Classic Hut-to-Hut Ski Mountaineering in the Alps

by Rich Meyer Alpine Guide, Skiing, Climbing, & Avalanche Education

March 25-April 1 2013
Rich Meyer (in partnership with Dave Miller & International Alpine Guides) will be back in the Alps again this winter. Join us for a world class backcountry skiing adventure. Here’s a blog post I created after last seasons trip! If you make it to the bottom there is a link to more photos and to the IAG website. Cheers, Rich

Starting in Chamonix France and ending in Zermatt Switzerland, the Haute Route is often described as the ultimate European ski tour – and for good reason. It does not disappoint. There are a handful of variations of the route and some serious terrain, but it is VERY accessible for experienced backcountry skiers. The Alps are littered with high elevation mountain huts that allow you to travel from hut to hut with a very light pack. This is NOT backpacking on skis.

Ski touring from one glacier to the next, and from one hut to the next makes the Haute Route a unique experience. Most folks are blown away by the remote alpine beauty and massive terrain that does not ever seem to let up. Culminating on the final day with a brilliant ski descent down to town of Zermatt, with views of the Matterhorn the entire way.

While it is possible to ski the route own your own, most skiers elect to do the trip with a guide. The benefits of going guided are plentiful. The serious alpine terrain requires expertise in ski mountaineering, route finding, glacier travel & crevasse rescue, avalanche awareness, whiteout navigation, and a host of logistical hurdles.

Most guided adventures begin in Chamonix with a classic ski of the Valle Blanche. The Aiguilles du Midi Tram can take you from town to over 12,600 feet in 20 minutes! If the stunning views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks are not enough to blow you away, the heavily glaciated ski run back down to Chamonix will. This day is often used to access skills, acclimatize, and prep guests for the next seven days of ski touring.

After another night in Chamonix, most parties begin the Haute route with another tram ride boost up to 10,700 feet at the Grand Montets ski area. Once folks ski out onto the Argentiere Glacier it is a succession of high mountain passes and huts all the way to Zermatt, over 100 miles away.

The Huts all have their own unique character and design. All await your arrival with treats like cold beer and Rosti. This is an excellent choice after day of ski touring. “Rosti” is a Swiss-German dish of potatoes, often served with cheese, onions, bacon/ham, and the occasional fried egg on top!

As you might expect, most days begin early with a basic breakfast and an amazing sunrise, with the goal of moving safely and efficiently thru the day’s objectives. Managing the peaks, passes, glaciers, avalanche hazard, and other dangers requires due diligence.

Some days might cover as much as 10-20 miles and 3000-4000 vertical feet of climbing, others much less. Along the way, you might summit a third or fourth-class peak like the Rosablanche, or rappel down from the Col du Chardonnet. Each has its own character. The high point of the tour is the summit of Pigne d’Arolla (12,455 feet) on the way to the Vignettes Hut.

After arriving at the hut there is typically plenty of time to hang out with new friends, enjoy a cold beverage, go for a little bonus ski tour, take a nap, or just relax on the sunny deck. The final day of the tour takes you (literally) into the town of Zermatt. Where you could easily hang out for days skiing and relaxing under the watchful eye of the Matterhorn. Don’t worry, your guide has arranged for your bags to be waiting for you.

Sound good? Here are some tips for your Haute Route adventure:

Bring the right gear. This alone can make or break your trip. You will enjoy the trip significantly more if you ditch many of those little extras. Think fast and light! Don’t worry: the huts will provide pillows, blankets, hut shoes, and all the food & drink you need. Keep in mind; it’s perfectly acceptable to hang out in smelly ski clothes. That’s what the guys at the table next to you are doing.

Consider skis 85-95 mm under foot and not too long. To quote a long time ski mountaineering friend, “Of course you can turn a longer/fatter ski, the question is whether you need to?” For this year’s trip, I brought a pair of K2 Sideshow Skis that were 92 mm under foot, and only 181 cm – a small ski for me. I also used Dynafit bindings and Dynafit ski crampons, which are very light and very durable. Along with C.A.M.P. light aluminum crampons and ice axe.

Practice your ski touring skills. Good skinning technique is learned with a lot mileage… Especially those kick turns!

Be prepared for all conditions. You will inevitability encounter variable snow and weather. Some days will be epic corn and powder, some will not. Be ready for: cold, wind, sun, firm snow, wet snow, whiteout travel, and all sorts of crusts in between. This year I partnered with Dave Miller (Good friend and fully certified IFMGA guide) and we had to divert into a local town so as to avoid a really nasty storm! Having a well-prepared tour plan and the appropriate gear made it a minor inconvenience, instead of an epic.

Check out this year’s slideshow! 2012 Haute Route Photo Album and Slideshow

March 25 – April 1 2013
Cost: $2475 – remember to say you read about this trip on Snowpals

Contact Rich for details: 

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About Rich Meyer

Rich Meyer Bio PictureAfter graduating from college in 1994 Rich made the move to Tahoe City California, in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was there that he began to immerse himself in backcountry adventure. Skiing, hiking, biking or climbing was the daily focus. As things progressed Rich was drawn into guiding and began to immerse himself with courses and organizations like the AMGA, NOLS, WMI, AIARE, PSIA, and others. One of Rich’s first guiding opportunities was leading a 39 day trip to Alaska for a dozen 16 year old kids, that included sea kayaking, backpacking, ice climbing, and rafting. He was hooked. Guiding has taken Rich to places like: Mt. Shasta, Mt. Rainier, Denali, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, France, Switzerland, and throughout the western United States.

Guiding on skis or on foot, Rich strives to make every day educational. Teaching is a large component of every trip. Rich teaches avalanche courses, glacier seminars, backcountry ski skills, climbing courses, and trains aspiring new guides. From the Haute Route in Europe to the Andes of South America, Rich has made an effort to enhance his clients experience with effective communication. Giving folks the information and skills not only to follow, but to become confident backcountry skiers and climbers. After extensive travel and training over the years, Rich has been able to educate hundreds of guests as to the importance of taking care of our natural world. Along with safety (and fun), traveling with respect for the mountains is always a priority. Join Rich on an incredible mountain adventure!

 

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