Switzerland, Europe

Monterosa Ski Safari

Discover high altitude touring and some of the longest descents in the Alps on this weeklong adventure

Passing through both Switzerland and Italy, this route circumnavigates the Monte Rosa massif. Variety is the name of the game with sections of piste, off-piste, ski touring and heli-skiing. The route incorporates significant sections of high glacier skiing and unusually long descents (2500m vertical).

A circuit by ski and lift of Monte Rosa, the Alps' second largest massif. This is the ultimate ski touring safari passing through two countries and four world-class resorts renowned for their off-piste: Saas Fee, Zermatt, Cervinia, and Gressoney.

We have upgraded this tour to Intermediate (from Introductory) as there are a couple of quite demanding days and good fitness is very important. The standard tour includes about 10-12 hours of skinning spread throughout the week, so some previous experience in the skin track is necessary.

Day Itinerary

  • Travel to Saas Grund aiming to arrive by late afternoon. Meet the guide and the rest of of the group to discuss the week's itinerary and conditions and to check equipment. Stay overnight in a hotel in Saas Grund.

  • Today we make use of the Saas Fee lift system to find ski legs and get warmed up. In the afternoon we make the short ski tour to the popular Britannia hut (3030m) where we spend the night. This gives the group a chance to practice their ski touring skills and skinning technique. It takes less than two hours to get to the hut.

  • We set off from the Britannia hut early in the morning as we have a 3 hour uphill skin to the Allalin Pass (3564m). In good conditions the descent to the village of Tasch via Tasch Alp is one of the off-piste highlights of the week. From Tasch you take the short train ride up to our hotel in the carfree town of Zermatt.

  • We ascend using Switzerland's highest lift the Kleine Matterhorn and climb the Breithorn (4164m) - an easy 2 hour ascent from the top of the lift. The great views from the summit are definitely worth the effort! We now ski over to Italy and link into Cervinia ski area via Testa Grigia (3451m). We stay overnight in the famous ski resort of Cervinia with the Matterhorn towering above.

  • We take advantage of the excellent off-piste opportunities within the upper cirque of the Cervinia ski area. Later in the day we make a final descent from the highest point of the Cervinia lift system Testa Grigia (3451m) and ski the whole length of the Val di Verra down to St Jacques (1689m). This 2200m descent is one of the most famous in the Monterosa massif. It's a tradition to stop in the renowned cafe Fior di Roccia and sample their coffee, ice cream and cakes. Our hotel in Champoluc is a short bus ride down the valley. 

  • We spend today in the Monterosa ski area skiing the great lines above Gressoney and Alagna. The Monterosa ski area or 'Freeride Paradise' is world famous for its off-piste with classical trees, steep couloirs and mellow meadows, it has terrain for everyone! Descents may include the Olen Valley, Salza Valley and Indren Valley. Our night is spent in the beautiful Orestes Hutte (2530m) nestled at the bottom of the Indren Valley. This mountain hut is famous for its artisan beers, culinary hospitality and yoga classes!

  • After a perfect cappuccino breakfast we ski down to Stafal (1825m) and then ascend the ski lifts to the Colle della Bettaforca (2872m) the pickup zone for our helidrop. Flying in a helicopter to the Col de Lys (4151m) is the highlight of the trip, affording views of the whole Monterosa massif and the Lys Gletscher far below. From here we have a spectacular descent into Zermatt via the Grenz Gletscher with the snowy north face of Lyskamm towering above. The exit through the Gorner Gletscher Gorge can be an entertaining ski assault course which adds to the ambience of one of the most famous ski descents in the alps. We return to Saas Grund by road for our final night.

    If the conditions aren't going to allow us to take the helidrop (or the group prefer not to take this option), the itinerary for the last 2 days would be:

    Day 6 - We spend today in the Monte Rosa ski area skiing the great lines above Gressoney and Alagna. Lots of great off-piste skiing and superb tree skiing above Gressoney St Jean. In the afternoon we take the new Punta Indren (3200m) cable car and head up to the superb Refugio Mantova (3500m) high above Alagna. This hut has amazing views acoss the southern side of the Monterosa massif.

    Day 7 - From the hut we skin up and over the Col de Lys. From here we have a spectacular descent into Zermatt following the same lines we would have taken from the helidrop. We return to Saas Grund by road for our final night.

     

  • Departure after breakfast.

