To not much surprise my cough and fever worsened after the day on the Vallee Blanche. I got up for breakfast, then back to sleep until noon. Fortunately Norm, whom we met on the 2011 Antarctic cruise, is spending his first winter of retirement in Chamonix and offered to show Liz around Grands Montets. He is staying with a Swedish photographer Felix, who also came out for the morning.
The three of them took a run on the Herse chair and then went up the 4,000 vertical Grands Montets tram. It unloads at an observation deck.
The map in foreground labels the 360 degree panorama of peaks. Here the view is south to start of the Argentiere Glacier. The peak above that at center is Mont Dolent, the tripoint border between France, Italy and Switzerland.
View west to Mont Blanc and the Aiguille de Midi:
View SE across Argentiere Glacier:
The only continuous line of snow at center left that goes all the way to the ridge line is the start of the famous backcountry Haute Route to Zermatt.
Direct east view across Argentiere Glacier:
View from the deck to the start of the skiing on the Argentiere Glacier side.
The tram terminal was located for the best sightseeing. Skiers have to descend about 150 steps to the snow. The smooth snow on the west side is deceptive as it is covering glacial features and you should not ski that direction without local guidance, which I was fortunate to have on my last run here in 2004. You can stay near the rocks and then ski the long fall line directly under the tram though.
On the descent Liz got a good view to the top of the Chamonix Valley.
The ski area up there is Le Tour, which I skied on the first day of the 2004 trip.
Felix leads the way skiing towards the Argentiere Glacier.
As in 2004 the upper section is soft and smooth chalk.
Eventually they reach ice outcroppings.
Norm lower along the ice:
Felix went home while Norm and Liz took a break on the Lognan sundeck. I joined them at 1:30 and we took the 2,700 vertical Bochard gondola. From the top there’s a view through some rocks to the Mer du Galce.
Leaning over that fence you can see down a couloir some people have skied in that direction.
Both Norm and I agreed we had to show Liz Combe de la Pendant. I took a high and rather exposed traverse that way in 2004 but Norm led us on a more straightforward route a bit lower.
With sustained vertical of at least 3,000 very little is lost by entering lower. Here’s the view back up while riding the Retour Pendant chair.
We cut back to the piste for the bottom 500 vertical to avoid last weekend’s rain/snow line off piste. I noted as before how empty this huge sector is. The locals go for it on powder days, but per Norm and others say it takes more than one day to track it out.
We took a lap on the Herse chair, skiing looker’s left of the Blanchot piste. Herse may look small on the map but it’s 2,000 vertical of wide open fall lines. Norm then went home but suggested we try skier’s right on the Bochard gondola. Traversing into that area we get a view of some of the glacial features under the top tram on that side.
Up there you need a guide who knows where the crevasses are.
My 2004 day at Grands Montets was my second lifetime day in the Alps. viewtopic.php?f=5&t=5547
I was wowed by the terrain and scenery, but now that I’ve been quite few more places I see some unique attractions to North American freeskiers more clearly. A higher proportion of skiers here go off piste, but a piste or two wander through each sector, thus requiring control work. It’s wide open skiing but with so much vertical and expanse that it doesn’t get that bumped up. And as long as you stay away from the glaciated areas there’s a ton of fun and challenging skiing available without needing to hire a guide.
As I was reviewing my old report from 2004, I noticed that ChrisC got a powder day at Grands Montets the next season. viewtopic.php?f=5&t=447
Felix and Norm have enjoyed many this year.