Haute Route Ski Tour - Verbier Variation
Part trek, part ski tour, part cultural adventure, the Haute Route Ski Tour offers a brilliant combination of mountain scenery, excellent skiing, camaraderie, exercise, and nights spent in simple, elegant mountain huts. Sprinkled a day of skiing apart, these huts are perched in impossible spots with comfortable bedding, excellent food, beer, wine, and coffee. The huts allow us to travel with light backpacks and enjoy each day of alpine ski touring free of tents, stoves, sleeping bags, and the other usual burdens of overnight backcountry ski touring. Haute Route literally means "high road" and is pronounced "oat root."
This high alpine traverse was first done as a walking trip in 1861. Over time this became a popular ski route and different versions of haute route evolved. The Verbier Haute Route is often called the skiers version because it skips a few of the more technical cruxes providing time for more skiing. This traverse runs from Chamonix to Zermatt and Northwest Mountain School offers it as a seven-day program. We use this first day in Chamonix to orient the group while skiing the classic Mer de Glace in the Valle Blanche which descends from the Aguille du Midi all the way back to Chamonix or a small train station just above the valley (depending on seasonal snow depth). We then spend six days on the actual traverse. If the weather forecast looks tricky, we do, on occasion, start a day early, skipping the Valle Blanche and then offering a similar ski tour in Zermatt at the end of the actual Haute Route traverse.
John & Olivia Race, IFMGA/UIAGM certified guides and AMGA certified ski guides, will be your trip leaders for the Haute Route. We have limited space on our guided Haute Route tours, so contact us now if you are considering joining this program. We are available to help you train for your Haute Route ski trip and are always happy to spend time discussing the program with you to see if this is a program that makes sense at your current ski ability.
Verbier Haute Route Itinerary
Haute Route Day 0: Meet at Hotel in Chamonix.
We will meet in Chamonix, France at our hotel at 5 PM with equipment check and orientation to follow.
Haute Route Day 1: Skiing the Valle Blanche - 2nd night in Chamonix
After breakfast we take the Aiguilles du Midi Tram from around 3400' (1035 M) in Chamonix up to over 12,600' (3842 M) in about 20 minutes. This lift provides the vertical gain for a memorable day of skiing down the Valley Blanche ending at the Mer De Glace Gondola at around 5,800' (1765 M) In a big snow year, you can ski all the way down in Chamonix. The ski down the Valley Blanche is a glaciated ski run and provides a close look of some of the most famous mountains in the Alps. This first day is an opportunity for the group to get to know each other and for the guides to establish safe travel practices for glacier and off-piste skiing. We will spend a second night in our Chamonix hotel before the hut to hut portion of the tour begins on day 2.
Haute Route Day 2: Argentiere to Trient Hut
After an early breakfast in Chamonix we head up valley to the Grand Montets ski area where we use a tram for a lift up to 10,762' (3280 M) and the start of the Haute Route. If it is a clear day we will visit the view platform at Grand Montets and soak in the view of the Chamonix valley and get a good look at our first objective, the Col Du Chardonnet. A 2400' ski descent on the Rognons Glacier puts us on the Argentiere Glacier. We cross this and start a 2500' foot climb up to the Col Du Chardonnet. Once we reach the Col a short rappel places us on the Saleina Glacier. We work our way over to the Fenetre de Saleina and climb up onto the Plateau du Trient. A traverse of the Plateau du Trient leads to a short skin up to the Trient Hut at 10,394' (3168 M). This day usually takes about 5-6 hours.
Haute Route Day 3: Trient Hut to Mont Fort Hut via Champex
Today starts with a long and interesting ski descent. We leave the hut and ski an upper branch of the Trient Glacier, which brings us to the Col Des Escandies, our entrance to the Val d'Arpette. Once in the Val d' Arpette we are looking at a 4,265' (1300 M) downhill run into the town of Champex. The skiing here is some of the best on the Haute Route and ends in the Swiss town of Champex. Once in Champex we take a short bus ride to the town of Verbier, where we use our last tram to reach the Verbier ski area. We will generally drop our gear at the Mont Fort Hut (8,061' (2457 M), enjoy a hot lunch, and then hit the slopes for an afternoon of skiing. The skiing at Verbier is well known for both excellent on-piste skiing and wild opportunities off-piste. People have the option of skiing until the bell (4:15 p.m.) or relaxing at the Mont Fort hut. The Mont Fort hut is always popular thanks to good food and hot showers!