The price includes 6 guided days with all guide fees and expenses, 5 nights half-board hotel accommodation (twin rooms), 2 nights half-board accommodation in mountain huts.

The price does not include uplift costs, heli-drop offered on day 7, transfers, lunches, equipment hire, travel to/from Saas Grund.

We exclude the cost for any transfers and uplift because our use of these is to a certain extent dependent on weather and snow conditions. Based on previous trips the cost of transfers and uplift for this week will be CHF200-220 per person (excluding heli-drop). The heli-drop would be about an additional 150 Euros per person.

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This page is an extensive list of the equipment you will need for one of our multi-day ski safaris,.
During the trip you will be staying in a mix of catered high mountain huts and valley hotels.
On some of the safaris we do provide luggage transfers (e.g. Courchevel-Chamonix) but on most you will need to carry all the equipment and clothing you require for the duration of the tour. The huts are comfortable but basic with limited facilities – running cold water, European-style toilets, dormitory-style accommodation. All the huts provide ‘hut slippers’ – these days they are usually crocs - and so you will not need to carry additional footwear.
Any clothing or other items not required on the tour can be left in a travel bag at your first hotel ready for your return on the final night.
We recommend keeping the weight of your pack as light as possible. If you are new to alpine multi-day ski touring, try taking your pack out on the slopes before the tour to see how it feels. You quickly realise the benefit of ‘skiing light’.
If you are uncertain or need further information, don't hesitate to contact us.

Please remember that it is very important to travel light on the hut ski-tour and weight should be kept down to approx. 8-10kg. It will be possible to leave some baggage at the valley hotel.

  • When choosing clothing for ski touring you want to think light, warm and versatile. During the trip weather conditions will change and you’re likely to go from warm afternoons where you’ll be carrying most of your gear in your rucksack, to icy-cold mornings when you’re wearing everything to keep warm! Getting hold of the best and lightest kit available is always worth it and most of the major brands will be able to supply suitable kit.
    • Roll neck rather than a scarf. We use and recommend the ‘Buff¹ ¬ a light, stretchable tube. Excellent despite the name! They do both a fleece/cotton version for warmth or just a cotton one (to keep the sun off).
    • Headwear to include warm hat and sun-cap or wide-brim hat for extra protection from the sun. Mountain Tracks fully supports the wearing of helmets for skiing, although not mandatory for any of our trips we do recommend them.
    • An outer shell jacket made of waterproof and breathable material like Gore-Tex or similar with a built-in hood. The lighter the better and so a shell is recommended rather than a insulated jacket.
    • 1-2 thin fleeces - rather than a thick layer between your skin and the outer shell - an approach which gives better heat retention and good flexibility. These tops are known as ‘mid layers’. The principle of ‘layering’ e.g. allowing you to easily add/remove layers depending on the temperature and the activity is recommended to ensure comfort on the mountain.
    • Insulation layer like a down or Primaloft jacket is a good item to have ready to wear in the event of cold weather, it can live in your rucksack as a spare layer and can come in very handy for sudden changes in the weather.
    • For the lower half it’s essential that you have a pair of thermal base layer pants (long johns).
    • These can then be combined with either:
    • (a) a good pair of ‘technical shell’ pants in a waterproof and breathable fabric like Gore-Tex (b) a pair of mountain or alpine pants in a softshell material together with a pair of lightweight, breathable over trousers with long side zips.
    • Top and bottom underwear made of a synthetic, wicking material. Very popular at the moment are the wool based layers from companies such as Icebreaker and Smartwool. They are comfy, breathable and warm when needed and can be worn for days without your friends catching a whiff!
    • Good quality Gore-Tex gloves or mitts and a thin pair of softshell or fleece gloves for when it is hot and for ski touring in. Silk inner gloves can be useful if the weather is cold and you suffer with cold hands.
    • Technical Socks - Investing in good quality ski socks will improve fit, warmth and feel when skiing for long periods. Bring along a few pairs.
  • For all touring trips it is essential you ski with an all-mountain/freeride type skis, ski touring boots and ski touring bindings. If you have your own skis but they do not have ski touring bindings then you will need to rent skis. The same applies if you have downhill ski boots, you will need to rent ski touring boots.

