Mont Blanc / Heliski Courmayeur, Italy: January 30, 2018

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Mont Blanc / Heliski Courmayeur, Italy: January 30, 2018

Postby ChrisC » Tue Nov 17, 2020 9:50 pm

Very belated, but I thought this trip report might be useful to some contemplating heli vs. guided skiing in the Alps.

My brother Greg really wanted to do a heli day in Europe. I am not sure he fully understood what you could do with a guide in the Chamonix region (Les Grands Montets?!) since he had never skied in Europe. But he loves to get on a heli. (Telluride Helitrax (heli-op in Telluride) giving him free days when seats are open. He then reimburses with goods/service in kind. Barter system. I'm slightly jealous.)

Reservation and Payment Process
I wanted to describe the heli skiing reservation/payment process because it deviates significantly from the US/Canada. Generally, North American operators want you to commit years/months in advance and take most of the payment far up front. Not so with the HeliSki Courmayeur operation. https://www.heliski-courmayeur.com/en/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; (It appears Italian heli-skiing throughout the Alps is under a single entity called Heli Guides Group - with offices in major Italian ski centers)

So the strategy was to make a reservation for the first of 2 days we were in Chamonix - thinking if there was bad weather we could rollover to the next day. I was a bit worried of losing any pre-payments - or potential credits that would never get used. However, when we went to make reservation HeliSki Courmayeur did not require any deposit. They just said - there are two other guys who are interested in those dates. OK. We tried a few more times to put a deposit or something down before the actual heli date - wanting almost to secure our reservation. No. We show up the morning of the heli ski date - should we pay before we fly? No. :-k We finish the day. Tipped our guide. Greg - are they going to take our money yet? If not, I say we bolt for the car and drive off. :-D We did pay by that point. Also noticeably absent was any sort of merchandising. Are they running a business? Or is this just Italy??? :-k

Turns out - the heli operations are run more like guide offices. If the helicopter is going is going to fly - the cost is just going to be split across whoever shows up - the max number in your group being 4. Kinda like if you reserved a guide. That said - had the other two guys not shown up, our heli costs would have doubled. :shock: This was all very foreign to us - but it's how this group operates. That being said - you could always make reservations and not show up if weather is less than ideal.

Regulations
Heli-skiing is highly regulated in Europe. France does not even allow it. In Italy, there are specific sports where a heli can land. For HeliSki Courmayeur - they had about 10+ landing sites on the Mont Blanc massif. Our guide saw some areas that looked nice and we did not always land in the 'official' spots. Oops.

Ski Day
The ski operation itself was very well run and professional. Our Italian guide was perhaps more qualified than most North American guides because of European standards of certification - and he was just an all around mountain guy - climbs, skis, tours, etc.

The standard package is 5 runs - however some runs can be nearly 5,500 vertical feet.


Conditions
The snow was excellent - generally 6-12" in most places on a deep base. There were minor areas of wind compaction. The Winter of 2018/19 was epic - almost a once a generation winter for snowfall.

Ski Domain
The heli terrain is located in a valley due south of the Mont Blanc massif, and west of Courmayeur town/ski resort. The valley runs NE to SW - so the terrain faces SE or North.


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Mont Blanc from the Italian side of the tunnel - Entreves, Italy ..... or I guess I should be referring to it as Monte Bianco since we are in Italy
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Heli
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Heli Run #1 - Shoulder/Sub Peak of Mont Blanc 12,050 ft - specifically it is Aiguille de Tré la Tête. We are directly on the French-Italian border. As a reference the summit of Mont Blanc is 15,777 ft. The vertical drop was 5300 ft with a S/SE aspect.
Panorama
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The first 1000 ft Wind Packed
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Guide
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Similar to Mammoth's wind packed snow - but skied consistently. Hey - you are on the highest mountain in Europe.
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After the initial pitch - the snow started getting softer and deeper
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Guide. Our next run is far right.
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Run #2 - Aiguille des Glaciers. The vertical drop was 4100 ft with an E aspect.

Guide scouting out next lines
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Runs #3-5. Located on the opposing side of Mont Blanc. The vertical drop ranged from 2400-3000 ft and the aspect was due North. The snow quality and quantity was excellent. The terrain was very steep - especially the initial drop off the ridge.

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Mont Blanc in background
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A panorama of the heli-ski terrain
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Guide
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View of runs #1-2 - nearly 5.5k vertical.
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Run #3
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Next...Run #4
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Run #5 - Final Run

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Group shot - includes Australian snowboarders.
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Ridge
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At the end of the ski day the helicopter does not fly you back to the base. Instead, there is a traverse down the valley all the way back to Courmayeur. There is on flat mile where a sled will tow the groups - specifically to Italian restaurants at the base of one of the lifts at the ski resort.

