The Grand Lui Haute Route is the much sort after classic version of the Haute Route ski tour that makes the entire traverse between Chamonix and Zermatt on foot, by taking the intricate Grand Lui variation via the St Bernard monastery. The tour takes at least a day longer than the standard routes and requires higher levels of fitness and ski ability in order to deal with the increased length and difficulties.
This is a week for experienced ski tourers who already have multiple weeks hut to hut touring experience under their belts. Due to the difficulties involved, the route is guided at a low 1:3 ratio and requires both good weather and stable avalanche conditions to complete. You need to be aware of these factors before considering joining the trip. In good weather however, the Grand Lui Haute Route provides the most challenging and satisfying way to make the high level traverse between Chamonix and Zermatt on skis. We may be joined by an aspirant guide on this trip, with an increased ratio of 4 clients to 2 guides (1 full guide, one aspirant guide).
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The Grand Lui Haute Route ski tour is an advanced level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 3/4 and Tech Level 3/4 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below). You should have several week’s previous hut to hut ski touring experience. You also need some basic mountaineering experience, using ropes and crampons/ice axe. This is a demanding week which involves regular 8-10 hour days with 900-1700m of ascent a day – so you can expect to be skinning 4-6 hours a day. Type of ascent: we use approximately 15% uplift (all on day 1) and 85% skinning on this tour – approx 7600m of skinning up, 9250m of skiing down, all at altitude.
One UIAGM guide skiing with 3 clients.
Included in price
- 7 days of guiding
- All guides expenses
- 2 nights accommodation in the Chamonix valley, including breakfast.
- 6 nights accommodation in mountain huts, including breakfast and evening meal.
Excluded from price (see course factsheet for cost estimates)
- Evening meals in the Chamonix valley
- Cable cars and taxis
- Lunches and drinks
- Travel to resort
- Equipment hire
Our base and meeting point is the Hotel de La Couronne in the alpine village of Argentiere, 15 mins from Chamonix. The Couronne is a friendly place in the centre of the village, close to ski hire shops, bars, restaurants and bakeries, and within walking distance of the famous Grand Montets ski area. Rooms are provided on a twin (or occasionally triple or quad) sharing basis, but if you wish to book a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. The hotel has ski and general storage facilities, so any extra luggage can be left until your return to resort at the end of the week. Evening meals can be taken in Argentiere in the hotels partner restaurant. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.
For overnights in the high mountains we will use mountain huts. For more info please read the Using Alpine Huts article which provides an overview of typical facilities, average costs to help you budget for lunches/drinks and general info on hut etiquette.
Return to Chamonix
We will arrange any transport needed during the tour, including the return taxi transfer back from Zermatt to Chamonix – you simply pay for these items direct as we go along.
Please Note: there are various different combinations of huts and accommodation along the route and we sometimes vary the itinerary to make best use of bookings and current weather and snow conditions. For example – if there is a significant fresh snowfall, the guide will often re arrange hut bookings in order to keep the team safe and increase the chances of success.
You should arrange outward travel on Saturday, arriving by 6-7pm latest in time for the briefing at your accommodation. Your guide will run through kit checks and safety routines, as well as hand out any rental equipment, before going on to discuss the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our plans. Overnight in the valley.
Grand Montets to the Trient Hut
From the top of the Grand Montets cable car, a great 600m descent with stunning views leads down on to the Argentiere Glacier, where skins are donned for the first big climb of the trip.
A choice of routes now presents itself – either the Col du Chardonnet or Col du Passon. Both are the same distance, but in recent years the Col du Passon has become more and more popular, since the Col du Chardonnet dried out in 2003 and is now more often a roped down climb rather than a ski descent.
We follow which ever route is in best condition, as both lead on to either the Swiss border and the Trient Hut. This first day is quite long, with 1050m of climb and a couple of sections of roped climbing on foot – however the views and high mountain ambiance are amazing. Hut choice depends on the group, current conditions the best combination of hut bookings for the week.
1050m ascent, 1200m descent ~7-8hrs
Trient Hut to La Fouly
In good spring snow conditions, this day provides arguably the best ski descent of the whole route. An early start is required to first traverse the Col de Droite and ski down onto the Saliena Glacier, in order to make a 600m skin up to the Col de Saliena – the final part of which is steep and generally done on foot.
Traversing this key col, right next to the Grand Lui, gives access to one of the best ski descents in the Alps – the huge 1900m south facing run down to La Fouly, where we enjoy an afternoon beer and spend the night.