Haute Route Day 4: Mont Fort Hut to Prafleuri Hut
As the Mont Fort Hut is located within and near the top of the Verbier ski area, an early start takes us to the Col de la Chaux (9,646' 2940 M) before the runs open and we drop once again into the backcountry for the next four days. We work our way over and up to the Col du Momin (9,853' 3003 M) and onto the Grand Desert Glacier. From here we have the option of proceeding directly to the hut, or making the short climb to the summit of the Rosablanche (10,945' 3336M). The Rosablanche is the first of a series of optional summits that we encounter on our trip. In good weather we will typically climb one or more side summits each day. From the summit of Rosablanche we begin a one of those giggle-filled, low-angled descents to the Prafleuri Hut where we are introduced to the ski mountaineers secret weapon, Rosti. Rosti is the Swiss version of the French Tartiflette, which are both basically potatoes and cheese served with or without meat. Some members may want to snooze at the hut, but we will also provide the option of an afternoon tour. One side summit option for the day is La Luette (11,641' 3548M). This hut has a bunch of really nice short tours. This is generally about a 5-hour day from hut to hut.
Haute Route Day 5: Prafleuri Hut to Dix Hut
In the morning we leave the hut and climb to the Col Des Roux (9,200' 2804 M) and then begin a very long descending traverse above the Lac du Dix. If snow conditions are good for this we can generally cover a huge amount of ground quickly while gliding sideways before reaching almost the end of the Lac du Dix. From here we begin climbing up toward the Tete Noir and the Dix Hut. As we work our way up the valley an amazing scene emerges as Mont Blanc de Cheilon (12,696' 3869 M) comes into view. The Dix Hut sits on the Tete Noir and faces the massive north face of Mont Blanc de Chelion. This hut might take the prize for best view on the Verbier version of the Haute Route. From the hut we have the usual options of either catching up on reading, resting, or getting in an afternoon tour. In 2007 we found excellent powder skiing on the high ridges above the Glacier de la Luette to the West. This day usually takes about 4-5 hours hut to hut.
Haute Route Day 6: Dix Hut to Vignettes Hut
This day starts with a traverse down and out onto the Cheilon Glacier, which brings us under the impressive North Face of Mont Blanc de Chelion. We spend about 4 hours climbing up to the Col de Brenay (11,940' 3639 M) and then onto the Pigne d' Arolla Col. From here we generally do the short climb up to the summit of Pigne d'Arolla (12,455' 3796 M). The view down the upper Viube Glacier initially leads people to believe that getting to the hut is going to be treacherous. Further exploration and careful route finding prove this wrong and this steep glacier yields several easier options for skiing to the same level as the hut. Eventually the Vignettes Hut comes into view and we work our way sideways over to the hut. If the Dix hut had the best view looking out, the Vignettes hut has the best view looking in. The hut is impossibly perched on the edge of the Viube Glacier. This day generally takes about 5-6 hours and is one of the more physical days of the trip. The airy, yet secure trip to the bathroom at the Vignettes hut is not one you will soon forget!
Haute Route Day 7: Vignettes Hut to Zermatt
Our last day is the longest day of the trip and provides a spectacular finish to our traverse. We usually start very early (5:30 am) as it will take us a solid 8 hours to reach Zermatt during which we will cover about 19 miles (30 km) of terrain. The morning starts by skiing across the Viube Glacier and over to the M. Collon Glacier. From here we climb to the Col de L'Eveque (11,129' 3392M), which sets us up for a lovely 1500' (440 M) run down to the Haut Glacier d'Arolla. From here we climb up to the Col du Mont Brule (10,532' 3210 M) for a short, but very sweet descent onto the Haut Glacier de Tsa de Tsan. The view from the Col du Mont Brule is simply stunning as we look east to the Glacier des Grandes Murailles and at the Dent d'Herens (13,685' 4171 M), the majestic peak, which sits directly West of the Matterhorn. We then start our last climb of the day, a long trip up to the Col de Valpelline (11,680' 3560 M). Once atop the Col de Valpelline we have views of the Matterhorn, the Dent d'Herens, the Dent Blanche, the Zinalrothorn, Monta Rose, the Breithorn, and most of the other classic peaks of the Zermatt area. Our afternoon is spent descending the glaciers sitting under the West and North Faces of the Matterhorn. Our adventure comes to an end when we ski into Zermatt.
