18 – 23 April 2023, THE Haute Route, Chamonix to Zermatt

There are many high level ski routes in the Alps, but Chamonix to Zermatt is really THE Haute Route and many thanks to our great guide Lou Reynolds for her guiding, photography and this report.  Many thanks also to our guests Ericka and Erik, from Seattle, who arrived fit, motivated, well kitted out and well trained, which was handy as the weather meant there were some extra challenges along the way.  Read on for a flavour of what our 6 day Haute Route programme involves…

Day 1 : Grand Montets – Col du Passon – Refuge Albert Premier.

After a bit of difficulty getting Dollars converted to Euros, it was a relief to put on our mountain kit, skis in
hand and board the first Gondola up into the resort of Grand Montets to gain access to the High
Mountains once again. (Just a note for anyone wanting to exchange cash Dollars in Chamonix, it turns
out there is little service for this in the town and best to get them exchanged at the airport on route to
Chamonix.) The sun was shining and after a ski run down from the Herse Chair lift, we reached the point
to transition to uphill mode, putting on our skins in exchange for the layers we stripped off in the heat
of the April sun. I was keen to make sure we climbed the Col du Passon (3028m) before 1pm to avoid
any sluffs of wet snow in the afternoon heat. We had been blessed with a top up of fresh snow two days
before the trip which was settling nicely and would hopefully make for better ski conditions over the
course of the week. Despite our slightly delayed start we made great progress, Erik and Ericka were
obviously seasoned ski tourers and with efficient transitions we tackled each of the stages of the climb
including the boot pack with ease. I did my best to pass on top tips for a good safe week, from kick turn
technique to eating little and often and what my latest favourite snack was… marzipan is my latest
energy food of choice, high sugar, and some protein, hard to freeze and easy to eat.

Day 1, Erik & Ericka en route to the Col du Passon

At the top of the Col du Passon, we took some time to enjoy the views and have a bite to eat before
donning the skis and finding some fresh powder turns to start our descent. We were headed to the
Refuge Albert Premier (2700m alt), but with a fit team and time in hand we opted to skin up and across
the Glacier for an hour to enjoy some fresh, hot powder turns all the way to the hut. The snow even at
over 3000m was heating up in the humid sun and cloud conditions, but it skied well despite the
temperature, and we found some more fresh tracks. Stories were shared over a cold beer, excellent
dinner, and stunning views of the sunset.

Lovely sunset and evening views from Albert Premier. The journey has begun…

Day 2: Refuge Albert Premier – Col Superieur du Tour – Col de Ecandies – Champex Lac – Cabane du
Mont Fort
We woke at daybreak for breakfast, clear skies and the pink hues of Alpen glow greeted us. 600m ascent
to the first Col, Col Superieur du Tour (3287m alt) was the highest we had been so far. Steady progress
in good conditions on a good skinning track. We were soon basking in the morning sun trying to work out
why Ericka’s breaks were not releasing. The good old bash it and see method worked, it must have been
a little iced. We set off on the Glacier du Trient towards the Col de Ecandies finding some fresh creamy
powder and pleased the steeper part of the Glacier was well filled in and tracked to the Col de Ecandies.
I had found conditions on this section of Glacier the previous year to be very thin, with evidence of
crevasses all over the place. I couldn’t believe we had the place to ourselves. Teams from the Cabane
des Trient must have started earlier and there was a comfortable space between us and the team
behind. We made good progress up the fixed ropes at the Col. A little care was required on the final part
not to dislodge any small rocks as the snow had thinned to expose the frozen scree slope.

On the mixed ground to the Col des Ecandies to access the descent down the Val d’Arpette to Champex

Soon we were on the Col looking down further into the Swiss Mountains and the beautiful Val D’Arpette which we were
about to ski. We found some chopped up powder and then some smooth sun transformed spring snow
which led us into the valley weaving between the scattered larch trees and all the way to the Taxi, with
only a couple of minutes of walking for one short section.

