13 January 2022, Grand St Bernard Snow Shoe Expedition

1000 years experience of hospitality from the monks at the Monastery ot the Grand St. Bernard pass…and it shows!  Thanks to the team for their welcome, hospitality and providing such a memorable base camp for our 2 day mid-winter snow shoe expedition exploring this wonderful area.

The remarkable Hospice in the superb location of the Grand St. Bernard Pass, with Mont Vélan West Face beyond.

Despite the very good weather and snow conditions the parking at Super St. Bernard was pretty quiet with just a few teams trundling up the track towards the Monastery and in to the Combe de Drône and up towards Monts Tellier.

Entering the Combe de Barasson

The fact we needed our snow shoes to make efficient progress up the main Monastery track was an indication of how quiet it had been since the fresh snow over the weekend and a beautiful pristine feel prevailed as we broke trail (over an existing skinning track!) up in to the lovely Combe de Barasson.

Solitary skier in the Combe de Barasson – very quiet on the hills and in the Hospice

The snow cover is impressive & snow quality was generally excellent powder although a bit ruffled by the wind above around 2400m in the Combe and near Cols / ridge lines.  After the passing of a solitary skier, we had the place to ourselves.  The final steepening before the col was in very good condition and we zig-zagged up the broad couloir staying on slopes less than 30 degrees all the way.

Superb views into Val d’Aosta and across to Monte Bianco & Grandes Jorasses from Col West de Barasson

Sarah and Jon made the most of their good fitness to truck efficiently up the now more scoured slopes to the remarkable views of the South Face of Monte Bianco and East Face of the Grandes Jorasses from the Western Col de Barasson.  Great also to look across to familiar ski touring venues up and down the Val d’Aosta which have not been visited for a while.

Avalanche emergency response training en route to the Monastery

Keen skiers, Jon & Sarah and looking to progress in to ski touring and we used this snow shoe trip not only to enjoy the wonderful valleys, cols and summits around the Grand St. Bernard Pass, but to do some winter travel & avalanche awareness training along the way.

Sunset and last few moments of pink light on the West Face of Mont Velan from just below the Monastery

After a brief pit stop at the neat mini mountain shelter of the Hospitalet we enjoyed the shady and chilly ambiance in the Combe des Morts and particularly the inspiring views behind to the glowing last rays of sun light on the West Face of Mont Vélan.  Keen to go back their and explore the steeper couloir lines on the West Face & approach the mountain direct from Super St. Bernard instead of our previous trip via the Vélan Hut and voie normale, which is still a pretty substantial ski mountaineering trip!

The remarkable Hospice and numerous other building at Grand St. Bernard, last few steps on the Swiss side approach

As usual the welcome at the Hospice was friendly and convivial and food excellent.  It’s a remarkably comfortable and spacious base camp in the heart of brilliant winter & spring touring country.  The famous St. Bernard dogs synonymous with this pass live in Martigny over the winter season but can be seen there in the museum with the story of their role as trail breakers for the monks who kept the passage open to the col from both Swiss & Italian sides.  Border Collies however make much better avalanche rescue dogs apparently!

Good chatter with the Priest and sole other guest at the Monastery

After a highly civilised time for a mid winter breakfast we set off towards the sunny slopes of Mont Fourchon, quite visible from the door of the Monastery but requiring an interesting and intricate route best saved for a day with decent visibility, like today!

The remarkable Hospice and numerous other building at Grand St. Bernard, last few steps on the Italian side approach

Immediate arrival in the full on winter environment of the Grand St Bernard, the initial traverse of the frozen lake at 2446m, crossing into Italy and descent of the summer road including tunnel, provides an interesting start to the days touring.  A staff team from the Monastery had put in a track to the base of the Fenêtre Col above this traverse.   Several teams were ascending from the Italian side and joining our climb up towards Mont Fourchon.

Varied but mainly nice snow on the East facing descent of Mont Fourchon

For the mini summit climb, there was a steep R wards traverse to a ski depot and a mini boot up from there.  The last few metres were hard pack in places where the wind had scoured all the fresh snow off.

Last few steps to the summit of Mont Fourchon 2901m
Sarah & Jon on the summit of Mont Fourchon 2901m

Great views to the Italian Val d’Aosta and Paradiso National Park to the South, Mont Blanc Massif to the West and impressive bulk of the Grand Combin lying along the Swiss Italian border line to the East.   Pretty good looking snow cover in evidence looking down the valley towards La Fouly and up in to the south facing basin and high altitude Col of the Grand Lui.

La Fouly Valley and long range view towards Col de Grand Lui etc

After a leisurely pit stop back at the Monastery, we continued our descent back down the track to Bourg St. Bernard.  The steep and sustained west facing slopes above the parking were now tracked with a multitude of zig zags leading up on to the Glacier de Pro and with a descent through the steep but appealing looking terrain on a similar line to the marked descent route on the Martigny ski touring route and roughly around the meeting of shade and sun on the centre right slopes in the photo below.

Sustained W facing slopes leading from Super St. Bernard up towards the W Face of Mont Vélan

The return to Bourg St. Bernard concluded an enjoyable and memorable mid winter excursion in these middle mountains spanning the Swiss and Italian border.  Please get in touch if you would like to do a similar trip – either on snow shoes or skis!

Leaving Bourg St. Bernard en route to the Col de Barasson and Hospice

We have spaces available on our intro and intermediate ski touring courses visiting the Monastery this March, so please check out the details for those courses and others below via our availability update:

Our Winter – Spring 2022 Ski Courses – Remaining Availability

The selected courses below are all running and ready for you to join & you can keep an eye on the full programme on our course page here.

We also have spaces on our intro and intermediate Chamonix ski touring days and weekends.

The ski touring ascent of Mont Fourchon. On the Italian side of the Grand St Bernard Pass