The Mont Blanc range has the highest concentration of winter alpine climbing objectives anywhere in the world, many of which are readily accessible with snowshoes or skis. On this unique specialist trip, you can sample the delights of technical ice climbing in a high alpine environment. The aim is to climb accessible ice couloirs in the AD to TD range – most routes have quick abseil descents, allowing you to return to your skis/snowshoes and enchain several routes from a hut base.
This is an advanced level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 3 and Tech Level 4 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below). You need to be an experienced ice climber, with ascents of Scottish grade IV routes (or equivalent, as a minimum) and some summer alpinism under your belt. This is a strenuous Alpine climbing week, that will definitely be hard work at times – often involving trail breaking in deep snow at altitude and steep ice and mixed requiring good arm strength.
This trip is possible on other dates through March and April – please enquire if your preferred dates are not listed.
Winter alpine climbing has the added complication/pleasure of potentially tricky access due to the deep winter snowpack. After a long warm spell, in areas that have been well skied, it’s often possible to approach routes on foot on a firm snowpack. More often however, you will need either snowshoes or skis to get around. Before using skis, you need to be a competent off piste skier with previous ski touring experience and be able to ski in control off piste, whilst carrying a heavy rucksack (~10-12kg – ie considerably more weight than a ski touring pack). Both members of the team need to be at this level – if not, then the whole team must use snowshoes to work together and stay safe on the glacier approaches – these can be hired locally.
One IFMGA guide climbing with 2 clients.
Included in price
- 6 days of guiding
- All guides expenses
- 4 nights accommodation in Chamonix including breakfast
- 3 nights accommodation in alpine huts, including breakfast and evening meals
- Local travel in the guide’s vehicle to complete the course itinerary
Excluded from price (see course factsheet for cost estimates)
- Cable cars
- Lunches and drinks
- Travel to resort
- Equipment hire
Our meeting point and Chamonix valley base is La Chaumiere Mountain Lodge, just 5 mins walk from Chamonix centre. The hotel is exceptionally friendly, catering for grass roots skiers, climbers and guided groups and is very conveniently situated: away from the hustle and bustle of Chamonix, yet close enough to walk in for a meal or a drink. Rooms are provided on a twin sharing basis, but if you prefer a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. 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.
You should arrange outward travel on Saturday, arriving by 5-6pm latest in time for the briefing at your accommodation. Your guide will run through safety routines and kit checks, as well as hand out any rental equipment, before we go on to discuss your ambitions for the week, together with the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our planning. We’ll also have maps and guidebooks to show you, so if you’ve any further questions or last minute requests, then this is the ideal time to bring them up before we head on to dinner. PM Overnight in the valley.
Ascent of a winter couloir near to the Grand Montets or Aiguillle du Midi Cable cars. Acclimatisation routes are chosen with our plans for the rest of the week in mind – so depending on weather and conditions, we may stay in a mountain hut over night or return to the valley.
Monday to Friday
Alpine Couloir Climbing – based in mountain huts for 2-3 nights, we climb as many high quality ice couloirs as possible! Hotel/hut nights are left open and flexible to make best use of the weather and conditions.
Below are a small selection of climbs from previous winter couloirs weeks. Numerous other routes are possible, but these give a good flavour of the climbing on offer and our depth of knowledge of the area.
Vogler Couloir – D , 250m , 5-6hr
The Vogler Couloir is a great, modern style ice climb on the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi.
Despite a fast abseil approach off the Cosmiques Arete, it is still quite a commiting route – as once the ropes have been pulled, there is only one way out – back up the line…
The initial pitches are the steepest, with some great quality ice climbing up a series of slabs, grooves and corners that form a natural drainage line down the face.
In it’s upper half, the couloir broadens to a snow ampitheatre, where a choice of two mixed climbing exits are possible. Both lead to the Cosmiques Arete, which is then followed back to the cable car station – or if skis are being used, then these can be left at the foot of the Cosmiques Arete ready for return in order to ski back down to Chamonix via the Vallee Blanche.
