- IGN - 3534OT - Les Trois Vallées - Modane - Parc National de la Vanoise
This popular lift-assisted loop tour is in the western side of the Vanoise mountain group, adjoining Les Trois Vallées, the largest lift-served ski resort in the world.
- long downhill on big glacier with no visibility of human structures.
- two uphill sections with moderately steep finishes.
- also the "shortcut" which allows start+finish Val Thorens without using any lifts of Méribel or Mottaret.
Basic idea is first ride up lifts to the eastern top of the Val Thorens ski resort by Col de Thorens. Climb (mostly) on skis N+E up to the Col de Gebroulaz, then N down the Glacier de Gebroulaz. Next (mostly) on skis NW up to the Col du Borgne. Then down the Glacier du Borgne and finish either NW to the Meribel-Mottaret ski resort or W + SW back to the Val Thorens ski resort.
. . . (with Variations at every stage).
Overall . . .
- Most of the backcountry downhill runs are North-facing, with perhaps a final West-facing.
- If purchase the Les Trois Vallées lift ticket which includes both Meribel and Val Thorens lifts, then the downhill slopes are less than 30 degrees, and the uphills not more than 35 degrees.
- If ticket does not include the Meribel lifts, then there is a narrow downhill at least 35 degrees (could be down-climbed with crampons if the snow is difficult), or could be avoided with substantial extra uphill skinning (like 300 vertical meters).
- There is real danger of serious injury from falling into a crevasse (perhaps hidden) on the glaciers.
- Avalanche hazard must be managed: notably on the S side of the Col du Borgne and the SW side of the "return col" from Borgne to Val Thorens.
. . . . . options to reach start up at Col de Thorens
Most people do this tour with the assistance of mechanical ski lifts.
from Meribel-Mottaret (or Brides-les-Bains):
The way to get the most downhill with the least uphill work is to start from from the high Mottaret village in the Meribel ski resort. This requires purchasing a more expensive Les Trois Vallées lift ticket that includes both the Meribel and the Val Thorens lifts.
. . . (If not using the assistance of lifts, there's no point in starting from Meribel or Mottaret).
. . . (Brides-les-Bains? Instead of parking at Mottaret, could avoid fuel cost and curvy mountain driving by parking low in the village of Brides-les-Bains and riding the "Olympe" lift up to Meribel. But this requires significant walking then to reach the Meribel village lift and then an extra lift ride and downhill run to reach Mottaret village -- then after the tour some walking back to the Olympe lift top station, and the requirement to finish the tour before the hour that lift stops operating).
Parking at south side of Mottaret village (N45.3696 E6.5830) - (after driving through tunnel).
Purchase lift tickets (which must include the Val Thorens lifts) at the Tourist Office (N45.3730 E6.5810). Saves time later, if pause along the way to Parking for a couple of minutes alongside the road near under the Tourist Office, and send someone up to purchase lift tickets.
From Parking, walk about 230 meters roughly NW to the Plattieres lift (N45.37125 E6.58064). Ride up that to its top, then ski S on piste down to the Cote Brune lift. Ride this to its top, then gentle roughly S on piste to Col de la Chambre (N45.3140 E6.5813), which is on the boundary between the Meribel and the Val Thorens ski results. Ski down the Plein Sud run (or for a less-steep fun cruise, go out around W on the Pluviometre run) to reach Val Thorens village (N45.2992 E6.5811). Then continue down on piste to the bottom of the Moutieres lift (N45.2950 E6.5623) - (which is 120m SW down from single-day Parking for Val Thorens).
. . . (or to save time, could instead use "Les 2 Lacs" lift).
Ride up this lift (open chair exposed to the wind, so bundle up first). From the top of the Moutieres lift ski on piste generally E to the Moraine lift (N45.2876 E6.5834), then ride up this (open chair). Get off this and a little ski down to the Col lift and ride up (open chair) to its top. Ski down the groomed piste curving gently around below the east side of the top of the lift. But before this piste continues around the north side and down west, head off piste bearing Right either immediately NE steep to carry speed partway up the first climb, or for gentler at first go sharp Right SE, then turn N down -- to reach a gentle area (N45.2698 E6.6172) which is by Col de Thorens, about 200m NE below top of Col lift.
from Val Thorens:
Parking for single-day visitors (N45.2962 E6.5641).(elev 2085m) is below and before the resort village.
Purchase lift tickets (if want minimum uphill work for max backcountry downhill, then get the more expensive Les Trois Vallées ticket which includes the Meribel lifts) -- by walking 100-200 meters S to the base station for the Cairn + Caron lifts (N45.2943 E6.5644).
Ski down W to the Moutieres lift (N45.2950 E6.5623). Ride up this lift (open chair exposed to the wind, so bundle up first). From the top of the Moutieres lift ski on piste generally E to the Moraine lift (N45.2876 E6.5834), then ride up this (open chair). Get off this and a little ski down to the Col lift and ride up (open chair) to its top. Ski down the groomed piste curving gently around below the east side of the top of the lift. But before this piste continues around the north side and down west, head off piste bearing Right either immediately NE steep to carry speed partway up the first climb, or for gentler at first go sharp Right SE, then turn N down -- to reach a gentle area (N45.2698 E6.6172) which is by Col de Thorens, about 200m NE below top of Col lift.