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Specifically, the sled ride ended at the restaurant Capitan des Alpes (base of Zerotta ski lift) and we were greeted with complimentary Prosecco and anti-pasta. The initial reaction was - "We didn't order this?" A little different than heli or cat skiing in the backwoods of North America.

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The food was outstanding and reasonable - much cheaper than France or Switzerland. Turns out it is one of the better rated restaurants in Courmayeur and they run a snowcat up there in the evenings for patrons.

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We finally made it back to the base via traverse from restaurant at 4pm....and proceeded to pack up the car. Finally went into office to try to pay - wtf?! Mission accomplished.

Afterwards we walked around Courmayeur - It's definitely one of the prettiest ski towns in Europe.

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An amazing day skiing under Europe's highest mountain!
Last edited by ChrisC on Wed Nov 18, 2020 5:29 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Mont Blanc / Heliski Courmayeur, Italy: January 30, 2018

Postby jamesdeluxe » Wed Nov 18, 2020 5:43 am

You've been sitting on this report for almost three years? :-k
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Re: Mont Blanc / Heliski Courmayeur, Italy: January 30, 2018

Postby ChrisC » Wed Nov 18, 2020 8:37 am

jamesdeluxe wrote:You've been sitting on this report for almost three years? :-k


Yep.

Decided to finally post for a couple of unrelated reasons:

First, I see reports falling into 2 categories: 1. current conditions or 2. experience. Often the latter will get picked up by the Search Engines so the general public might see it. There is not a lot out there discussing heli skiing in Europe. Some reports about Russia. So why not? I mean no one needs to hear about Squaw Valley, Breckenridge, Jackson from an experience/guide level ..... we all have been there, done that. Those should be more current conditions based.

Second, it's a pain in the ass to load photos to this site - especially if you want more than a couple. It means phone -> computer -> 3rd party photo site (that generates easy links) -> post coordinating it all. Time consuming. This report was done on Facebook and IG years ago because they are easy platforms! I recognize this site is a labor of love - and you are not going to pay for photo storage costs. But I lose interest.

Third, reports are useless without photos. As Zuckerberg even says - photos are even becoming irrelevant. We should communicate via video. Hence the increasing popularity of Tik-Tok. Also, I see reports on sites with paragraphs of words - and me "Oh, hell no!" I don't want to read a diary or blog. I want to form some independent opinions from photos.

Fourth, I started a bunch of reports but could not find a 3rd party photo hosting site that I liked. Finally found one this summer. So I
decided to finish off a couple that i thought might be helpful. And I have a bit more time now - work in Financial Technology and systems get frozen for holiday/end of year payment traffic.

Lastly, I do this for fun. Sometimes I'm into it. Sometimes I forget about this site.

:-D
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Re: Mont Blanc / Heliski Courmayeur, Italy: January 30, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Nov 18, 2020 3:50 pm

Posting photos here is much easier than it used to be. The size limit on in individual pictures used to be really low. The size limit now is some number of MB per upload. My standard pics are about 4000x3000. I cut that by 50% to 2000x1500 and I can upload 6 pics at a time. Once uploaded I have to insert pics in the appropriate places of the report. I can put as many pics as I want in a report, but there may be a limited number of pics allowed per report if you don't have moderator privileges.

I think FB has a fairly low limit on picture resolution; they will accept what you upload but slash resolution on what displays or can be downloaded.

jamesdeluxe wrote:You've been sitting on this report for almost three years? :-k

Hey, at least he's not Patrick!

ChrisC wrote:Third, reports are useless without photos.

Yes, but description and context are important too. IMHO you have to have both. Those pics looked like Alaska heliski terrain. But surely readers benefit from the description of the heli ops in Italy and how different it is from North America.

FYI there are heli ops in the Monterosa too. There are also designated drop points along the Swiss border with Zermatt. You can get quite a day there with one heli drop at 14,000 feet, then ski 8,000+ vertical down glaciers to Furi/Zermatt. Then ride lifts up to Klein Matterhorn at 12,700 and ski 6,000+ back to Champuloc.

ChrisC wrote:Also, I see reports on sites with paragraphs of words - and me "Oh, hell no!" I don't want to read a diary or blog. I want to form some independent opinions from photos.

You can start or skim narrative in less than a minute and decide whether it's worth a more careful look. And you can read an informative TR like this one in just a few minutes.

To get the same from video you are forced to sit there for 10+ minutes at the producer's pace not yours, with no idea whether it's worthwhile until it's done. I strongly resist video as a preferred means of communication. The internet is enough of a timesuck as it is. Similarly, don't make me listen to a one hour podcast when I can read the same info in 1/4 the time. The place for podcasts IMHO is in the car, commuting or on road trips.
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