north ridge of the Dôme du Goûter, the so-called Arrêté Royal. It all depends on the conditions and the client. The last part of the ascent to Mont Blanc across the Bossons ridge is with crampons and an ice axe in hand, with the skis safely on the backpack. Due to the altitude the climbing is at a more leisurely pace, at around 250 vertical meters per hour.

Skiing from the summit requires stable weather, good visibility and suitable conditions. There is no time to celebrate at the summit, the challenging descent down the north face and lower down the glacier back to the Plan de l'Aigullie station takes its time. At the top the grade is often between 40 and 45 degrees, in the lower part the glacial crevasses pose the greatest risk. It is very important to carry plenty of fluids because the altitude, thin air and strong sun make hydration crucial. The skis come off again at La Jonction. Global warming and melting glaciers have made this section increasingly challenging and dangerous in recent years. After that it's a fairly leisurely descent to the edge of the glacier. In about 25 minutes of skinning up we find ourselves back under the north face of the Aiguille du Midi. We repeat the sketchy traverse and, in good conditions, perhaps add another short climb before the final ski down to Plan de l'Aiguille. Then it’s time to celebrate. After taking off the skis for the last time, we sit down for a well deserved drink at the Buvette bar on Plan de l’Aiguille.

Skiing down Mont Blanc, the highest peak of the Alps, is an experience you will cherish for a lifetime.

Written by Klemen Gričar, IFMGA guide & Elan team rider