Our Val Claree Ski Touring week offers early season day touring in the lovely Vallee de la Claree, just north of Briancon. This secluded, high mountain valley is the perfect base to enjoy a great week of early season powder touring in the Hautes Alpes region of the French Alps. The valley has an excellent selection of top quality north facing ski tours, with hundreds of other ski tours easily accessible around Briancon and in the nearby Queyras and Ecrins National Parks.
This is a quiet early season day touring area, with numerous excellent north facing descents, often skiing on powder snow at this time of year – the area is also particularly well served by a series of great post ski cafes, that all welcome ski tourers! The week starts and finishes in Briancon. During the week we stay at a lovely Gite in the Vallee de la Claree, which offers fantastic food and a warm welcome each night.
Due to the nature and variety of terrain in the area, this is an extremely reliable touring region – with good quality skiing possible in just about all weather and snow conditions.
Recent Trip Reports:
Need further information? enquire about this trip.
This is an intermediate level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 2 and Tech Level 3 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines). You need some previous ski touring experience in order to join this tour. The week includes 5-6 hour days with generally steady climbs and typically 600-1000m of ascent a day – so you can expect to be skinning for 3-4 hours a day. Type of ascent: we use 100% skinning on the Val Claree ski touring week – approx 5000m of skinning up, 5000m of skiing down, with day packs and at lower altitude.
One UIAGM guide skiing with 6 clients.
This trip is protected against financial failure through our membership of the Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust (ABTOT) – Alpine Guides Ltd, Membership Number 5394. For further information, please visit our Financial Protection page.
Included in price
- 6 days of guiding
- All guides expenses
- 7 nights accommodation including breakfast and evening meal in gites
- Airport transfer
- Transport during the course
Excluded from price (see factsheet for extra cost estimates)
- Lunches and drinks
- Equipment hire
We stay at the lovely Hotel Echaillon in the heart of the Val de la Claree, with easy access to all of the weeks touring objectives. The hotel is well used to the needs of the ski touring community, providing a warm and cosy base and serving a generous breakfast and evening meal. Hotel rooms are provided on a twin (or occasionally triple) sharing basis, but If you wish to book a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.
Travel to Turin airport in time for the evening pickup, drive to the Vallee de la Claree, with another pickup in Briancon en route. PM Evening meal and briefing – 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. We’ll have maps and guidebooks of the area to show you, so if you’ve any further questions or last minute requests, then this is the ideal time to bring them up.
Day touring in the Vallee de la Claree. Possible areas and tours include:
Le Bois Noir
This is a reliable classic local ski tour, that’s safe in most snow conditions and offers sustained north facing powder skiing for over 800m down through the forest.
The skin up through the woods is pretty steep and sustained, but always well protected – so that the tour can safely be done in most conditions – and follows a natural line for the descent, so route finding on the way back down is fairly obvious
At the top of the forest zone it’s sometimes possible to continue up to a rocky buttress and the cross on the Crete de la Perra if the snow conditions are stable.
However, if there’s a lot of fresh snow about then it’s safer to stop at the top of the forest, have a sheltered lunch in the trees and then enjoy a superb ski back down again.
One of our favourites – it’s easy to miss the entrance to this remote north facing valley, but it’s well worth searching out.
On our last visit we were very pleased with ourselves, putting a fresh skinning track in up the valley – until we came across a fresh set of wolf prints leading straight up the path in front of us… We followed the wolf for half an hour or so, before it’s tracks turned off our route and headed elsewhere.
The scenery at the top of the valley is very dramatic, with rocky towers clinging to the hillsides and the possibility to visit an abandoned fort if the snow conditions are stable enough.
The descent is likewise very good – with great pitches down open bowls, forest glades, a narrow ravine and finally skiing straight down the river bed, to pick up the cross country ski trails in the main valley floor.
Roche de Monetier
This tour starts from the village of Nevache at the head of the valley. Following a marked snow shoeing track makes for a steady climb up to the Auberge Chardonne, where coffee and cakes are available on the way up or down (or both!)
Above the Auberge, the terrain opens up into high hanging valley, with several different cols and summits to choose from depending on snow conditions.