This is a great way to finish any ice route climbed during the winter months in this part of the range – but you do need to be a good skier to get down to Chamonix in one piece!
Frendo Ravanel – II 5 , 500m
An excellent, varied and technical ice and mixed route. The difficulty of the crux depends on the thickness of the ice on this modern winter only line.
Despite the quick approach from the nearby Grand Montets cable car station, the Frendo Ravanel is still a long day. After crossing the bergschrund, a snow slope leads up to two short ice walls that gain entry into the mid section – a deep, atmosheric ice chimney.
Once up this, more snow leads up into the final ampitheatre, where various finishes are possible. The left hand finish is shown in the photos – brilliant thin ice and mixed climbing, reminiscent of a hard Ben Nevis face route.
After abbing the route, all that remains is to get to the valley – this is a hell of a lot quicker if you know how to ski!
Farraon – II 4+ , 400m
A companion route just to the right of the Frendo Ravanel, Farraon involves some tricky mixed climbing.
Like the Frendo Ravanel, Farraon is a winter route which shares the same short approach from the top station of the Grands Montets.
The climb follows a snow couloir for a few pitches, up into a steeper gully. This is climbed to an impasse, where a subsidiary gully on the left is taken up into mixed ground above.
The crux comes high on the route, where a steep step in the chimney system has to be turned on the left wall. From the top, it’s best to abb back down the route.
Goulotte Pellisier – III 5+ , 220m
The Goulotte Pellisier is one of several modern winter ice and mixed routes on the East Face of Pointe Lachenal – which can easily be reached on ski or on foot from either the Aiguille du Midi, or after a night at the Cosmiques Hut.
The line of the route follows a steep corner gully for 4 pitches to the end of the difficulties. From here it’s possible to either abb back down the line of the route, or continue up to the top of Pointe Lachenal and drop down a short snow slope off the back.
The climbing alternates between excellent narrow ice runnels and short, technical mixed sections providing plenty of variety and interest throughout.
The 4th pitch is the crux, with poorly protected thin ice and mixed moves up a corner groove.
Vent du Dragon – III 5 , 200m
Vent du Dragon is a brilliant, steep ice and mixed route on the north flank of the Cosmiques Arete.
Although short, this is a commiting route as the approach involves abbing off the bridge at the Midi cable car station down into the gully below – and the only exit is to climb back out again up one of the routes, all of which are quite difficult.
The line of Vent du Dragon follows a steep ice choked chimney leading up the centre of the face.
This is an outstanding pitch, with the crux right at the top – where an awkward squeeze chimney on the left leads into a mixed climbing finish.
The final pitch then heads up through a cave onto the last part of the Cosmiques Arete.
Goulotte Perroux – III 4+, 350m
A companion route to the famous Chere Couloir, running parralel and to its left. The Perroux however, is quite a bit harder and has a very different character of climbing.
Whereas the Chere is a classic ice couloir, the Perroux is a modern thin ice and mixed route. As such, the difficulty varies depending on ice build up and it tends to come into condition after periods of bad weather.
The lower half follows a series of icy grooves just left of the Chere Couloir, the upper one of which is often quite run out and thinly iced. Above this, some tricky mixed moves lead into the upper gully and more ice/mixed ground, before a descent can be made down the abbs on the Chere.
We suggest you get hold of copies of ‘Snow, Ice and Mixed – Vols 1+2’. These are the Chamonix bible of winter alpinism, as many of the famous winter classics that we climb do not feature in the British guidebooks.
Climbing Conditions on Winter Routes – please note that for ice and mixed climbing in couloirs and on alpine faces, good weather and suitable climbing conditions are essential.
During the week, our guides select the best weather windows to make ascents – if conditions are not good enough to climb a proposed route, then the best available alternatives will always be offered.
Return travel should be arranged on Saturday morning, after your final nights accommodation.
