Off-Piste, Glacier Skiing in Argentiére
Argentiére is a cult ski area, only ten minutes drive up the valley from Chamonix Mont Blanc and just an hour and twenty minutes drive from Geneva Airport.
There's room for absolute beginners at Argentiére, with two button tows and gentle slopes at the bottom of the mountain. There are also excellent facilities for pre-skiers, who will be well looked after by the Panda Club. Yet, Argentiére isn't the place for improving beginners or shaky intermediates. It isn't the best choice for experienced skiers who prefer to distance and exploration to speed and difficulty either.
Argentiére is part of the Grands Montets, a collection of 'big mountains' known by freeriders across the world. As you can see in the picture above (page top), the Aguille d'Argentiére is the biggest of the big, with a vertical drop of 2 039 m from summit to village, one of the highest in the world, more than a thousand metres above average. Below you can see the thin snow trail that makes Argentiére such an incredible and unique point of access to the Grand Montets.
Its one of those resorts where the blue runs would be red anywhere else, the reds would be black and the blacks are serious. The marked black runs aren't pisted but are controlled - the Point du Vue (viewpoint) gives a particularly spectacular view of the glacier. If this gets your heart-pumping and you want to ski the glacier, its strongly advisable to hire a guide. Not only will you find the best snow and be that much safer with their expertise and avalance equipment, you'll also get priority on the lifts. This is a big deal in Argentiére, where lift queues can be an hour long. If you have your own gear, nouse and cajones, you'd do well to reserve a spot on the lifts in advance for free. Note that only the unlimited lift pass will give you free access to the Grands Montets lift, which otherwise costs a tenner.
The lift queues are long because their destination is so desirable. Many come to ski the incredible height, run after run in glacier territory. Others come for the challenging moguls and steep bowls. Most come for the spectacular, unlimited expanses of off-piste terrain.
Guide to Off-Pistes in Argentiére
Watch out - rocks, cliffs, crevasses and other obstacles are unmarked and, as always, avalanches do happen. If you're not confident, you should hire a guide. Prestige Outdoor provide a particurlaly excellent range of services, allowing the affluent to live the adventures of their dreams. A full service provider for the affluent adventure seeker. Even if you are confident, don't ski alone, keep control and avoid the temptation to follow tracks left over from someone else's adventure. They might be lost as well or a local jumping over ten metre cliffs for fun. You'd also do well to buy an off-piste guide book. If you hire a GoPro 3 camera, you could get a shot like the one below, taken in Argentiére:
Off-Piste Runs to try:
- Access from Bochard or Herse.
- There is a wide bowl of steady 30° pitch between these lifts. Traverse in from either.
- At the bottom of the bowl, you can either cut out right onto the Piste des Combes or continue straight over rolls and sheer gullies till you reach the lifts.
Combe de la Pendant:
- Access from Bochard.
- Follow the cat track for Piste des Chamois then leave the track to head straight on into this huge bowl.
- There are multiple routes down various valleys and gullies - make sure to avoid the rocks.
- Enjoy until you see the Retour Pendant lift (to the right below).
- Traverse back to catch it.
- Access from Herse.
- Turn left off the lift and keep on a horizontal towards the rock-face.
- Descend initial bowl.
- Continue down through rocks until another, larger bowl appears to your right. Here you'll find some of the best snow in Argentiéres and some big moguls.
- You can either head back to Lognan on a cat track or continue down the variant Hotel, past the Chalet Refuge de Lognan (maybe pop in for a bite or a mulled wine).
- If you continue, you can trend left over a ridge to avoid cliffs on the right below the refuge.
- Over the ridge, there is a second gully, with steep icy moguls and bushwhacking.
- This gully connects with the Pierre a Ric piste halfway down and rejoins the village.
In's and Out's of Argentiére
Getting In: Approx. 80 mins from Geneva Airport, hire car, taxi or minibus for about 25 euros.
Getting out: The lifts are ten minutes walk (downhill) from the centre of the village.
When to go: Majority of skiing is above 2000m, snowsure from mid-dec till May
Where to stay: Accommodation to suit all styles in Argentiére - there's a refuge at the bottom of the mountain for eight euros a night but its not all that convienient for lifts and restaurants. At the other extreme, there is Les Rives d'Argentiére.
Les Rives d'Argentiéres is a collection of four chalets which can be rented as a group or individually. They are spectacular. All together they have capacity for 34 people. Seventeen bedrooms have their own ensuite bathroom, with only four bedrooms with shared bathrooms. There's no need to get wet and fall over before you're day begins as pick up and drop off are underground.
Each chalet has a private:
- Hot tub
- Massage room
- Games room
In the communal areas:
- Cinema/conference room
- WIne cellar