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A ski mountaineering ski tour in the French Alps; the Haute Maurienne offers some fine skiing in a not too remote area of the Alps.

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A ski mountaineering tour in the Haute Maurienne

Sainte Foy is a small quiet village on the road between Bourg St. Maurice and Val d'Isère. It has its own pisted ski area and also gives access to several well-known ski-touring areas, including the Vanoise National Park and the Maurienne valley. Both areas have numerous mountain huts and fine peaks to ascend and descend on ski. Whilst the main ski area of Tignes and Val d'Isère – L'espace Killy – is huge, it doesn't take long to get off the beaten track and find quieter areas, many of which are blessed with virgin un-skied snow long after the off-piste routes of the main ski area are skied out. This short article describes a ski tour in the Haute Maurienne area.

Sainte Foy is an excellent launch pad for a ski tour in the Haute Maurienne and the Hotel le Monal provides a comfortable billet. This is just as well as the intrepid members of this tour were forced to seek a second night's accommodation following an aborted first day's ascent due to general atmospheric clag and poor visibility. Low spirits were revived by improving conditions on day 2; temporary suspension of ESC touring ethics allowing a rapid gain of height on the Val d'Isère lift system culminating at the top of the Borsat Express. (Be warned: whilst this will save you a few hours, without a guide you will have to buy a day's lift pass).

A long traverse south beneath Pointe de Grande Pré to the foot of the Glacier des Barmes de L'Ours was followed by an ascent to the eponymous col (3077m) and led to an excellent descent to the hut, on good snow and under blue skies. The Refuge de la Femma is a well-appointed hut with few visitors, and, on our visit, an afternoon cabaret provided by a family of marmots waking up to the possibilities of spring.

Day 3 and the gods smiled again allowing us a pleasant skin up to the Col beneath Pointe de Man Martin (3330m); the summit attempt being aborted due to incoming cloud. This false alarm was mitigated by a fine ski down a glorious field of powder on the Glacier Des Fours which resulted in the first of several cries along the lines of "the best snow I've ever skied" from members of the party.

Overnight at the Refuge de Fond Des Fours was followed by a brisk ascent to the Col Des Fours (2976m), yielding another ski down excellent powder to the Pont de la Neige. The following 750m of assisted ascent from the Col de l'Iseran recovered the value of earlier lift pass expenditure. We reached the Glacier du Montet via the Col de l'Ouille Noir (3229m) and enjoyed another fine ski descent. The route unveiled a wonderful vista of Alpine peaks and, with the exception of a brief pause for some tricky route finding through the rock bands of les Pareis Longues, the Refuge de Carro (2759m) was reached without further incident.

The mission of day 5 was an excursion to climb the Levanna Occidentale (3593m) a magnificent and worthy peak to crown the tour.

We began the final day by retracing our steps and a steep climb to the Col du Montet, fortunately making our descent down a fabulous field of powder before a horde of day tourers from Val d'Isère. We finished the tour with an enjoyable long westerly traverse to le Fornet across the numerous gullies issuing from l'Aiguille Pers and its westward ridge.

This is a great tour with good huts, excellent skiing and not too remote in the case of emergencies.

Map: 3633, 1:25000 Tignes. Val d'Isère, Haute Maurienne.

© Text and photos Dan Carron

Related travel-quest sections: winter sports and ski mountaineering/ski touring – search our ski mountaineering section for companies and individual guides who are leading ski mountaineering tours to the Haute Maurienne or similar areas in the Alps and worldwide.

ESC – Eagle Ski Club the UK's largest and most active ski touring and ski mountaineering club, many ski tours are organised throughout the ski season, some as private tours others with professional guides. The Haute Maurienne tour described above was a privately led Eagle Ski Club tour.

Want to find out more about ski mountaineering? This article, by mountain guide Rob Collister, gives an introduction to the sport.