The Vallée Blanche run starts at a lung-busting 3842m above sea level and follows a spectacular glacier way, way down. It was the setting of the dramatic ski chase scene in the 1999 James Bond flick The World Is Not Enough, but while Pierce Brosnan probably got choppered in, everyone else needs to do a hair-raising walk down a narrow ridge to reach the run itself.
Before exiting the Aguille du Midi lookout, you attach crampons to your boots, slip on a rock-climbing harness and rope yourself to your friends and the guide (who supplies the kit). After a 10- to 15-minute descent you’ll arrive on the glacier proper.
It would be suicidal to ski or board the run without a guide. There are numerous crevasses hidden by the thinnest snow cover, which would be easy to ski or fall into without directions. There are also areas where you shouldn’t linger because of the small but real risk of avalanches. People die on this run each year. The guide will also tell you about some of the most stunning scenery you’ll ever see as sheer cliff faces jut into thin air and hunks of glacial ice twist into impossible, iceberg-like formations. A guide costs €75 per person – definitely worth it for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Vallée Blanche is one of many attractions in Chamonix, a town in the French Alps that’s been a magnet for outdoorsy types for decades. With its four distinct ski fields, amazing off-piste options, awesome scenery and competitive eating and drinking scene, it’s one of France’s top resorts.
As a result it’s usually out of range to the budget-conscious (some chalets cost €70,000 per week). But putting alpine action within reach is where Skiweekends.com comes in. By running an overnight coach to the Alps instead of flying, Skiweekends.com offers weekend or week-long trips that bring maximum time on the snow for minimum cash.
Weekend trips to Chamonix and the mega Three Valleys area depart London at 5pm on a Thursday, arriving just in time to get the first lift up the mountain on Friday morning. After three full days’ skiing, the coach leaves at about 7pm on Sunday, arriving back in London by 9.30am on Monday. With only one day off work you can arrive back in the office bragging about skiing in the tracks of 007 himself.
The Aiguille du Midi is a 3842m mountain topped by a lookout that defies gravity and common sense – it’s perched impossibly on the narrowest of peaks. There are stunning views over the Alps, including Mont Blanc, western Europe’s highest mountain. A must-see, whether you’re on skis or on foot.
Out on the town
Chamonix has no shortage of après-ski. Bar’d Up and La Terrasse are two of the best bars in town, where a wild party atmosphere is guaranteed any night of the week.
In warm weather, Chamonix is a playground for mountain bikers, paragliders, hikers, rock climbers, canyoners, kayakers and anyone who likes getting active in the fresh air. There are spectacular hiking trails, and 15 huts teetering on the edge of various mountains for overnight stays on longer trips.
» Daniel Landon travelled to Chamonix with Skiweekends.com (0870-442 3400). A four-night break, with overnight coach travel and two-nights’ B&B accommodation, starts from £209. For mountain guides see www.evolution2.com