800m ascent, 2300m descent ~6-7hrs
La Fouly to Grand St Bernard Monastery
Payback time for yesterday – the route from La Fouly to the Grand St Bernard Monastery is mostly uphill! The day starts gently, following the Swiss Val Ferret for a few kilometres, before making a long rising traverse past the Lacs de la Fenetre to the Fenetre de Ferret.
A short descent down the back leads to the snow covered road, which we skin up (passing through some avalanche tunnels) to reach the Grand St Bernard Monastery, where we spend the night. The Monastery was founded by St Bernard in the 10th century and here you can learn all about it’s history and the lives of the monks who live up here all year round.
1100m ascent, 300m descent ~5-6hrs
Grand St Bernard to Valsorey Hut
This is the longest day of the week, with 1700m of climb and some steep terrain to negotiate, so good conditions are essential. The day starts with a welcome descent, skiing down the Combe des Morts to Bourg St Bernard, where the first big 900m climb begins. The route climbs steeply up the hillside above, heading to the Croix de Tsousse which give access to a nice 500m descent down below the Velan Hut.
Here we start the second big climb of the day, skinning up to the Valsorey Hut which lies at over 3000m on the flanks of the Grand Combin. The Valsorey is a wonderful old building, practically unchanged since it was first built 100 years ago.
1700m ascent, 1050m descent ~9-10hrs
Plateau du Couloir to Chanrion Hut
Another big day and the key passage of the trip – after a short skin above the hut, we put skis on packs and rope up to make a long climb on foot up to the Plateau du Couloir and Col du Sonadon, before skiing down the Mt Durand Glacier and finally skinning up to the Chanrion Hut.
This is normally the most technical section of the whole route and the reason that the guiding ratio is set at 1:3. The high mountain scenery, traversing along the flanks of the Grand Combin, makes for a great days ski mountaineering. NB Stable snow conditions and reasonable weather are essential to complete this section of the route.
850m ascent, 1350m descent ~ 6-7hrs
Chanrion to Vignettes Hut
Plan A is to traverse the Pigne d’Arolla (3790m) en route to the Vignettes Hut, making this the highest point on the trip. Like previous days, there is some steep roped climbing on foot to get onto the upper Brenay Glacier, before skinning to the summit of the Pigne and enjoying fabulous views, then finally skiing down to the Vignettes Hut.
If weather or conditions prevent an ascent of the Pigne D’Arolla, then the Vignettes Hut can also be reached by a long skin up the Otemma Glacier in order make the link to Zermatt.
1350m ascent, 650m descent ~6-7hrs
Final Day to Zermatt
The final day of the Haute Route is always one of the most memorable days out in any ski mountaineers career – crossing three cols and six glaciers, with a final huge descent down to Zermatt under the North Face of the Matterhorn.
An early start is required to make the first climb up the Col de L’Eveque, before a nice descent and second climb up to the Col du Mont Brule. The final section of this is steep and frequently climbed on foot.
From the Col Brule, the Col Valpelline doesn’t look that far away, but it always takes a good two hours to reach. Cresting the final col, the Matterhorn rears up ahead, opening the way to the final 1900m descent down the Stockji and Zmutt Glaciers to Zermatt.
750m ascent, 2400m descent ~8-9hrs from the Vignettes (or 650m ascent, 7-8hrs from the Nacamuli)
PM – transfer back to Chamonix – overnight in Cham.
Return travel should be arranged on Sunday morning, after your final nights accommodation.
Your course starts and finishes in the Chamonix valley.
The most common way to reach Chamonix is fly to Geneva, then take a shared minibus taxi transfer to the Chamonix valley (must be booked in advance).
Flights and transfers
- Fly to Geneva with numerous budget airlines, for an overview of the best options check out the excellent Sky Scanner website.
- Airport transfer from Geneva to Chamonix: Mountain Drop-offs offer the best all round service, with regular reliable transfers through the season. They offer a shared minibus taxi service which meets you in the airport and drops you off at the door of your hotel. Book your transfer here and use promo code ALPGUID to receive a discount on your journey.
- Alternatively hire a car at Geneva airport (1.2 hrs drive to Cham).
Other travel options
- Driving from UK, take the ferry or Eurotunnel to Calais/Dunkerque, then 9-10 hours driving on the French Autoroutes (budget approx 80 Euros each way in tolls).
- Euroline coach UK to Chamonix (takes 1 day): www.eurolines.co.uk/en
- Eurostar train from the UK to Lyon, then onward train service to Chamonix (excellent fast service): www.eurostar.com/uk-en
Further information and travel links can be found on our Travel Planning page.