We boarded the taxi to Le Chable where we grabbed a few more supplies for the trip before navigating
our way through the ski resort of Verbier to the Cabane du Mont Fort. We had time in hand and a tip off
that there was good snow to ski from the Col de la Chaux to the hut, so we did some transceiver training
before skinning up to the Col for some nice turns in pursuit of dinner.

Day 3: Cabane du Mont Fort – Rosablanche – Cabane du Prafleuri
The forecast for the next day was unsettled with snow forecast in the afternoon, the timing of which was
uncertain but seemed to be creeping forward. We were the only team in the hut going on to the Cabane
de Prafleuri (2456m alt) so with a little guilt at getting the guardian up early, we asked for a 5.30am
breakfast. We were rewarded for our efforts, the clouds seemed to be chasing in quickly behind us as we
reached the Col de la Chaux (2939m alt) but there wasn’t a soul in sight and the snow flurries came and
went. The weather broke giving us good visibility from the Col de Momin (3000m alt) and we decided to
push on to the summit of Rosablanche (3336m alt). A snow flurry came in just as we were reaching the
summit. We all quietly hoped that this was not the afternoons weather coming early. Thankfully, it
passed, and we enjoyed a glorious ski down to the Cabane de Prafleuri with some powder, followed by
light sun crust which was entertaining and then some fine corn/spring snow to the hut. Arriving in time for
11’s we took a nap and then ate lunch as the clouds and snow rolled in. Later, we left the hut once more,
this time in wind, cloud and snow to practise crevasse rescue, refreshing Erik and Ericka’s skills for their
mountain adventures to come.

Summit of the Rosablanche visited on the multiple cols and summit route from the Mont Fort Hut to Prefleuri

Day 4: Cabane du Mont Fort – Col des Roux – Cabane des Dix
By the time breakfast was finished and the teams bustled outside the hut with skins and harnesses, the
last of the snowflakes had fallen. Sun broke through the cloud as we shuffled rhythmically up to the Col
des Roux (2804m). 5 – 10cm of fresh snow covered the crusty under layer and we wooped and smiled
our way down towards the Lac des Dix, agreeing eagerly on taking the lower line with a bit more skinning
so as to make the most of the fresh snow and avoid side slipping over km’s of refrozen avalanche debris
on the way to the Pas de Chat. We made swift progress through the steep section of Pas de Chat and on
to the Cabane des Dix (2928m alt). The track was in great condition with a layer of fresh snow making it
grippy and ski crampons only needed on a couple of the steeper sections. We arrived at the hut in time
for some Rosti which fuelled an afternoon jaunt up towards the peak of La Luette. We stopped part way
up due to the increasing winds, cloud and sun crusted snow which wasn’t so inviting to ski back.

Sunny touring towards the Dix Hut, afternoon mini tour after lunch anyone!?

Day 5: Cabane des Dix – Pigne de Arolla – Cabane des Vignettes
The forecast was continuing to play havoc with planning and creating somewhat uncertainty in the plan.
The altitude of the cloud cover and timings of incoming precipitation was varying between different
forecasts. We decided to listen to the more pessimistic but reliable Meteo Swiss. We opted for a 6am
breakfast and were greeted by clear skies. We decide to take the weather window, with GPS track to
follow should the cloud roll in on the summit.

Big high mountain country on the traverse of the Pigne d’Arolla

I had intel from some local guides that the glacier was in good safe condition on the ski down to the Vignettes, so we went for it, knowing I had a strong team. Erik had impressed some of the other groups with his heavy skis and large bag as the couple were staying on
in Zermatt for a week so had opted to bring their own rope and a few extras for the following week. It
certainly didn’t hold him back, plenty of seasons skiing in the North Cascades in America had them both
well-seasoned to a big day out.

Skinning up towards the Pigne de Arolla with the Mont Blanc de Chellion in the background.

We skinned up in good pace, using the rope for the first steeper section of Glacier to the Col de
Serpentine, transitioning to a boot pack for the Col de Serpentine where we encountered a short section
of ice where a couple of Ice screws were useful in protecting this. Care is also required and rope
recommended as you leave the steep part of the Col de Serpentine, there is a large crevasse opening at
this point. The cloud came in for the final plateau to the summit, so we used the rope once more and
carefully navigated to the summit. Once at the Col before the summit we agreed to transition to ski mode
and skied carefully down to where the cloud finished and revealed the excellent descent to the Cabane
des Vignettes (3157m alt) where we enjoyed some nice chalky snow all the way to the hut.