The Roche de Monetier is a good, safe objective in most conditions and allows us to get a summit in, with a good angled descent back to the temptations of the Auberge…
Finally, the best skiing of the day is frequently behind the auberge, where a steeper line cuts down through clearings and open forests back to the main valley. After a bit of lung busting herring boning (or just give up and walk!) to regain the track – it’s a long, crazy, high speed schuss back down to Nevache.
Briancon day tours
There is a higher concentration of good day touring around Briancon than anywhere else in the Alps – with thousands of good ski tours accessible within an hour of the town.
Pretty much every style of ski touring is catered for: from mid winter powder tours in the woods, to high altitude spring glacier skiing – so there is always something good to ski, no matter what the weather.
The trick is to know what’s in good condition and where to go when, as there’s so much to go at. There are also numerous forts in the region, which make for interesting places to visit on skis, whilst out day touring.
A lot of good tours have deliberately been left out of the ski touring guidebooks for the area as well, so you need to spend a long time down here to get to know the area really well.
Queyras day tours
The Queyras Regional Park is legendary for it’s early season ski touring and is only a one hour drive away, so it’s easily accessible in a day from the Val de la Claree.
The Queyras gets a range of different snowfall patterns depending on the prevailing weather and wind directions, so you often get very different snow conditions here, compared to Val Claree.
If the weather comes in from the south or east from Italy for instance, then the Queyras is well worth a visit – as it usually gets a great dump of powder.
It’s also a sufficiently remote area that it doesn’t get too much visiting traffic – ie most of the people ski touring here are locals, or live close enough to the region to make day trips to the area – so its rarely too busy.
Return transfer to Turin airport with your guide, with a drop off in Briancon en route.
Your course base the Valle de la Claree close to the French/Italian border, just north of Briancon. We will be offering a pickup at Turin airport and also in Briancon, to transport the team up to our gite which isn’t serviced by public transport.
The most convenient way to reach Val Claree is fly into Turin, from where we are offering an airport transfer with the guide, or travel to Briancon where we will also offer a pickup. You should arrange outward travel on Saturday, arriving at Turin airport by late afternoon. Return travel should be arranged on Saturday morning, after your final nights accommodation.
- Fly to Turin. The best UK flights (as of May 2018) are Manchester > Turin with Jet2, arriving at 16.15, and Gatwick > Turin with EasyJet, arriving 16.40. Jet2 also fly from Birmingham and Edinburgh to Turin on Saturday mornings. Further suitable flights may be released from other carriers so please check Sky Scanner for a full overview.
- Airport transfer from Turin to Val Claree: pickup will be 5pm on Sat 2nd Feb 2019, and drop off at 8 – 9am on Sat 9th Feb 2019. If you would like to make use of this, then please let us know as soon as possible and send us your flight details. Please do not book flights arriving later than this pickup time, as it will mean a delay for everyone else, and the team won’t make it to the hotel in time for the evening meal.
- Alternatively, fly to Milan and connect to Turin/Val Claree by train or hire car.
Alternatively, you can fly to various French airports offering direct transfers to Briancon (however, transfer times are slightly longer and potentially more prone to weather delays if crossing the Col du Lauteret in poor weather). We will also pickup in Briancon central bus station at 7 pm on Saturday, en route from Turin to our accommodation in Val Claree.
- Fly to Grenoble (Isere)
- On Saturdays – 1 transfer bus to Briancon, leaving Grenoble Airport at 14.30 (book tickets on Linkbus website above).
- Bus from Grenoble Airport to Grenoble Gare Routiere (45 mins): www.actibus.com/navette-aeroport-grenoble/#aeroport
- Train from Grenoble Gare Routiere to Briancon (3 hours via Gap): www.voyages-sncf.com/billet-train/horaires
- Fly to Lyon
- Train from Lyon Airport to Briancon (via Grenoble and Gap): www.voyages-sncf.com/billet-train/horaires
- On Saturdays – 2 transfer buses to Briancon, leaving Lyon Airport at 13.00 and 17.00 (book tickets on Linkbus website).
- Fly to Geneva
- Bus from Geneva Airport to Grenoble (2 hrs, 6 buses a day): www.aerocar.fr
- Train from Grenoble to Briancon: www.voyages-sncf.com/billet-train/horaires
For 2 or more people travelling together, airport car hire is also a cost effective option – NB you must have winter tyres or snow chains. Driving times to Briancon from the various Airports are: Turin 2hrs, Grenoble 2.30hrs, Lyon 3.30hrs, Geneva 4hrs (via Frejus Tunnel).