Not purchasing a lift ticket?
Adds +1000 vertical meters uphill work. Park in the same single-day visitors lot. Or if one skier in the party is a faster climber, perhaps first drive up higher to the resort village and drop off the rest of the party for a shorter climb, then the faster uphill-skier drives back down to the single-day parking. Skin E up the pistes (groomed ski runs) just S of the resort village, then SE parallelling the Moraine and Col lifts. Near the top, leave the piste bearing left to reach a gentle area (N45.2698 E6.6172) which is by Col de Thorens, about 200m NE below top of Col lift.
Advantage of parking at Orelle (N45.2073 E6.5450) is that it's the easiest quickest driving from most places outside the Vanoise (and surely the quickest if driving from Italy). First problem is that it requires two long lift rides just to reach the Val Thorens ski resort boundary, then a long downhill run, and two more lift rides up to get to the start of the tour by Col de Thorens. Second problem is that (after starting late), need to finish the tour down to Val Thorens village and then multiple rides up the lifts to reach the boundary of the Orelle ski resort -- before the hour those lifts close. Otherwise it's a very expensive taxi ride from Val Thorens down to the main valley roads way out around west to get back to Orelle.
Orelle does sell a single-ride "ski randonnée" lift ticket up to Plan Bouchet (N45.2467 E6.5704), but doing the Gebroulaz+Borgne loop tour from there with no lift assistance makes no sense. Better just to go up to the Col de Gebroulaz then back the same way (by way of Col Pierre Lory), perhaps adding one of the peaks near above it, perhaps climbing the Pointe de Bouchet on the way back to Plan Bouchet.
Up to Col de Gebroulaz + nearby
Start from the gentle area (N45.2698 E6.6172).(elev 3100m) by the Col de Thorens.
. . . (Note that the 2017 ski map ("plan des pistes") for Les Trois Vallées puts the label of "Col de Thorens" on a rather different location from this. Whoever is wrong or right about the naming, whether the ski resort or the several usual French topo maps, be clear that this tour is not anywhere near the top of the Thorens lift, but rather the Gebroulaz+Borgne loop tour starts by the top of the Col lift).
Skin up moderately NNE about 500 meters.
. . (The rocky ridges above to W + N are the Aiguille des Saints Pères and Aiguille de Peclet, and various crossings of them give access to steep couloir runs back down to Val Thorens).
Next curve E and go 500 meters gentler to reach the steeper (around 30 degrees) slope of the W side of the Col de Gebroulaz (N45.2762 E6.6286).(elev 3440m). Often hard snow or icy sections resulting from the usual wind from the west, so often attach ski-crampons / couteaux / harcheisen before starting to climb the final 100 meters. Not so unusual to require taking skis off and booting up, in which case putting crampons on boots might be necessary (or at least feel more secure) - (total uphill +330 vertical meters).
Just right (SSE 150m) above the Col is the peak of Mont de Gebroulaz (N45.27484 E6.62926) with of course a great view, summit can be reached with some easy scrambling -- likely requires a big snowpack to be skiable from its summit.
The other peak (ahead E 400m) is the rock of the Aiguille de Polset (N45.27595 E6.63385). Can reach the foot of its short W ridge by keeping skins on and traversing below around N side of Mont Gebroulaz. Climbing to its summit has some difficulty -- likely want crampons. Perhaps easier climbing up its E ridge as a side trip from climbing the (skiable) Dome de Polset.
Farther E on the same ridge, but not visible from the Col is the Dome de Polset (N45.27618 E6.63925). Nice ski peak but often not easily reachable just by keeping skins on and climbing + traversing on skis from the Col de Gebroulaz. Often works better to take skins off and first ski down NE partway into center lobe of glacier.
Likely there are some seriously-steep S-facing downhill ski shots off the Mont Gebroulaz - Aiguille de Polset - Dome de Polset ridge, but those are not part of this loop tour.
Down Glacier de Gebroulaz
The classic downhill run is on the East side of the center lobe of the glacier.
. . . (The west lobe is much crevassed, but with a good snowpack it's not unusual for it to be in condition for skiing also. To reach it, just take skins off near the Col and start skiing down NE and N. At least two different paths, some steeper than others. Real crevasses (which might be hidden under weak collapsable surface layer of snow) which must be avoided.
To reach the classic East-side-of-center-lobe run, first traverse E below N side of Mont Gebroulaz. Where to take skins off might depend on how firm and fast is the snow surface. If not sure, what usually works is to keep skins on across up to the base of the W rock ridge (N45.2762 E6.6325) of the Aiguille de Polset, and remove skins there after enjoying the view (and perhaps trying to climb the Aiguille?)
