This ski tour requires a high level of fitness and excellent skiing abilities. The second day of touring, from the Argentiere hut to the Trient hut is long and complex. And the last day, from the Vignettes hut to Zermatt is equally challenging. You need to be in good shape.
Skiing skills need to be at an advanced to expert level. The reason for this has more to do with the conservation and expenditure of energy over a long day than the absolute technical difficulty of the skiing. There are a few steep sections, such as approaching the Col des Ecandies on Day 3, but for the most part the slopes are not overly steep. The challenge comes in managing poor snow conditions (heavy wet snow, crud or breakable crust) and not losing too much energy in the process. Great skiers look like they are hardly working, and this is in fact the case. If your skiing is not up to par you will spend far, far more energy than a better skier.
There are sections on this tour where we will be skiing slopes of up to about 40 degrees in steepness. This is quite steep, and usually in this terrain we will be traversing or perhaps side slipping down to easier ground. However, we also need to be able to do turns on these very steep slopes, usually parallel hop turns, or other quick turns where little momentum is generated. On slopes of this steepness, if the snow is firm (as it often is) a fall will most likely result in a slide, and, with hazards such as rocks or crevasses below, such a slide will lead to potentially very serious injurly. If you fall on these slopes you will get hurt!
Ski skills required;
- Ability to turn comfortably through the fall line in difficult deep, heavy snow, or bad breakable crust.
- Ability to consistently execute parallel hop turns or pedal-hop turns on 40° firm snow.
- Ability to ski the fall-line with short-radius, rhythmic parallel turns in deep light snow.
- Ability to side-slip, both forward and backward, on firm 45° slopes.
- Ability to skate on level ground.
Skiers who regularly enjoy black or double black runs in most western American ski areas should do fine. If you like to get off the piste and into the crud, ski the trees, and in general look for the steeper shots, you'll probably have a great time on this tour. If you tend to stick to the groomed slopes and find the wild untracked a bit intimidating this is probably not a good tour for you. We will likely encounter all different kinds of snow, from the best to the worst, and you need to have sound energy efficient strategies to cope with them.
A good gauge of you ability is found in mogul skiing. If you are good in the bumps and seek them out, then you most likely have developed the rhythm and balance needed for steep or difficult snow. You must be able to ski fairly steep bumps in good conditions, skiing rhythmically and fluidly, following a line near the fall line with good speed control. If you have any doubt about your ability to manage the skiing on this classic route, please join us in the Alps for a shake-down training session. See our page on Chamonix off-Piste skiing. Or, you may want to consider a Private Haute Route Program.
You need to be able to do quick and easy kick turns, facing into the mountain. We will review these skills en route, but you'll have to be expert at them by the second day!
Previous mountaineering skills are useful, but not required. If you are an expert skier, you will not have difficulty picking up these new skills, as you will already be comfortable on very steep slopes.