Haute Route QualificationsSki Ability: The Haute Route is not an extreme ski route in any way. It does, however, require participants to be decent skiers. Things you should feel comfortable doing include: skiing with a backpack, skiing a wide variety of snow ranging from powder to breakable crust to corn, and climbing and descending 3500-4500' on skis for a week. It is not advised to undertake the Haute Route without any experience outside of a ski area. You will want to do some AT skiing in advance of the Haute Route and will want to show up having used your boots in the time prior to the trip.
It is not uncommon for people to develop very bad blisters if they go from not touring at all to putting in successive long ski touring days. You should be able to efficiently get down black diamond runs in most ski areas. Again, you do not need to be an extreme skier to do this, but there will be spots where it is best not to fall, and you need to be able to efficiently link turns in a wide variety of snow conditions. You should also be aware that skiing on a glacier is much different from skiing in bounds at a ski area. Real hazards exist in these mountains and none are marked. Prior to your trip you want to focus on skiing in control and being able to ski for long periods without falling. You do not need any previous mountaineering experience to do this, but it is nice to have some level of familiarity with the climbing harness, crampons, and ice axe. We use these items very rarely, but you will be more confident if you show up with some level of comfort with them.
Ski Skills Assessment - Haute RouteIt can be difficult to determine where different people are in terms of ski ability without skiing with them in advance of a program. As we don't always have the opportunity to ski together in advance of all trips we have provided the following list so that potential customers can evaluate their ski skills and choose the most appropriate program.
Advanced Ski Skills
- Able to ski fall line in most snow conditions (powder to wind affected snow).
- Able to make parallel or stem-christie turns on 35° groomed or firm snow.
- Able to side-slip on firm slopes up to 35°.
- Able to ski moguls in soft snow.
- Able to do kick turns facing in or facing out on 30° slopes.
- Able to skate on level terrain.
- Able to ski fall-line in tight radius turns in good conditions.
- Able to ski black diamond runs at ski areas efficiently and in most snow conditions.
Physical Condition Evaluation for SkiingSki touring requires a certain basic level of physical fitness to minimize risk and be enjoyable. In addition to a solid base of aerobic conditioning you need to have the basic core strength to ski in a variety of conditions while carrying a ski pack. The best training you can do for ski touring is ski touring. It is best not to go into any extended trip without finding the time to get in a few days of touring in advance to make sure that your feet are conditioned to your boots.
Very Good Physical ConditionFull day tours with 3000-4500 feet of elevation gain while carrying a pack weighing between 20 and 30 lbs. on tours lasting 3-6 days
How do the huts work?In most of the huts we are given dormitory style lodging. Different people have different opinions of hut living. Most nights we are in bed by 9 p.m. and most mornings we are up by 6 am. Most people staying in huts sign up for the dinner and the breakfast option. Dinners are things like pasta, meat, potatoes, a desert, bread, and soup. Breakfast is generally a very simple affair consisting of bread and jam, coffee or tea, and cheese and is designed to get large numbers of people fed and out the door. You purchase water in the huts and it can be surprisingly expensive. In general expect to spend about $4.25 USD for a liter of water. You can often buy boiled water (made from melted snow or collected rainwater) for about half this. With the exception of the Mont Fort Hut all supplies are flown by helicopter to the huts and thus cost seems to correlate to weight as much as anything.
What do we do in the huts?At the end of some days (particularly sunny ones) people often stop in the hut for lunch and then after lunch go back out to ski. On some days we may decided to nap, play cards, or read in the afternoon prior to dinner. Usually after dinner everyone puts in breakfast orders, we settle our bill with the hut manager, and retire early in preparation for an early start.
Insurance ConsiderationsThere are several different types of insurance to consider. Travel insurance can protect all of your non-refundable trip expenses (i.e. guide fees, airline reservations, etc) and in some cases might also provide some rescue insurance. NMS does not carry rescue insurance for its guests. We do carry commercial liability insurance, but you are responsible for the cost of your evacuation if injured.
There is huge variability between insurance policies and providers, and even within policies depending on your residence and citizenship. All of the information provided in this document is only meant to help you start to educate yourself about insurance. It is your responsibility to select the products that provide the amount of coverage that you are comfortable with.