Other travel options
- Driving from the UK, take the ferry or Eurotunnel to Calais/Dunkerque, then 10-12 hours driving on the French Autoroutes (budget approx 90 Euros each way in tolls).
- Euroline coach: www.eurolines.co.uk/en
- Eurostar train from the UK to Lyon, then onward train/bus as above: www.eurostar.com/uk-en
Further information and travel links can be found on our Travel Planning page.
If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our training guidelines.
Please make a self assessment against these levels, and refer to the trip requirements. These are based on what types of snow and conditions you can confidently do regular linked turns in – and just as importantly, what conditions you begin to struggle in. (By ‘linked’ we mean moving from one turn into the next without traversing in between).
Tech Level 1
Intro Off Piste Skier (Advanced Piste Skier). You cruise reds, black runs are challenging but fun and have ventured off piste with varying degrees of success (ie deep snow is still something of a mystery…) *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Red – Aspirer*
Likely to say: ‘I’d love to learn how to ski well off piste and/or try ski touring’
Our Advice: Definitely go on an Off Piste Skiing Course to improve your ski technique first, before trying ski touring – you’ll get a lot more out of it that way around!
Tech Level 2
Improving Off Piste Skier. You enjoy black runs and the kind of tracked out off piste terrain found around many big resorts, but you haven’t skied too much in properly deep snow without a base to it yet. *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Silver – Intermediate*
Likely to say: ‘I’d like to ski well in powder/link lots of short radius turns/go ski touring’
Our Advice: An Off Piste Skiing Course is highly recommended. If you’d like to try ski touring, then do either an intro ski touring course or an intro level ski tour.
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.
Tech Level 5
Expert Off Piste Skier. You can ski all snow types including crusts in control and are happy on slopes of 45dg or when putting in a fresh track in zero vis. *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Gold – Expert*
Likely to say: ‘Bring it on…’
Our Advice: Stay strong – and may the force be with you… Advanced level trips and ski expeditions are the way forward.
Please make a self assessment against these levels, and refer to the trip requirements. These are cardiovascular (CV) fitness and activity levels eg. running, cycling, hillwalking or competitive sports that get your heart and lungs working for extended periods of time (not strength training in the gym!). They include mountaineering fitness and ski fitness benchmarks for context.
Fitness Level 1
You do 1-2 hours of cardiovascular training/sport per week. On foot: you should be able to climb Snowdon from Pen y Pas in around 2 hrs carrying a day sack, or Bow Fell starting from Langdale in the Lake District in about 2 1/2 hrs. On skis: you are happy piste skiing all day with just the odd break for food and drink, but would struggle to ski off piste all day without finishing up very tired for the following day.
Fitness Level 2
You do 2-3 hours cv training/sport per week. At this level you should be happy doing either a 3-4 hr hillwalk, cycling 30 miles or mountain biking 2-3 hours without being exhausted. On foot: you should be able to walk from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales up Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Y Garn – Ogwen in ~5hrs. Or in the Lake District Langdale – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Langdale in ~ 6hrs. On skis: you are capable of off piste skiing all day or doing a couple of hours skinning with out finishing up exhausted – ie you can do this for a number of days without taking a rest day.
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).
Fitness Level 5
You do 5-6+ hours training for competitive sport per week, have a background in the same, or you are annoyingly talented! Either way, doing a 100 ml bike ride or about a 3hr marathon wouldn’t be unreasonable. On skis: you are happy skinning at over 400m/hr or could skin all day if neccesary (ie 1400m+ days).
Please be realistic in your assessment, and remember you need both the required fitness level and ski ability level in order to enjoy any given trip – it doesn’t matter how fit you are, if you can’t ski well enough you won’t keep up on the descents – and vica versa on the ascents! If your fitness or skills are in doubt there is a risk you could be excluded from an activity or required to leave the tour, if your participation could risk the safety, success or enjoyment of the rest of the party.
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!
- 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)
- 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
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 (safety equipment is provided free of charge on certain courses – please consult price inclusions).
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.
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.