The downhill run starts below the NW side of the Aiguille de Polset. Do not try to enter the top of the slope at its low end (left and NW), because that leads to steep rocks. Instead start higher (right and SE) closer under the steep rock of the Aiguille de Polset. Slope soon steepens to around 30 degrees, facing NE (so snow might be sheltered from the usual west winds), could also traverse high right to reach pure N-facing if think that has better snow.
Ski down to a flat area (N45.2799 E6.6353).
. . . (Good place to start optional side trip to Dome de Polset ski peak. Can skin up on either side of the steep crevasse zone. Then S up to gentler slopes between the Dome de Polset and Aiguille de Polset. Continue S around E side of Dome, then curve back NE to the summit (N45.27618 E6.63925) - (total up +190 vertical meters) . . . (Further optional side trip to try to climb (crampons?) E ridge of Aiguille de Polset (N45.27595 E6.63385).
From the flat area on the glacier continue N down gentle for a ways along E side of glacier, then moderate steep (stay careful with crevasses). When the big wide glacier gets gentle, aim left-ward NW across toward Col du Borgne. If cross way left, might catch one more steeper downhill shot along its W side.
Gentle (or flat) along the W side of the glacier until see the NW-trending side-valley leading up to the Col du Borgne and reach about (N45.3021 E6.6230).(elev 2780m).
. . (trying to hold a higher line along W side often does not help, because of terrain irregularities around in the low part of that NW-trending side-valley).
Up to Col du Borgne
From the West side of the Gebroulaz glacier, put on skins and climb overall NW, at first moderate steep, then long gentle to the steeper S-facing slope directly under the Col du Borgne (N45.30925 E6.6134).(elev 3005m) - (total +240 vertical meters to the Col).
Must seriously consider the avalanche danger, especially in the first few sunny days after a fresh snowfall. Going up over this Col could be avoided by continuing NE down the glacier past the Refuge de Saut, and on from there past the E side of the Lac de Tueda to reach the village of Mottaret -- but that's a long gentle/flat slog. Or back to the north there are steeper taller East-facing couloirs which climb the rock ridge and somehow might lead back to Val Thorens -- but have to know what you're doing to try that.
Climbing gets steeper (35+ degrees) close under the Col. Sometimes good snow and good skiers can go on skins all the way to the top, but usually most people stop and take their skis off and boot up to the top -- crampons might be needed (or at least make it feel more secure).
Glacier du Borgne
Down from the Col du Borgne, there are three main options:
1) If started from Meribel-Mottaret or Brides-les-Bains (or have a ticket that includes riding Meribel-Mottaret lifts) then ski down N - (perhaps more sustained steeper run by first traversing high left W 70+ meters) - down all the way to reach the "Lac" piste. Continue N down that piste to the bottom of the Plan des Mains chairlift (N45.3410 E6.5890).(elev 2115m). Ride up that lift, then ski down the pistes all the way to finish at Mottaret. Or if feeling tired, take skis off and hike up to the top station of Plattieres lift and ride on that down to the village of Mottaret. Or if started from Val Thorens, then ski S on piste down to Cote Brune lift.
2) If started from Val Thorens (or Orelle), then traverse high left (West) about 500 meters until under the "return col" (N45.3080 E6.6063).(elev 2980m). Or better ... if have the energy, first ski N down the upper part of Glacier du Borgne - like down to a gentle area (N45.3110 E6.6084). then skin back up (+140 vertical meters or more) to under the "return col".
Normally need to take skis off and boot up (+20 vertical meters or more) the final steep rocky slope to reach the ridge top.
SW side of "return col" is usually narrow steep rocky. Often the narrow steep (at least 35 degrees) upper section must be side-slipped. But in difficult snow, it could be down-climbed (perhaps crampons?), or perhaps rappel/abseil. Lower down it gets wider, but still sustained 30-35 degrees. Then gentle W down to reach the piste (N45.3056 E6.5890) by the top of the Plein Sud lift. From here follow the instructions above under "Access" from Meribel-Mottaret to almost reach the bottom of the Moutieres lift which is just below SW from the single-day parking lot. Recognize your arrival as you see your piste going under the bridge between the lift ticket purchase building (at the bottom of the Cairn + Caron lifts) and the Parking lot.
3) If started from Val Thorens, but want to avoid the more difficult crossing of the "return col" . . . then ski down N all the way to reach the "Lac" piste (N45.3201 E6.5921), perhaps stay high Left toward the bottom. Then put skins on and go W up (+270 vertical meters) the piste to Col de la Chambre (N45.3140 E6.5813).(elev 2780m). From here follow the instructions above under "Access" from Meribel-Mottaret to almost reach the bottom of the Moutieres lift which is just below SW from the single-day parking lot. Recognize your arrival as you see your piste going under the bridge between the lift ticket purchase building (at the bottom of the Cairn + Caron lifts) and the Parking lot.
There are sensitive areas on this route. Please refer to the map.
- couteaux / harscheisen / ski-crampons often needed.
- crampons sometimes, especially if finishing at Val Thorens without using the Meribel-Mottaret lifts, but could also be necessary for two other climbs.
- extra clothing with wind protection - for riding up open chair lifts exposed to the wind, cold in the morning.
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