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Ski Touring The Haute Route

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The first sound I heard that morning was rain hitting the skylight of the Hotel Gustavia.  Lots of rain.  

Isn’t this April?  Late April?  How are we supposed to ski powder and drink beer in the sun when it’s RAINING?

I’ve no doubt that the members of Team Weenus were thinking something to that extent as we met for breakfast that morning.  Plus wondering what it meant for our chances on the Haute Route.  And a lesser group might well have lost just a bit of luster…but not these guys.  Not an eyelash was batted, not even when we tumbled out of the valley bus to an empty tram station at the Grands Montets.  Not when we pulled into the midstation of Lognan in a whiteout.  And not even as we picked our way down from the top tram through a fog broken only by the odd rock outcropping.  

Who are these people??

What IS a weenus, anyways??

To save you a trip to Wikipedia:  apparently, your weenus is the bit of skin that covers your elbow.  Usually wrinkled.  And most everyone has two, but no one really knows what the plural of weenus is (weenae?  weenuses?).  But its most redeeming quality – in the eyes of 12 year old boys across the country, not to mention our group of (ahem!) more civilized grown-ups – is…well, you know.  And if you just rolled your eyes…admit it.  It’s good for a giggle.  

Our first day brought surprisingly good skiing – powder turns below the granite spires that line the Amethyst Glacier.  The snow increased throughout the day, and by dark there was over 50 cm and counting.  When we piled ourselves and or gear into a taxi the next morning, there were reports of almost a meter (and still snowing).  

But Team Weenus was undaunted.  

And one of the fantastic things about getting from Chamonix to Zermatt is…there are many ways to skin the cat, so to speak.  So 1.5 hours on a taxi, and we are riding lifts up Verbier.  Lots of lifts.  Even lifts that are closed (apparently, it helps to know people in Switzerland:  Martin knew our taxi driver, who knew the UIAGM guide at Verbier who knew the guy who could start up the mega tram – the size of a Euro disco – even thought it was closed…for the season).  

The storm that hit Chamonix was localized, and Verbier had received considerably less snow.  So we picked our way through clouds and fog to the Prafleurie hut.  When we arrived there we were one of two groups – everyone else had cancelled.  And the next day, when we lounged on the stone deck of the Dix hut, basking in the sun (now totally unobstructed by those pesky clouds), we watched a steady stream of skiers come in from Arolla.  These were the rest of the skiers that had been trying, like us, to start the Haute Route in the snow.  But theirs was a greater ratio of taxi to skiing.

By this point, Team Weenus had their show dialed:  gear (mostly) in the right place at the right time, techniques (read:  kick turns), and really good weenus jokes.  At least we thought so.  Turns out the weenus requires care on a ski tour, lest it become cracked, chaffed, or – god forbid – sunburned.  

Part way up the climb from the Dix hut there is a plateau on the glacier, from which you get your first view of the Matterhorn.  And from there, as you move up, across, and ski down over the peaks and cols of the route, the Matterhorn grows ever closer.  Until you find yourself at the final col, the Col de Valpelline.  Looking up:  the chunk of rock you’ve heard so much about, up close and personal.  Looking down:  thousands of feet of skiing…past and through icefalls, below soaring cliffs.  And as you work your way down the valley, the chunk of rock begins to take on its more familiar shape.  Begins to get that crook in it.  Until, at last, you are in Zermatt, and the Matterhorn looks every bit the way you have seen the pictures.  But…real.  

Team Weenus took this all in stride.  Watching others struggle with kick turns up the Col de Mont Brulee.  Unpacking the picnic lunch from the Vignette hut to discover a slab of cured bacon and an entire block of cheese.  Worst of all, having to pull over for another rosti, and a beer, and a coffee, before skiing the final corn ribbon all the way into town.  

It is true what they say, that when you start with suffering, the reward is all the sweeter.  But in the case of Team Weenus, when you start undaunted in the face of suffering…the reward is not only sweet…it kicks the ass of what you thought it would be.



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