|Gran Paradiso Ski Tour and Ascent|
South of the Mont Blanc Massif, and forming the souther border of Italy's Aosta Valley, is the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso. The geography of the northwestern corner of the Park can be likened to a giant three-pronged fork with the tines being the long and deep valleys of the Valgrisenche, the Val di Rhemes, and the Valsavarenche, all flowing north into the Aosta Valley.
The park gets its name from the highest peak in the area, the 4061 meter Gran Paradiso. This is the highest peak wholly within Italy, and as such is often considered the highest in Italy.
This tour follows a horseshoe-shaped itinerary, starting in the western most Valgrisenche, then crossing high passes between the remaining two valleys before heading up to climb the Gran Paradiso itself.
The summit day, the last in our itinerary, is a big day, but given good weather, generally not too difficult, with moderate skinning up to a high ski cache about 60 meters below the rocky summit. From here a short section of easy, but occasionally quite exposed climbing in boot crampons leads to the airy summit.
Most of the touring on this route is straightforward, with easy skinning and rolling gentle terrain. But on each of the descents into the valleys and on to the next hut, there are unavoidable short steep sections. Some of these may require descent on foot, but even when skiable (as they usually are) we'll need to be cautious and avoid times of high avalanche hazard.
This tour is of medium difficulty, harder, in general then the Silvretta, but similar to the difficulties of the Berner Oberland tour, or the Ortler.
We visit four alpine huts during our six days of skiing. The Italian huts offer a great sense of hospitality, though they are rustic. The hut keepers take pride in the quality of food and drink they offer. We always enjoy visiting the Italian huts as they usually have a happy, light-hearted ambiance, with cheap wine and great coffee.
|Impressive scenery under the cliffs of the Granta Parei. This is one of the many options for touring above the Benevolo hut on day 3.|
|Gran Paradiso Itinerary|
We begin this trip in Chamonix. Chamonix is easy to reach and a great base to add more days o skiing to your holiday.
We'll meet in the early evening.
We begin by driving through the Mont Blanc Tunnel into the Aosta Valley. We continue by car up Valgrisenche to the road end.
From Valgrisenche we either walk or ski up the valley (depending on snow cover) to the last cluster of buildings at the summer hamlet of Uselliéres. We then follow the easy ski trail up valley to the Bezzi hut at 2284 meters.
This is long but gentle day.
On day 2 we cross from Valgrisenche over the Col Bassac Deré, and descend to the Benevolo hut in the Val de Rhêmes. This day is typical of these crossings, relatively gentle on the uphill with some interesting, and often quite good skiing on the descent.
We start by climbing up to the Col at 3082 meters, a gain of some 800 meters. We then have a quick descent down the NE facing slopes to the basin below, and the frozen Lago de Goletta. From here we skin up another 90 meters to a gap in the ridge overlooking the Benevolo hut. An intricate descent follows down the moderately steep slopes which lead to the hut at 2285 meters.
If conditions and ambition are both good, we can include an "extracurricular" ascent of the 3291-meter Pico di Goletta. This adds about 300 meters of climbing to the day, but also offers a wonderful north-facing descent.
We have planned two nights at the Rifugio Benevolo. Many great day touring options from this hut exist.
A couple recommended options are Punta Calabre, a 3440 meters summit with a long north, then northeast facing descent. Or Punta Galisis, 3346 meters, another summit with a big north-facing ski down.
On this day, we cross the Col Besai, descending into the Valsavarenche. We skin easily up to the Col Besai at about 3160 meters. We descend to a broad east-facing bench, which we ski in a descending arc to its narrow north end. A short steeper section leads to the gentle slopes which lead easily to the Citta di Chivasso hut at 2604 meters. A very short skin climbs up to the hut.
On Day 5 we cross the Colle di Punta Foura and descend into the valley of the Grand Etret, finally crossing to the Vittorio Emanuele hut.
We begin with a short descent from the Chivasso hut, for about 80 meters and a couple kilometers distance to reach the gentle slopes leading up to the Col. The final section steepens somewhat, to reach the pass at 3124 meters.
Another intricate descent, with some steeper skiing, leads to the more forgiving slopes of the Grand Etret glacier. We follow the glacier down to about 2750 meters before skinning up over a moraine and continuing north towards the hut. The final two kilometers involve little gain or loss in elevation as we traverse the slopes leading to the hut.
Our last day is the ascent of the Gran Paradiso, with a return to Chamonix.
Most of the route is quite gentle, skinning ever upward to a point about 60 meters below the rocky summit. Leaving our skis, we don boot crampons and rope up for the last very short, but quite memorable climb to the summit.
To descend, we have two options. Both routes begin with skiing down our line of ascent to about 3750 meters. Here, the two options diverge.
One heads northwest descending the Laveciau Glacier, passing below the Chabod hut, to reach the valley at about 1850 meters The last section of this route is usually done on foot with skis on the pack.
The other option is to reverse our route of ascent all the way back to the Refugio Vittorio Emanuele. From here we head towards the Col Grand Etrets, requireing a ski up of about 200 meters before descending into the Vallon della Seyva, and then down to the road at Pont.
We'll need to retrieve our car, left in Valgrisenche before returning to Chamonix.
This ski tour requires a high level of fitness and excellent skiing abilities. There are some unavoidable steep sections, and the ascent of the Gran Paradiso is quite a long day.
Skiing skills need to be at an advanced to expert level. The reason for this has more to do with the conservation and expenditure of energy over a long day than the absolute technical difficulty of the skiing. The challenge comes in managing poor snow conditions (heavy wet snow, crud or breakable crust) and not losing too much energy in the process. Great skiers look like they are hardly working, and this is in fact the case. If your skiing is not up to par you will spend far, far more energy than a better skier.
There are sections on this tour where we will be skiing slopes of up to about 40 degrees in steepness. This is quite steep, and usually in this terrain we will be traversing or perhaps side slipping down to easier ground. However, we also need to be able to do turns on these very steep slopes, usually parallel hop turns, or other quick turns where little momentum is generated. On slopes of this steepness, if the snow is firm (as it often is) a fall will most likely result in a slide, and, with hazards such as rocks or crevasses below, such a slide will lead to potentially very serious injurly. If you fall on these slopes you will get hurt!
Ski skills required;
Skiers who regularly enjoy black or double black runs in most western American ski areas should do fine. If you like to get off the piste and into the crud, ski the trees, and in general look for the steeper shots, you'll probably have a great time on this tour. If you tend to stick to the groomed slopes and find the wild untracked a bit intimidating this is probably not a good tour for you. We will likely encounter all different kinds of snow, from the best to the worst, and you need to have sound energy efficient strategies to cope with them.
A good gauge of you ability is found in mogul skiing. If you are good in the bumps and seek them out, then you most likely have developed the rhythm and balance needed for steep or difficult snow. You must be able to ski fairly steep bumps in good conditions, skiing rhythmically and fluidly, following a line near the fall line with good speed control. If you have any doubt about your ability to manage the skiing on this classic route, please join us in the Alps for a shake-down training session. See our page on Chamonix off-Piste skiing.
You need to be able to do quick and easy kick turns, facing into the mountain. We will review these skills en route.
Previous mountaineering skills are useful, but not required. If you are an expert skier, you will not have difficulty picking up these new skills, as you will already be comfortable on very steep slopes.
|Skiing in less than ideal weather in the Val de Rhemes.|
Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
AMGA Certified • SNGM members
All images, layout and text ©2015 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides, All Rights Reserved
|Looking towards the Gran Paradiso from the Colle di Punta Foura.|
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