To enjoy this trip you should be comfortable operating at Fitness Level 3/4, and Ski Tech Level 3/4:
Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours cv training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hr hillwalk, 50ml cycle or 3-4hr mountain bike ride without being totally exhausted. If you are into challenges – then the thought of doing a road sportive, or training to do a 1/2 (or maybe even a full) marathon, wouldn’t seem too ridiculous. On foot: you should be able to do the full Langdale Horseshoe: Langdale – Pike of Stickle – Angle Tarn – Bow Fell – Crinkle Crags – Pike of Blisco – Langdale in a day without finishing up exhausted. On skis: you can skin uphill at 300m/hr for 3-4 hrs a day (ie 8-1200m of ascent each day)
Fitness Level 4
You do 4+ hours CV training/sport per week. A 70+ mile cycle ride, or 20+ mile hillwalk on a weekend would hold no fears. If so inclined, you might be the kind of person who has done longer road sportives/challenge rides, a ~3.30hr marathon or other similar endurance events. Keen hillwalkers who happily knock off 3-4+ munros in a day also have this kind of fitness and endurance. On skis: you can skin at 400m/hr or could handle 4-6hrs skinning a day. (ie 1000-1400m+ of ascent each day).
Tech Level 3
Confirmed Off Piste Skier. You can put down a reasonable set of tracks in powder, but difficult snow types – eg heavy wet snow, crusts, poor visibility or 40dg slopes – can all cause problems (though you can cope with them safely, if not elegantly!) *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Purple – Advanced*
Likely to say: ‘I’d like to handle difficult snow/steep slopes more confidently in better style’
Our Advice: Off piste coaching still useful. Intermediate off piste weeks are at your level too. If you want to get into ski touring, try a touring course or intro level ski tour. If you’re an established ski mountaineer, then intermediate level tours are generally suitable.
Tech Level 4
Advanced Off Piste Skier. You can put turns in through heavier snow and on icy 40dg slopes, but difficult breakable crusts and skiing a fresh track off piste in zero visibility are still somewhat challenging! *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Gold – Expert*
Likely to say: I’ve been skiing ten/twenty years – I’d like to do your ‘……’ tour.
Our Advice: You will enjoy our advanced level trips. If you are new to touring – then you could do a Haute Route with two or three days of skills training beforehand (but don’t overlook the physical fitness needed as well). Mileage is the best way to improve your ability level.
To view all of our Ski Fitness Levels and Off Piste Technical Levels, please visit our Ski Ability page.
If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our Ski Touring Training Advice page.
Hut to Hut Touring Equipment List
Just remember, every extra kilo on your back knocks 10% off your enjoyment on the descents – so try and keep the weight down!
Technical Clothing (more info here)
- Waterproof Jacket – preferably lightweight and breathable
- Overtrousers/ski pants – preferably with side zips
- Fleece mid layer – or equivalent
- Socks – specialist ski socks or a warm loop lined pair of mountain socks
- Wicking thermal top – not cotton please…
- Thermal leggings or ski pants
- Thin inner gloves
- Warm ski gloves or mittens, if you suffer from cold hands
- Warm hat
- Spare fleece/lightweight duvet jacket
- Water container – at least 1 litre
- Personal medications and blister kit – regular meds, zinc oxide tape, compeed and painkillers etc
- Lightweight head torch
- Ski goggles
- Sun glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Wallet, passport, Alpine Club/BMC card (hut discount) and insurance docs
Hut Overnight Items
- Small wash kit
- Spare lightweight t-shirt/socks/pants
- Silk sheet liner
- Ear plugs
- (Hut slippers for indoor use, blankets/duvets and pillows are provided by the huts)
Technical Equipment (more info here)
- Rucsac 35/45l – try and avoid ones covered in too many features, just ski and ice axe attachments required
- Ski mountaineering boots
- Skis with touring bindings – some ‘freeride’ bindings are also suitable
- Velcro ski strap – to keep skis together on your rucksack if we need to carry them
- Ski poles – with good size 5cm+ baskets (telescopic poles are not needed)
- Climbing skins – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Harscheisen (ski crampons) – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Metal snow shovel – must be a full metal shovel (plastic blades don’t work in real avalanche debris!)
