Grands Montets, France 2/16/04

Tony Crocker

Staff member
Today we got to ski Chamonix's finest area, Grands Montets. There's a 2,000 foot tram from the valley to Lognans. From there a 2,000 vertical HSQ, a 2,600 vertical gondola and a 4,200 vertical tram ascend consistently pitched north facing alpine terrain. In mid-February it is completely shaded until 11AM and retains a smooth packed powder surface despite no major storms for over a week.


Here we await the upper tram. The HSQ is under the tram and the gondola is at far right.


At the top of the tram is an observation deck at 10,700 ft. from which we have a great view of the Aiguille de Midi and Mont Blanc.


Our first run is east towards the Argentiere glacier. Our guide Vincent leads the way at left. There is lots of room to spread out and ski great snow despite the glacial ice outcropping in the foreground.

We had a big group on this picture perfect day, so I took off on my own to squeeze in 2 gondola runs before lunch.

On the second of these I took a very exposed traverse over cliffs to reach a steep bowl entry to Combe de la Pendant.

It's about noon now and I'm just reaching the shade line after about 2,000 vertical of skiing. I've got another 1,000+ to go to the Retour Pendant chairlift at the end of the sunny piste below. Note the lack of people out here despite British and 1/4 of French school holidays this week.

After lunch the guides led most of us up the tram again.

They gave us harnesses to wear as we were skiing on the Argentiere Glacier and that makes it easier to retrieve anyone who falls into a crevasse.

Here we ski a steeper line with the head of the glacier in view at upper left.

Farther down we ski next to an icefall.

Two of us diehards were up for a final tram run with guide Jean-Marc.

This time we went west from the tram station into steeper and more exposed terrain. The snow was excellent but having a guide is still highly desirable to avoid glacial outcroppings, fracture lines, etc.

For added interest Jean-Marc found a crevasse where we could ski inside!

Here's a view after we have skied about 3,000 vertical. You can see a large patch of glacial ice above and to the left of the large rock in the middle of the picture. We saw someone slide down that ice but have no idea what happened as we were so far below.

This time we skied all the way to the bottom for a total of 6,000 vertical in one run, the longest of my ski career ... until tomorrow.


Staff member
Beautiful pics, Tony. It looks like you had stellar weather. How is their season doing? Above average, average, or below average snowpack?

Tony Crocker

Staff member
Vincent said below average snowpack. Key issues:

1.) The glaciers took a beating last summer as we all know. So crevasses got bigger and the season start would have been delayed even with normal snow.

2) I think December was pretty dry judging by World Cup cancellations, etc.

3) There was a lot of snow in January from what I was tracking online. Coverage was fine by me from around 5,000 ft. There were certainly large rocks around, but in the expansive terrain it was no problem avoiding them, unlike Panorama or some of your eastern trails.

4) I do see why February is so popular over there. Latitude is about 47, similar to Crystal in the West or Le Massif in the East. North facing slopes get very little sun and preserve very well, especially with light skier traffic. I suspect at altitude like Grands Montets or the Tortin bowls at Verbier it's just as good in March. Very similar terrain to Mammoth but more vertical.

5) You have to be very lucky to get powder. The best terrain will be shut down during storms, and as I found the last day winds can be strong and thus affect the powder, also like Mammoth. Vincent said wind was also the culprit on our off-piste misadventure at Courmayeur. has pics from a similar trip to mine, but he was lucky and got some blue sky powder days.


New member
Thanks a lot to have said that you were back from Europa on the eastern section, cause I'm not sure that I would have seen this report without that ! (whoops)

Incredible pics, interesting comments, really thanks to have invested all this time to share your trip with us !
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Active member
Great to see pics from Grands Montets, I didn't get to see much on my visit March 28(?, 2003. I rained all the way up to 2500m and the rest was white-out and snow. So just the top of the gondola above the snow-line, I reserved the last run of the day on the top tram (which cost an extra 5 Euros each trip) for last run.

It was not as foggy were I did my last run, however the top of the tram was cloud covered. The only scenic that I got to see was toward the Argentiere Glacier, nothing on the Mt.Blanc side.

This was a great day after all, I had booked a guide for the vallee-blanche that day, but was postponed due to weather.

BTW, I will have to check at home, I seem to remember that it was a HSQ right under the tram, but an old double.

Tony Crocker

Staff member
Grands Montets is an absolutely stunning area. For terrain quality you could make the case that it and Verbier are better than any of the 88 lift serviced areas I've skied in North America. One of the NASJA members commented, "If you throw out the big powder days, today at Grands Montets was a Top Five lifetime ski experience."

In retrospect I should have gone there also the first day with the 3 tele skiers. But skiing would be restricted or very inhibited in poor weather. They went back there the day the rest of us went to Verbier and we had the much better day.

The HSQ under the tram is fairly new. If you look at the pictures, you'll see it was just a double two years ago.

The upper tram at Grands Montets does have restrictions. The Mont-Blanc multiday skipass includes 2 rides on it, but after that you pay by the ride. Our guide did something to get us the extra run at no extra cost.


Active member
I didn't check about the HSQ at home, but I am now pretty sure it was a double last year.

Chamonix is a great town, not too "touristy". It's probably a place that I could live there on a sabbatical (something that I might consider in the next 10 years). Bourg St.Maurice is another.