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02 September 2014

Haute Route: Taking the high road

So you've carved up Chamonix, schussed in Saas Fee and skied powder at Park City. Courchevel's Grand Couloir just isn't quite grand enough and you're thinking, what next?

Touring
Just you and the mountain

Refuge
High altitude accommodation

Touring
Steep ascent

Refuge
Powder turns

Ski Touring has long been the next logical step for any budding ski adventurer, but where skinning up the side of a gentle red run sounds appealing to some, the true magic of touring can really only be found far from the hustle and bustle of any ski resort.

There are hundreds of routes criss-crossing the Alps to suit tourers of different levels and aspirations, but there are arguably none more famous as the Haute Route.

Part hike, part ski tour, part sensory awakening, the Haute Route is a high alpine walking and ski touring route between the French resort of Chamonix and Zermatt in Switzerland. First completed on foot by gentleman adventurers from the British Alpine Club in the mid-19th century, the 90 mile route takes around a week on skis encompassing 23 glaciers across three countries. Although no two routes are identical, the terrain is exceptionally high with peaks up to 3800m and over 6,000m of ascent and descent.

Away from the crowds and civilization, nights are generally spent in high altitude mountain huts. Perched in the most impossible positions, these refuges offer comfortable beds, hot food and a well-earned drink. Unlike backcountry touring, skiing hut to hut means there’s no need to carry tents, stoves and other overnight equipment, meaning you can travel with a lighter backpack. This no doubt makes it a more enjoyable experience when scaling ladders and rappelling at over 3000m.

So what about the skiing? After a hard uphill climb the best bit surely is coming back down and there are plenty of opportunities to let gravity do the hard work. You will have never worked harder for it, but is there anything better than endless fresh untouched powder to play in? The terrain varies from tight couloirs to wide open powder fields and you’ll no doubt face all kinds of snow conditions. The rewards however are endless and the route will take you skiing through some incredible terrain. With no rush to get going before someone ruins your tracks, you can take your time; this really is just you and the mountain.

This isn’t however an easy going experience and over 50% of those who set off don’t complete the route. Weather plays a huge part in this success rate as snow, cloud and high wind can force you to either retire or take refuge in a mountain hut. Experience is vital and you’ll need to be fit. Trying a shorter hut to hut tour before committing to the big one will give you a good idea whether this tour is for you. Touring Skills weekends are also a good way to learn the skills required and get more of an understanding of what the trip involves.

The Haute Route’s popular reputation is fully justified and makes an extremely rewarding experience.

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Haute Route - 9 nights, Argentière, France - £1,250.00

> Eight days with a mountain guide
> High level of fitness and prior experience essential
> A 'must do' for the ski tour enthusiast

Holiday price includes:
Three nights half board in 2* hotel and six nights half board in huts, shared room, mountain guide, and group equipment.

For more information visit Ski Club Freshtracks.

related videos

Snowcast Extra - Introduction to Ski Touring
Snowcast Extra - Introduction to Ski Touring
Ski touring first-timers Lucy and Vicky join mountain guide Nigel Shepherd and head beyond the resort boundary for their first taste of the backcountry.
Al's skiing tips: touring kit
Al's skiing tips: touring kit
Touring is an expanding market, with serious kit for serious skiers. Al gives a basic guide on what you need.
Planning a touring route: snow and weather
Planning a touring route: snow and weather
The first in a series of planning videos, here we learn how to use all available information about the snow, weather and group ability to get the most out of a day's skiing.
Skiing Skills: mountain guide Jim Kerr
Skiing Skills: mountain guide Jim Kerr
Peter Hart and BASI expert Sean Langmuir talk to mountain guide Jim Kerr on the ski technique and psychology involved in skiing Phillipe's Couloir in Chamonix. Extract from the Skiing Skills:...

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