Journey through the Alps

 

Travelling the length of the French Alps has been a popular concept for some time. The Route des Grande Alpes became a popular driving route in the early years of the 20th century. In the summer months, when the high passes are open to traffic, these roads are crowded with cars, motorbikes and cyclists. The hiking equivalents are among the most popular long distance mountain trails in Europe. Following the success of the GR5 there are now several well-marked alternatives.

The history of long distance ski touring through the French Alps is much shorter and there is no established route. The summer trails will naturally gravitate down onto the valley floor frequently to maximize access to accommodation and supplies. Skiers will want to stay on high ground as much possible to maximize snow cover. Skiers cannot simply follow the well known hiking trails but must search to find the best winter route with good snow cover and usable accommodation.

The journey naturally breaks down into five sections. From Menton to Isola 2000 the best ski route follows the line of the summer GR52 much of the time. This is the obvious route to take and there are no attractive alternatives. The section from Isola 2000 to Larche is complex. The ski route is intricate following high mountain ridges and is very different from the summer equivalent. However this route is direct and seems to be the obvious choice, with no attractive alternatives. Similarly the traverse through the Queyras is an obvious route linking CAF refuges between Larche and Montgenèvre.

The lowest point of any route between the Mediterranean and Mt Blanc is the Maurienne valley, and crossing this is a major challenge.  I chose a route from Montgenèvre to Val d’Isère that included a crossing of the glaciers of the Vanoise and this was one of the highlights of the trip. The single downside of this route was that it required a low level 15km walk from Valfréjus to Aussois. On balance I believe this is the best available route. It may be possible to avoid this road walk by passing to the west of the Vanoise. This route would follow the GR55 north from Modane to the Refuge de Péclet Polset and Pralognon before climbing to the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise. A more ambitious route could climb directly north from Modane to Col de la Masse (2900m) before descending to Ref de la Dent Parachée, but this steep south facing slope can have issues with lack or snow cover or avalanche hazard.

It is clear that once the barrier of the Maurienne valley has been crossed there are different ways into the Vanoise mountains and different exit points. I am aware that other teams have chosen different routes. The Super-Haute-Route (Panico) book details a route from Termignon to Bourg St Maurice. If you exit the Vanoise area at Tignes / Val d’Isère the onward route to Mt Blanc is obvious and follows known and popular ski trails in Italy’s Val d’Aosta region.

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David Hamilton
High Adventure
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Email:  david@highadventure.org.uk

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