As anticipated, Sunday broke bluebird with a reported 30cm of new snow high in the mountains and lots of wind overnight. Surprisingly we were on the ball and out of the hostel just after 7am in hopes of catching one of the first few trams up the Agui du Midi. Unfortunately, the cable had gotten pretty rimed up which delayed the first car. Also, when you buy a ticket for the tram you are placed on a specific numbered tram and we also learned after the fact that you can reserve spots online for a minimal extra fee. After killing some time with coffee and pastries, we waited around for waiting around for hour and half, the ticket windows finally opened and were slotted for tram number 11, which got out around 10:30.
It’s a two stage ride to the top of the Agui and I made sure I got a spot by a window so I could take in the ambiance of my first lift ride in Chamonix. I gazed at the hanging seracs and glaciers on the lower slopes of Mont Blanc and my stoke meter ramped upwards as we neared the top station. I also wondered how in the hell such an engineering marvel was built in such a precarious spot.
When we got off, the views of Mont Blanc were unbelievable. I peered off one of the walkways down to the legendary couloir skied in the Blizzard of Ahs, but with today’s global warming, it was hardly filled in and no where near skiable. After a good session of photos we continued through a few more tunnels before getting to where you walk between two rope railings down the glacier and then clicked into your skis. Many people were opting for crampons for this section, but we went for it without spikes. It was a little hairy walking down the stairs chopped out of ice with one hand holding skis an the other on the ropes, but the pace was slow due to few guided groups all roped up.
Our plan was to ski the Vallee Blanc and tour up one of the side glaciers for some more vertical and views. At the beginning of the tour we were a group of 10, so things moved pretty slow and it was a test of my patience. I peered up at the well know Gervasutti Couloir on Mont Blanc, which looked very cool, but a little icy at this point of the season. After a little while, we finally broke into two groups which made for easier touring. It was amazing to see the variety of people skiing on the glacier, like groups of young kids just like you would see at the ski area.
As we skied down the Vallee Blanc the views of Dent du Geant, Agui Verte and Agui du Dru just blew me away. We skied about 4000′ down to La Salle Manger below a big serac field and put our skins back on and followed a track up towards the Dent du Geant underneath some impressive glacial terrain. Though two people died while we were in Chamonix (one fell out of a gondola when a window popped out…and a snowboarder fell into a crevasse low on the Vallee Blanc when he took his board off and started walking around) we didn’t feel the need to rope up and the pace was casual.
We caught up to the group breaking trail when the slope got steeper. I think they turned around after we passed them because I never saw them again that day. It was obvious the wind had blown and the snow was a little punchy windslab and I knew it wouldn’t be blower powder skiing even though a foot of new snow was reported. We stopped for some food below some big cliffs and enjoyed some food.
The ski back down to the Vallee Blanc was fun and variable. I found some nice sun softened snow lower down, but a lot of it was very punchy and the kind of snow that takes a lot of effort to ski. The day was getting late and we wanted to catch the tram back down to the valley. Since it was very dry down the low and we would have to walk if we missed it, we continued down to the Mer de Glace on the long, low angled glacier.