The Haute Route is most likely the single most famous ski traverse in the Alps. Pro Guiding Service has guided this super classic ski tour from Chamonix to Zermatt about 45 times in 5 different variations. We have guided the original route via the Valsorey hut, the "classic route" via Verbier, from Zermatt to Chamonix ending in Courmayeur and other variations in between. Our guides speak French and English. Martin Volken, the founder of Pro Guiding Service and IFMGA guide, grew up in the Zermatt valley and speaks German, French, Italian and English. Because of Martin's background as a Swiss Mountain guide we have many local connections in the area. Believe us, it makes a difference.
The Haute Route crosses eleven glaciers on its way from Chamonix to Zermatt at an average elevation of 3,000 meters (9800 ft). Depending on the route variation you might end up skiing in three different countries. The French and Swiss Alpine Club huts (Refuge Albert Premier, Cabane de Trient, Mont Fort, Prafleuri, Dix and Vignettes) are sophisticated by US standards, the mountains are more alpine in character than anything in the lower 48 states, and packs are small enough to let you enjoy the skiing even at the highest elevations of the trip. Ski touring in such spectacular mountains coupled with the multi-cultural exchange will make this trip a unique experience.
Overall Difficulty Level: Difficult; due to combination of physical effort, some tricky skinning and altitude.
Skills Required: Advanced skiing ability and prior ski touring experience is required.
Fitness Level: Strenuous
You must be in shape for this multi day ski tour.
The afternoon before the trip: We will come and meet you at your hotel in the later afternoon before the trip start. We usually meet our guests in the lobby of the Hotel de l'Arve (a very comfortable and quiet 3 star hotel in the center of Chamonix), but this hotel is subject to change. After a casual meet and greet, we will go through a gear check and get you fully briefed for the next day.
Day 1: This day is more casual, but very important. It is our shake down day, warm up day, get comfortable with the altitude day. Depending on the conditions it could be a day in the Aiguilles Rouges or a descent down the famed Vallee Blanche.
Day 2: The first day of the tour can be a bit hectic, since we have to be all packed up and ready to go right away so that we can catch the first gondola in Argentiere. We generally transfer by bus from Chamonix to Argentiere, since the bus stop is located about 100 meters from the hotel. The cable car ride to the Grands Montets (3297 m) and ski down to the Argentiere Glacier (2500 meters) finally gets the show on the road. From here we will start the tour in earnest by touring up to the Col du Chardonnet (3323 meters) and on to the Trient Hut (3170 m). This is actually one of the more strenuous days of the tour, so good fitness and proper acclimatization before the trip will make a big difference.
Day 3: The nearly 2000 meter ski descent from the Trient Hut to Champex (1477 m) is outrageous. Who does not like to start a ski touring day with a long descent? After about five minutes of skiing we will ski past a spectacular ice fall on the side of the Trient Glacier, then ascend for about 5 minutes on crampons to the Col des Ecandies at 2793 meters. The following descent down the Val d'Arpette into the little town of Champex is beautiful, in particular because it leads straight to a bakery where a taxi will pick us up and drive us straight to Verbier. We will stop in for a short break in Verbier and then continue on to the Mont Fort hut in the middle of the ski area. All in all, this is probably the least strenuous day of the Haute Route, but it is very eventful, since it involves skiing, crampons, coffee, taxi rides, multiple gondolas, a world class resort and to cap it off an evening in the beautiful Mont Fort hut.
Day 4: We will tour to the Prafleuri Hut via the Col de la Chaux and the summit of Rosa Blanche (3336 meters). The tour starts with a mellow initial climb up the generally freshly groomed slopes of the Verbier ski area for about 1000 feet of vertical gain, before heading up to the Col de La Chaux proper at 2940 meters. The following terrain reminds some people a bit of the Whistler Blackcomb backcountry. Beautiful, but it does not have the edgy grandeur of the terrain closer to the southern crest. Of course the summit of the Rosa Blanche will give us a spectacular view into that terrain. From the summit we will ski down the Glacier de Prafleuri to the Cabane de Prafleuri at 2624 meters.
Day 5: We get to leave the Cabane to Prafleuri with our headlamps on, which is always a cool experience. The first ascent takes us up about 1000 feet of vertical up to the Col de Roux. The reason for the early start lies in the large east facing slopes that are looming over us while we traverse above the Lac de Dix. This "traverse" is really a mixture of skiing on a sidehill, some traversing and some "poling." All in all the Lac de Dix traverse takes about 1. 5 hours. From the south end of the lake we have to ascent a short steep section (Pas de Chat) to get to the lower reaches of the Glacier de Cheillon and up the last little bit to the Cabane des Dix (2928m).
Day 6: From the Cabane des Dix we will tour over the Pigne de Arolla (3796m) and ski down to the Cabane de Vignettes (3157 m). Less distance, more vertical is the name of the game. We will also reach our highest elevation of the tour at nearly 3800 meters, but by this time everybody seems to feel fine at altitude. Worth mentioning is, well everything really. The sunrise on the 1000 meter north-east face of the Mont Blanc de Cheillon is unforgettable and we will be touring right under it on our way up to the mighty glacier plateau of the Col de la Serpentine. Glaciologically this plateau is very interesting, since there are glaciers flowing away from it in every direction (Glacier de Cheillon to the north-west, Glacier de Tsijiore Nouve to the North, the Glacier the Brenay and Glacier de Serpentine to the South) and the summit of the Pigne d'Arolla is looming over all of it. Because of this, good visibility is important as navigation can become tricky. If the weather does not cooperate, we can "go around the Pigne d'Arolla" via the famous iron ladders across the valley from the Cabane de Dix to gain the Pas de Chevres. From there we have the option to ski all the way down to the cool little town of Arolla and continue via the famous Cabane de Berthol or get to the Cabane de Vignettes via the gentle Glacier de Piece. The location of this hut never fails to impress.
