Mont Thabor Haute Route, Vallée de la Clarée

7 days skiing

Maximum Group Size
8 skiers with 2 guides

Required skills

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See also:
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Alps skiing advice
Valle Maira, Italy
Queyras, France
Lofoten, Norway
Albula, Switzerland
Ortler, Italy
Haute Route Verbier
Haute Route Plateau
Mont Thabor
Gran Paradiso
Zermatt to Saas Fee
Berner Oberland
Vanoise Haute Route
Tour du Ciel
Tour du Soleil
Chamonix off-piste
Private ski tours

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the French Alps, not far from La Grave, and the beautiful walled city of Briançon, lies a well-kept "secret" valley ringed by rugged peaks. Moderate in altitude, and none of them particularly famous outside local circles, we've heard great things nevertheless about the potential for ski mountaineers in the Vallée de la Clarée, both for the interesting terrain, which provides for easier or harder routes to get between the huts depending on conditions, and also for the comfort of the huts. Lying at relatively low elevation, they can supply showers for example! If our French colleagues love it so much, we thought we should check it out.

Our itinerary begins in the village of Nevache, follows a more or less clockwise loop up the valley, then culminates in an attempt the highest peak in the area, Mont Thabor, before returning to our starting point in Nevache.

We hope you can join us on this exploratory tour to a beautiful and unspoiled alpine destination.




Mont Thabor Haute Route • Ski Touring Itinerary

Day 0

Rendezvous in Névache. For those without cars we can arrange a shuttle pick-up at the station in Briançon (reachable by train/and or bus from either Grenoble or Torino in about 3 and ½ hours). In Névache we will be staying in a comfortable and very friendly skier's gîte, a rustic skier's and hiker's inn.

Day 1

Our main objective is to ski to the Refuge Buffere at 2076 meters. We expect to arrive in time for lunch. In the afternoon, we can do a short tour up the Crête de l’Echaillon 2620 meters, a gain and descent of about 550 meters.

To Refuge Buffere

• ascent: 500 m
• descent: 0 m
• distance: 4.2 km

Tour up Crête de l’Echaillon

• ascent: 550 m
• descent: 550 m
• distance: 4.0 km

Day 2

On our second day, we traverse to the Refuge du Chardonnet. We have several choices as to how we get there. The easiest, and only sensible alternative if conditions or the weather is poor, is to descend to the valley from the Refuge Buffere and then continue NW, climbing back up to the Refuge du Chardonnet at 2227 meters.

A more rewarding route, however is to climb to the Crête de Baude at about 2570 meters. From the summit of the Crête we descend steeply to the north, almost to the floor of the valley. A short climb leads back up to the hut.

Crête de Baude route

• ascent: 830 m
• descent: 680 m
• distance: 6.6 km

Day 3

On day 3, we continue our tour to the Refuge Ricou, 2115m. Again we have several options, but the best route is around the impressive Massif du Queyrellin via the Casse Blanche. We descend the Couloir de la Replate, again to the valley floor before climbing a short way to the Refuge Ricou.

Tour of the Massif du Queyrellin

• ascent: 850 m
• descent: 980 m
• distance: 9.0 km

Day 4

We tour from the Refuge Ricou to the Refuge Drayères, 2502 meters. Our preferred route is over the Col de la Grande Tempête. If conditions and desires are in line we have the option to climb to the summit of the Grande Tempête, at 3002 meters.

From the Col we descend steeply to the north, then to the west finally to the Refuge Drayères.

• ascent: 750 m
• descent: 700 m
• distance: 8.0 km

Day 5

A big day, traversing around the north side of Mont Thabor. We start skiing east-north-east, finally climbing up to the Col de Névache at 2794 meters. We descend steeply north crossing past the Lacs des Glaciers climbing up to the Passage du Pic du Thabor. We continue east, finally crossing the Col du Chaval Blanc before descending more easily to the Refuge du Mont Thabor at 2509 meters.

Refuge Drayères to Refuge du Mont Thabor.

• ascent: 1000 m
• descent: 680 m
• distance: 10.5 km

Day 6

Another big day, one on which we will hopefully ski up to the summmit of Mont Thabor, 3178 meters. We take a circuitous route to the SE slope of the mountain. Climbing more steeply, but still on ski, we arrive near the at the summit. If snow cover is good it is possible to ski the entire way, otherwise we may need to walk a short way.

The descent is long and continuous to the south-east, finally reaching the Vallée Étroite, and the Refuge 1 Re Magi at 1765 meters.

Refuge du Mont Thabor to the summit of Mont Thabor.

• ascent: 830 m
• descent: 190 m
• distance: 6.2 km

Summit to Refuge 1 Re Magi.

• ascent: 40
• descent: 1420 m
• distance: 7.3 km

Day 7

On our last day we climb up retracing our steps for some 1.5 km towards the head of the Vallée Étroite, then turn west to climb up into the Col du Vallon at 2645 meters. We descend to the SW down the Combe du Vallon, which leads us back to Névache.

Refuge 1 Re Magi to Nevache.

• ascent: 900 m
• descent: 1060 m
• distance: 12.0 km



Skills Required

This tour requires a good level of fitness and very good skiing abilities. On a number of days the total elevation gained is over 1000 meters (3300 feet). Being in good shape will ensure you have enough energy to manage (and have great fun as well!) on the long descents which follow. The reason that skiing skills must be at an advanced to expert level has more to do with the conservation and expenditure of energy over a long day than the absolute technical difficulty of the skiing. For the most part the slopes are not overly steep. The challenge comes in managing poor snow conditions (heavy wet snow, crud or breakable crust) and not losing too much energy or risking injury 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.

Ski skills required;

  • Ability to turn predictably through the fall line in difficult deep, heavy snow, or bad breakable crust.
  • Ability to execute parallel turns on 35° firm snow.
  • Ability to ski the fall-line with short-radius, rhythmic parallel turns in deep light (good) snow.
  • Ability to side-slip, both forward and backward, on firm 40° slopes.
  • Ability to skate on level ground.

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 you should think twice about this option. 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 your ability can be 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 moderate 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 tour, please contact us to see if we can answer your questions.

Previous ski touring skills are useful, but not required. If you are a good skier, you will not have difficulty picking up these new skills, as you will already be comfortable on steep slopes.

Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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