The remarkable perched location of the Cabane des Vignettes. But there is now an inside toilet unlike the old days!

Day 6: Cabane des Vignettes – Col de L’eveque – Col de Mont Brule – Col de Valpelline – Zermatt
Yet again the forecast was heavily discussed during the ‘Guides Apero’ at the hut the previous night. This
friendly drink and chat is very helpful in difficult conditions to discuss the weather and share information.
There were 5 guided teams all planning to go to Zermatt but with the backup of skiing down the Haute
Glacier D’Arolla should the weather not improve as it was forecast to. From the forecast we knew we had
a good weather window between 11 and 2-3pm in the afternoon as the mornings snow and cloud was
due to dissipate which would be a good time to ski down the large and complex Stockli Glacier. With
another early breakfast down, the teams left the hut, some more hesitant than others with wind and snow
swirling around. Once we were down on the Glacier du Mont Collon the wind eased and cloud stayed
high enough to give descent visibility. A quiet procession followed the large Swiss team ahead. At the Col
de L’Eveque (3374m alt) we transitioned to downhill mode and enjoyed some fresh powder and
reasonable visibility.

Glacier procession to the Col de L’eveque

We had agreed the night before that if the cloud was low over the Col de Mont Brule
(3232m alt) and weather still bad at this point, we would instead ski down to Arolla. On rounding the corner, we could see the Col but it was still snowing…

We decided to skin on and make the final decision whether to push on the Zermatt at the base of the boot pack giving the weather a little more time to ease.

Erik and Ericka were excellent at staying open minded, not set on having to go to Zermatt but happy to
do what the weather dictated. This worked very much in our favour, and it was only as we skied through
the resort into the Zermatt that it properly sunk in that we had actually made it.

The boot pack up to the Col de Mont Brule passed easily with an excellent track put in by the large Swiss
team in front and we did our part to break trail for a time across the Haute Glacier de Tsa de Tisan to the
Col de Valpelline (3551m alt).

The bootpack to the Col Mont Brulé.

At the Col we were met with a stiff breeze that hurried our transition along.
However, the weather was on our side and the clouds had been clearing to allow good visibility. The
views were epic and very atmospheric with cloud swirling among the giants that rise up on all sides and
sun glinting off turquoise blue chunks of ice in the Glacier. We were treated to some fresh tracks in cold
powder just to top it all off.

Powder turns on the Stockli Glacier before poling down the valley…under the North Face of the Matterhorn!

There is a very large Crevasse to avoid at 3500m altitude on the first part of
the descent. Some teams crossed hard on the skiers left and some went far out skiers right to get around
it. After this it was easy enough to weave a safe line and enjoy some of the powder, before skiing firm
snow across under the seracs on the lower part of the glacier. Once through this section we enjoyed
playful spring skiing down into the final section of glacier. Some poling and sliding took us onto the track
at Stafelalp where we had to walk for 10 minutes before joining the ski area and flying along with smiles
on our faces to ski all the way into Zermatt for a well-deserved celebratory beer and burger.

Celebratory beers and burgers on the high street…in Zermatt.

A massive well done to Erik and Ericka for their hard work, enthusiasm, and open mindedness it was a
great pleasure to share the journey with you both!

(And a massive well done to Lou to for her flexible and pragmatic guiding along this famous and wonderful journey.) 

If you would like to experience the remarkable ski touring journey of the Haute Route we organise week long courses which include a warm up day in Chamonix and a 6 day tour although we can shorten this for very strong teams keen to have some big days along the way.  Check our all our Ski Haute Route course info below and to get an idea of the ski mountaineering equipment you will need, check out our Ski Haute Route equipment list below that:

Ski The Haute Route

Ski Haute Route Equipment List

Passing through high mountain ski mountaineering country…in the Western Swiss Valais on the Haute Route