Day 7: A predawn start gets us going from the Vignettes Hut to the Col de l'Eveque (3392 m), on to the Col du Mont Brule (3213 m) and Col du Valpelline (3568 m). From here awaits the 6500 foot descent right underneath the North Face of the Matterhorn. What can we say? We cover more distance on this day than the others, but a huge portion of the distance is actually the unforgettable descent down into Zermatt. We start out by touring across the Col de Charmotane and up the gentle slopes of the Glacier de Collon. The terrain feels very wide open and vast during this initial ascent to the Col de l'Eveque at 3377 meters. From here we actually enter Italian territory for literally about 300 meters before crossing back into Switzerland. A nice descent gets us down to the Glacier d'Arolla. From here we tour to the base of the Col du Mont Brule at 3213 meters. Sometimes we can tour the last steep slope (about 35 to 40 degrees), but most of the time it involves putting the boot crampons on and carrying the skis on our pack to the actual col on a good boot pack trail. Ok, back into Italy now on the Haute Glacier de Tsa de Tsan. This portion of the tour takes us across the upper portion of this long cirque glacier with the dramatic "Bouquetins" (essentially the Ibex towers) looming above and besides, who does not like to be in Italy? The last ascent up to the Col de Valpelline at 3554 meters can be a bit tough, but at this point we are almost there and the view of the Matterhorn from the Col is worth the effort, we promise. We also switch back into Switzerland and into the German speaking part of it. This is Pro Guiding Service's owner, Martin Volken's home valley now and he always feels especially privileged to guide people down the Stockji, Tiefmatten and Zmutt glaciers under the larger than imaginable presence of the Matterhorn. What makes this descent so unforgettable is that it is like some sort of an unveiling of the Matterhorn. As mentioned we start out by skiing down the Stockji and Tiefmatten glaciers and the dark and powerful west face of the Matterhorn is dominating the scene. Once on the Zmutt glacier, we are literally under the Northface and not until we are but a few minutes from beer near the beautiful Stafelalp does the Matterhorn present itself from its super classic vantage. At the Stafelalp we actually join the ski area coming down from Schwarzsee and the biggest challenge now is to make it down to the town of Zermatt without getting stuck in one of the awesome slopeside bars. Once down in Zermatt it is - you guessed it - party time. Your luggage will be waiting for you at the Hotel City. Most people opt to stay the night in Zermatt and start travelling the next day, but if you need to get to an airport on Saturday, that would certainly work.
Snow Travel Gear
The best way to get to Chamonix is via bus from the Geneva Airport. There are several private companies that provide transportation from the Geneva airport to Chamonix. You can try ChamExpress or Mountain Drop-offs.
It is better to wait until you get to Chamonix. That way you pay the change rate only once (as opposed to from dollars to Swiss Francs then to Euros). So wait until you are in France to change Dollars into Euros, but we recommend changing dollars into Swiss Francs in Geneva, as the majority of the trip actually takes place in Switzerland. In fact all the huts we are staying in, are Swiss huts. If you do not want to change too much money into Swiss Francs right away, you can also get more money in Verbier on the second day of the trip.
It is extremely important that you stay properly hydrated and fluids are not cheap in high alpine huts. Count on spending about sfr. 15 to 20 per day on tea, water, beer and wine for sure. Of course there are other things that will tempt you such as chocolate, cakes, sandwiches, and the Swiss classic: Rösti. All things added up, sfr. 200 for the week should probably be enough.
You have options. You can carry all your lunch food (as it is not included in the trip cost), but hardly anyone does that. Most people buy some bread, cheese, dried meat, sausage, chocolate, trail mix etc. in Chamonix that will last for a couple of days. Then they repeat this in Verbier and end up supplementing it with some items they buy at the huts later in the week. You can also have the hut keeper prepare a lunch packet. They are good, but pretty pricey at about $12 per lunch.
This will be organized by Pro Guiding Service and is included in the trip. Please make sure that your extra luggage consists of one manageable piece.
Yes, we speak French, German and Italian. Speaking the right language or even better the right dialect does not only simplify logistics, but it opens a lot of doors to extra favors.
There is no need for that. You will be able to buy a ticket at the counter in Zermatt and just walk onto the train. The travel time from Zermatt to Geneva is about 3.5 hours.
If you intend to do further travel in Switzerland , you might consider purchasing the Halfprice Pass from the Swiss Railway System. The cost of a one month pass is roughly US $134, but once you have the pass, all public transportation is - well - half price. You could start saving money very quickly.
Although tipping is not a requirement, it is considered standard practice in the guiding industry and is appreciated by our guides. We generally recommend roughly 10%-15% of your trip cost or a flat amount that you are comfortable with.