montblanc roller pen strenuous day we’ve ever experienced on skis
Words do not begin to describe what we experienced today. It might be trite, but you would truly have to ski it to believe it.
It was a good start to the day no electrical explosions. And only a 45 minute jog (that would prove to be a bad move .) around Courmayeur due to severe Alpine fatigue and too much good Italian food and wine.
Today our travels took us to the Vallee Blanche and into Chamonix, France, site of the inaugural Winter Olympic Games in 1924. Time to brush up on that high school and college French oui, oui.
After a 10 minute bus ride to a nearby village, La Palud, we hitched a three car ride on the Funive Monte Bianco cable car to the summit of Punta Helbronner. That’s where our exciting excursion began. the VB, is a 20 kilometer (about 12.4 miles) route that starts at 3,812 meters on the Aiguille du Midi and traverses the glacier into Chamonix. It’s above the treeline, all rocks and snow and peaks and spires. No easy way down all black diamond and double black all the way. Cobalt blue skies were ever present. “When we ski in the glacier, they are a requirement,” said Luca Argentero, a ski guide and instructor with Societa Guide Alpine Courmayeur, a group that began working the terrain in 1850. Mario Ravello and Gian Franco were the other guides who assisted us in our 2,
800 meter altitude decent.
Some of us agreed that it was the most demanding, strenuous
day we’ve ever experienced on skis. It might be the most difficult 12.4 miles in sport, and not to toot my own horn, but this comes from one who will compete in his 12th consecutive Ironman USA Lake Placid triathlon in July.
The route took us through untracked powder, with depths that could reach five meters. That’s where the guides came in handy. We even had to climb several hundred meters up snow steps to get to a ridge before we skied another five kilometers into Chamonix. That’s as close to mountaineering as I ever want to get. I didn’t have my heart rate monitor, but I’m sure it was pushing 170 beats a minute for 20 minutes or better.
The aforementioned harnesses would be used to rescue anyone who happened to fall into a crevasse (some were as deep as 20 meters); the beacons would be used to locate anyone who got buried by an avalanche.
Fortunately no one from our group needed rescue from one of those hazards, though one skier did wind up atop a crevasse about six inches wide. Our guide Gian yelled, “Merdi! (Translation: “Sht!”) Don’t move.”
The skier was quickly pulled to safety.
The route proved too difficult for another, who required rescue by helicopter after about one kilometer of the descent. He was airlifted to a heliport in Chamonix. Fortunately, the guide service had insurance for one copter ride.
according to a poster on the wall at the cable
car, they have an App for this place (it’s Ski Resort) that can be downloaded to your iPhone. But Monsieur Jobs, my 3G iPhone froze up on the mountain and became disabled for the entire trip, hence no photos of one of the most
spectacular landscapes on earth. (Please Google Vallee Blanche, though photos can’t do it justice.)
One guide said it happens all the time. It recovered after it warmed up at the hotel.
After our 5 hour, 19 minute excursion, a young girl riding a poma lift at the base of Chamonix welcomed me to France as I passed her by.
“Bonjour,” she said. I replied, “Ca va bien?”
Oui! Indeed, it was a good day, a great one. One of, if not, the greatest days in our skiing lives.
After we finished the Vallee Blanche,
we were invited to an apr event hosted by the Hotel Prieure in Chamonix, one of four hotels with more than 300 rooms at the base of Mont Blanc.