The classic tours of the Alps are popular for good reason. The Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route , the Grand Canyon of ski traverses,  is so well known that it has adopted the name “Haute Route” or high route as it’s namesake. In all actuality, there are hundreds if not thousands of “Haute Routes” throughout the western Alps existing in relative anonymity to many keen ski travelers. One of my goals for this visit was to find a new to me tour that has the following characteristics;

  1. less traversing and more skiing
  2. comfortable and stress free hut living (separate beds are nice!)
  3. easily accessible
  4. mind blowing ski terrain

Having had great experiences in the Ortler region as well as the Gran Paradiso National Park in previous years, Italy was certainly on my radar. Searching for something closer to Chamonix, I came across a trip that begins and ends in France, but spends the bulk of the journey just across the Italian border in the Valgrivenche, Italy. The “Haute Route Glaciaire” involves a four to six night itinerary rich with classic col crossings, mild to wild ski mountaineering and freeride terrain and certainly fulfills all of the above criteria.

Launch point in the Haute-Tarentaise with Mont Pourri in the background

Most North American skiers (myself included) likely haven’t heard of the “Haute-Tarentaise”, but perhaps have heard of the mega ski destinations of Les Arc, Val d’Isere and Tignes, which are all located near the start of this tour. Also, nearby is the Vanoise National Park, which is rumored to have some rather magnificent terrain as well. Our mini-circuit began in the village of Le Monal, an ancient farming hamlet complete with 18th century chalets.

le Monal

Although finding great snow in the alpine was the norm throughout our trip, this tour started from only 1800m, where conditions were not exactly skiable. Shortly though, we found ourselves atop the Franco-Italian border peering into some great ski terrain.

Col du Rocheuse Blanc

Unlike the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route, there were zero tracks in sight, but the little yellow signs helped to reassure us that we were on the right track. Of course we had maps, but the area along the border on the French map is barely discernible and Italian maps often leave more to the imagination than desired.

Rifugio Mario Bezzi

My partner for this tour, @kyledmattingly, was visiting the Alps for the first time, so I figured why not bring him to an Italian rifugio where Pierre, the hut guardian, would rock his entire being with rich and plentiful Italian cuisine. This as opposed to being devastated by sub-par dining experiences had in those other countries.

This is Kyle in the late innings.
looking at maps is cool, but the espresso machine in the background is the real hero.
nice looking ski terrain

While Kyle and I did not complete the full Haute Route Glaciaire, we did get a taste of what this spectacular area has to offer. Not only can skiers complete the Franco-Italian circuit, but also continue into Gran Paradiso national park and complete a ski descent of the Gran Paradiso (Italy’s highest peak). This trip has all ingredients to be a great destination and the area will surely make it onto the books for next winter. For those less motivated by winter, the tour also lends itself very well to being a great summer hut to hut trek with optional glacier crossings.

Mike Bromberg