Early departures – if you choose to depart on Friday night, please leave plenty of time for repacking and airport transfer. You will typically be back at the hotel by 4-5pm at the latest, so choose a flight departing Geneva after 9-10pm.
We base ourselves for the week in the famous French resort of Chamonix, in the shadow of Mont Blanc. Chamonix is one of the most famous Alpine centres in the world, with an unparalleled range of quality climbing across all grades and styles, and much of it with convenient cablecar access. The most common way to reach Chamonix is fly to Geneva, then take a shared taxi transfer to the Chamonix valley – transfers will drop off at the destination of your choice, but must be booked in advance.
Flight and transfers
- Fly to Geneva with numerous budget airlines: for an overview of the best options check out the excellent Sky Scanner flight comparison 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): www.arguscarhire.com / www.holidayautos.co.uk
For flights and other travel options, including train, coach and driving, visit our Travel Planning page.
To enjoy this trip you should be comfortable operating at Fitness Level 3, and Tech Level 4 (as appropriate for the style of climbing on this trip ie Alpine, rock climbing or ice climbing).
Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hour hillwalk, 40-50 mile 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. Eg: 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.
Tech Level 4
Experienced climber. Leading multi pitch trad rock climbs at VS – HVS / multi pitch winter climbs to Scottish grade 4 / alpine peaks at AD – D standard. If you mainly climb with guides or seldom lead climb, you have extensive experience seconding at this standard.
To view all climbing Technical and Fitness Levels, and for advice on trip preparation and training, please visit our training advice page.
Alpine Ice Kit List
Equipment can take a real hammering in winter-time, so a substantial hardshell is preferred, rather than lightweight summer waterproofs.
- Waterproof Jacket – full weight breathable model preferred
- Waterproof trousers – durable model with 3/4 or full length side zips
- Socks – warm ‘Smartwool’ type, plus thin liner socks and spares
- Gaiters – made from breathable material
- Wicking thermal baselayer tops – synthetic not cotton!
- Softshell Jacket – mid weight, wind resistant, light insulating layer (or a mid weight fleece jacket)
- 2nd fleece – or equivalent insulating mid-layer
- Belay jacket – down or synthetic insulation
- Powerstretch tights or warm mountain trousers – should fit comfortably under your waterproof trousers
- Thin inner gloves
- Warm mountain gloves – Goretex or equivalent water/windproof model
- Second pair of mountain gloves as above – one pair will often get wet
- Hat or balaclava – must fit under a helmet.
- Spare mittens – especially if you suffer from cold hands
- Water Container – at least 1 litre
- Headtorch and batteries
- Map, compass and whistle (optional, but a good idea)
- Personal medications and blister kit – zinc oxide tape, compeed, painkillers etc
- Sun Glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Goggles – for windy/snowy conditions
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Wallet and passport
- Alpine Club/BMC card (if you are a member) and insurance docs
- Rucsac 40-50l – to handle extra winter kit
- Rucsac – superlight 15/20l model, for taking on long multi-pitch icefall routes (optional)
- *Rigid 4 season mountaineering boots – Axe, Boot and Crampon advice
- Harness, locking karabiner and belay device
- 120cm sling and locking karabiner
- Climbing helmet
- Technical ice axe and ice hammer
- Crampons – vertically orientated front points are best, or sharp new mountaineering crampons are also fine
- Snowshoes or ski mountaineering equipment for Winter Couloirs/Norwegian ice climbing trips – please contact us for advice
Your guide will have ropes, climbing rack, first aid and survival equipment.
*Boots: These are VERY important to the success of your trip! Its best to have your own boots and break them in well before the start of the trip – see advice below.
Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website or our blog for equipment advice. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!
Backcountry UK in Otley offer an excellent mountain boot fitting service and general equipment advice.
Please see our Equipment Hire page for more details.
For this trip you must have specialist travel insurance providing medical, emergency search/rescue and repatriation cover for climbing and mountaineering activities as outlined in the course itinerary. 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.
Please find further details on our insurance info page.