Once you have purchased travel insurance please pass this information on to the NMS office. Also make sure to CARRY YOUR PROOF OF INSURANCE DURING THE TRIP.
Travel InsuranceIn addition to providing you with protection should you have to cancel your trip unexpectedly, some travel insurance policies can cover many other aspects of your trip itself. Examples of possible additional coverage include search & rescue for accidents, medical expenses while traveling, and allowances for lost or delayed luggage.
We are a provider of Travelex travel insurance. The following link will take you to the page on our website which deals with this Travelex insurance information »
Our Location Number is 47-0108. You can purchase insurance from another company but we picked Travelex because they seem most well represented by other mountaineering and ski companies. We have also had customers successfully receive compensation for trips interrupted by family emergencies. This sort of insurance has eased the process for both our customers and ourselves as it seems reasonably priced, and takes much of the financial risk out of the equation for you and for us. In order to be eligible, this insurance needs to be purchased within 21 days of the day we receive your application & deposit. The main site for this insurance is: www.travelex-insurance.com
Please make sure to speak with a representative of Travelex to ensure you select the correct coverage. Some of the policies have exclusions for backcountry skiing or mountaineering so you need to make sure these activities are covered. As we understand it the Travel Select Plan with the added adventure pak is probably what most of our customers will need.
Rescue InsuranceIf your travel insurance does not provide rescue insurance you may need to consider adding some other policy to cover this. The list below is by no means comprehensive but should give you a starting point for looking into this. In Europe the cost of rescue is payable on the spot (unlike the US), and can be very expensive.
Outdoor Recreation Insurance: ORI provides a personal accident insurance through the AMGA's group policy. As a client of an AMGA certified guide you are eligible to buy into this group policy. This accident insurance provides activity-specific (you select from snow, mountain or paddle categories) benefits. This policy can also cover deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance payments that are not covered by your standard health insurance. This insurance is between $75-85/year. Follow this link to read more about this insurance: www.amga.com/resources/ORI.php.
There is also a Swiss service called REGA, which provides very good rescue services: www.rega.ch. You can become a patron of REGA online. This service will only cover non-Swiss citizens during the time that they are on Swiss soil. If you are in Switzerland and need to be rescued this should be the most seamless service.
Members of the American Alpine Club (AAC) are automatically enrolled in Global Rescue (GR). The cost for an AAC membership is $75 per year or $125 per year for couples. Follow this link to learn more about Global Rescue. This seems like a good way to go as they have evidently dropped a requirement that Global Rescue be called first in the event of an accident and they raised the payout from $5000 to $10000. We recommend joining the American Alpine Club simply to get this additional insurance. Be sure to bring your card with you on the trip as you will need it if you need to be evacuated or assisted.
Want to ski before or after the Haute Route?Chamonix is perhaps the greatest ski destination in Europe, if not the world. You might consider arriving a few days prior to the start of your Haute Route trip to get over jetlag and to take in some of the dozens of great tours to be had on both sides of the Chamonix Valley. When we reach Zermatt most folks need a rest day. If you have the energy we can often accommodate requests to do more skiing. There are weeks worth of great tours to be had in Zermatt and some people choose to extend their Haute Route journey to Saas Fe. Other great local tours include Monta Rosa (the highest Peak in Switzerland), skiing over to Cervina in Italy, the Schwartz Tour, and many others. These trips are organized on a private basis and can be very reasonable given that you are already in Zermatt and have the makings of a group. Please contact our office to discuss any ideas. start.
Recent Haute Route Ski Tour Trip Reports
- March 28-April 4, 2010 Haute Route Trip Report
- April 4-10, 2010 Haute Route Trip Report
- March 27-April 2, 2011 Haute Route Trip Report
- April 1-7, 2013 Haute Route Trip Report
Past Haute Route Ski Tour Group Video
Other Good Haute Route Ski Related Links:
- Haute Route Ski History & Itineraries: This is from Wikipedia and has good alternate itinerary descriptions.
- Swiss Train Tickets and Schedules: Very useful Swiss National Railway Site for planning train and bus transport before, during, and following the Haute Route.
- Haute Route Packing Tips: Article on our blog that details what to bring and how to pack it.
- Planning your own Haute Route Ski Trip: Article we wrote for G3 that describes what is involved in planning to do the Haute Route on your own, without a guide. We would prefer if you go with us, but want to share the info either way.