Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Magic Tunnel

With a bit of time off this week, I made tracks for Chamonix to catch up with some friends, ski some good powder and try out my brand new Salomon Shogun skis. With a recent series of Southerly weather systems the South side of the Mont Blanc range was definitely the place to be, so on Tuesday we headed through the ("Magic") Mont Blanc Tunnel to the Punta Hellbronner cable car.

Possibly one of my top 3 'lift systems' in the Alps, the 3 stages of the cable car gradually get smaller and more rustic, with the last being a 6-man sardine can...

Looking down the Aosta valley from the top of Stage 2:

The top cable car at Punta Hellbronner:

I was playing catch-up with Ross & Jonny, having left Bozel early in the morning, and they had already had a warm-up run on the Toula. Ross was keen for the Passerelle couloir, which starts imediately on the left as you exit the lift station, and had only had 2 skiers down it that morning (any more than this & it gets too scraped-off to be any fun to ski...).

First turns of the day on brand new skis down a 45ยบ couloir? Why not!
Ross in the top of the Passerelle:

And halfway down:

Looking back up the couloir:

I got used to this view... having skied the couloir proper, I started to open the throttle on the slopes below, and my right ski pre-released on a small bobble of firmer snow. With steep slopes and soft powder there was nothing for the brakes to get purchase on , and the ski was last seen heading towards Courmayeur at 50 miles an hour...
After an hour of fruitless searching I gave the ski up as lost, and battled on down on 1 ski to the Pavillion through 50cm of powder (you definitely get more impression of depth with only 1 ski on!). A few coffees and a panini helped soften the psychological (and financial) blow, and the news later that day of 4 people killed in an avalanche in Val D'Isere helped put everything into context... the day could have been a whole lot worse.

On a side-note, apparently the Hellbronner cable car is being replaced next summer, by a 2 stage system which will leave from Val Veny (near the cable car into the Courmayeur lift system). End of an era for the sardine cans, and also (possibly) for the cafe opposite the current bottom station, which must take a huge amount of passing trade from skiers/climbers/sightseers heading up the cable car.


  1. Hey, I've just tuned into your blog. I happened upon it while researching the Cunningham/Passerelle Couloir. I'm surprised that you skied it a couple of weeks ago and that it had filled in so well. I was under the impression that Chamonix - even slopes with this aspect - are still on the thin side. Any thoughts on that? Going end of February/beginning of March and would love to ski this.

    Also - I've noticed that there's one long (60m?) rappel from the bridge. Are there subsequent rappels? I've read that two sets of bolted anchors can be found below the first rap. True?

    Last - had the glacier filled in enough to make it relatively navigable?

    Cheers for any thoughts, and nice blog.

  2. Hi Paul,
    Different Passerelle Couloir...the one we skied is off the Hellbronner lift on the Italian side.
    haven't been up the Midi this year so no idea of conditions in the Cunningham - not 100% re rap points, but as this is also used to access some goulotte routes I would imagine there are further rap points down the top of the couloir...
    Cheers, Simon