- Avalanche probe
- Avalanche transceiver – must be a modern digital model (older analogue models are now obsolete)
- Harness, with 120cm sling and locking karabiner
- Crampons – lightweight model
- Ice Axe – lightweight model
- Helmet – a lightweight ski touring or climbing model – you may need this on certain parts of the route depending on conditions
Your guide will have all other safety kit, first aid and survival equipment.
Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website, where we publish an annual review of the years best new skis, boots and touring equipment, plus a range of other interesting tips and recommendations. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!
Backcountry UK in Ilkley offer an excellent ski boot fitting service, one of the best ranges of ski mountaineering equipment in the UK and top notch advice.
Please visit our Equipment Hire page for recommended hire shops in your resort, and Alpine Guides hire equipment price list.
For this trip you must have specialist travel insurance providing medical, emergency search/rescue and repatriation cover for the following activities: off piste skiing and ski touring in glaciated areas requiring the use of ropes, up to 5000m altitude. We also strongly recommend that you purchase cancellation cover, in case you’re unable to attend your trip due to personal circumstances or injury.
Please arrange your insurance as soon as your trip is confirmed to run.
Insurance for UK residents
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives you reciprocal health care in European countries. You can apply for an EHIC card online here or from most Post Offices. You need an EHIC in addition to your travel insurance.
European residents (non-UK)
Austrian Alpine Club. Available to all European residents. AAC insurance is cheap and works ok for minor accidents and rescues, but is not as comprehensive as many other insurance providers. The medical cover included would not be enough for complex treatment or a prolonged stay in hospital. It also doesn’t include cancellation cover. If you choose to use AAC we recommend you take out extra medical cover with another provider, to ‘top up’ the AAC medical limit, as well as a separate cancellation policy.
Travelex. For US citizens – a range of policies with comprehensive cover.
For any nationality
Global Rescue. Cover offered to all nationalities via a combination of GR membership and their separate insurance policy.
If you choose an alternative provider, or if there is any doubt about the scope of your chosen policy we recommend that you send your insurer the link to the relevant Alpine Guides trip webpage, and ask them if cover extends to those activities and has the required components (search/rescue, medical, repatriation and cancellation). It’s worth mentioning that rescue and medical expenses in Switzerland can be significantly more expensive than in other countries, so a decent level of cover is required for Swiss tours.
We recommend that you send us your insurance details before the trip commences, and they must be brought to the course briefing at the start of your trip. However, we cannot check the detail of every individual policy, and it is your own responsibility to ensure you are adequately insured.
What happens to my deposit if I book a trip, but it isn’t confirmed to run due to insufficient bookings?
You may transfer your booking to different dates, a different course, or choose a full refund.
What happens if the weather or snow conditions are poor, or the avalanche risk is high?
We will make every effort to stick to the itinerary, but sometimes its necessary to change plans and ski in a neighbouring area or even further afield. Many of our itineraries are designed with flexibility in mind, and it’s usually possible to ski in most conditions with some careful alternative planning.
What happens about accommodation, if the weather is very poor and we end up spending extra nights in the valley instead of in huts?
We will make any necessary last minute bookings for the team. On trips taking place outside the Chamonix valley, any extra valley hotel nights will be on a BnB basis rather than half board.
Does Alpine Guides ski with customers from overseas, including the USA and Canada?
Who goes on our trips?
We climb and ski with a broad range of ages and experience levels, and a large number of our customers come back year after year. We’ve guided 10 year old Ollie up the Old Man of Hoy in Scotland – now the youngest person to climb it. And 70 year old David has climbed the Matterhorn with us, as well as out-skiing people half his age!
How do I book a ski trip?
For scheduled ski trips it’s easy to book online, directly from your course page. For hire a guide/bespoke courses please get in touch for a quote.
Is there an age limit on any of our ski trips?
Under 18’s must be accompanied by a parent/legal guardian. There is no upper age limit, but please get in touch to discuss suitability if you are concerned about your age, with regard to fitness and pace.
How do I rent ski equipment?
You can rent certain items of specialist equipment from us, and the rest can usually be hired in resort.
What happens if I need to cancel my course?
If you wish to cancel you must notify us in writing, where upon the following charges will be applied from the date we receive your notice of cancellation:
- More than 8 weeks (56 days) before start date – loss of deposit.
- Between 4 and 8 weeks (28-56 days) before start date – 50% of course fee or loss of deposit, whichever amount is greater.
- Less than 4 weeks (28 days) before start date – full course fee.
Can I book a single room on my ski trip?
Yes – this can be done during the online booking process. Please add the single room option to your order, and we will confirm availability asap.