    Skis
    For alpine ski touring we recommend an all-mountain/freeride touring ski that isn’t too heavy, a really lightweight ski comes at a cost to performance on the descents so are only recommended for really good off-piste skiers with a strong interest in ski touring.
    There are plenty of great skis to choose from and we highly recommend skis from the following manufactures:
    Dynastar Skis: www.dynastar.com 
    Movement Skis: www.movementskis.com  
    Black Crows Skis: www.blackcrows-skis.com  
    Trab Skis: www.skitrab.com/en-us 
    Scott Skis: http://www.scott-sports.com
    Volkl Skis: http://www.voelkl.com

    If you are planning on buying skis for ski touring and general skiing and have any questions do not hesitate to call us to discuss the options available to you.

    Boots
    It is essential that you have ski touring boots for all touring trips as walking up hill is much more comfortable in these types of boots with a walk mode and great flex. A dedicated touring boot or a hybrid freeride boot is best. 

    Scarpa have lead the way in touring boots for many years but they have been joined by other manufactures like Dynafit, Salomon, Scott, Black Diamond, Dalbello and K2; all producing their own versions of a ski touring boot.
    • Scarpa’s Freedom boots are their Hybrid offerings, great ski performance, a walk mode and vibram sole. Their Maestrale (men’s) and Gea (women’s) boots are also highly recommended.
    • The Scott Celeste and Cosmo boots have stood the test of time and are good all round choices.
    • Salomon’s Quest Max series offer boots with a walk mode in various flex’s with good downhill performance.
    • Dynafit offer the Mercury or Vulcan boots plus a range of lightweight options like the TLT6.

    The best of the rest are:
    Fischer - Transalp
    Black Diamond – Quadrant and Factor
    K2 – Pinnacle boot
    Dalbello – Lupo or Sherpa
    Langue – XT series offer a ski boot with a walk mode in various flex options

    Boot Liners
    These days many manufacturers offer ‘thermo-fit¹ liners as standard equipment. You may also want to consider a custom liner as these are heated and molded to your foot and boot for a perfect fit. They can make all the difference especially if you have trouble finding really comfortable ‘off-the-shelf’ boots. Zipfit liners are a great option for anyone seeking total customisation in fit and comfort. They will replace the original liner.

    Custom Footbeds
    Essential kit – to provide additional comfort and ski control. If you want to get footbeds made or a pair of new boots fitted then we suggest you visit somewhere like Profeet for a professional fitting. Don’t forget if you have footbeds in your downhill boots but need to rent touring boots then you can bring the footbeds with you and put them in the hire boots.

    Bindings
    For all ski touring trips ski touring bindings are essential. Fritschi and Marker both make excellent ski touring bindings and you have a few different options to choose from. Many more people are seeing the advantage of the “pin” binding system now offered by a number of manufacturers as these are light and offer ever improving security despite their minimalist looks!

    Ski Poles
    We recommend telescopic poles. They must have wide powder baskets (4-5 inches/100-120mm diameter) otherwise you’ll be up to your armpits on the ascents. Go for an alloy rather than carbon poles which are lighter but have a nasty habit of snapping near the basket due to ski edge nicks.

    Rucksack
    For most ski tours especially multi-day hut-to-hut tours you will need a 35 - 40 litre rucksack. You might get away with a big 30 liter pack if you are an experienced ski tourer and know what to pack. Most people will find a 35-40 liter pack is a good size for touring.

    Key features of a good ski touring pack:
    • a method of attaching your skis in either a A-frame (one either side) or both together on a diagonal ski carriage
    • easy access into the main compartment without having to empty the sack to get something at the bottom
    • separate pocket for avalanche shovel, handle and probe
    • small top pocket for items like wallet, sunglassed/goggles etc; an ice axe loop
    • a built-in rain cover an a secure method of attaching/stowing a ski helmet 
    • good hip/waist belt and adjustable shoulder straps

    Avalanche airbag rucksacks can be used for touring but they are heavy, adding somewhere between 5-8kg just for an empty pack plus canister. So unless you are sure you can carry it and fit all you need in, we do not recommend you use one. 

    Over a long multiday tour every gram of weight is important as you have to carry and move it yourself. Carrying a heavy pack will hinder and tire all but the most experienced and fit ski tourer.

     

    • Good pair of ski goggles with a lens for low light is essential in the event of snow and poor visibility
    • Good quality sunglasses with 100% UV protection
    • 35 – 40 liter rucksack
    • 1 – 1.5 Liter water bottle – we don’t recommend hydration systems (e.g. camelbak) in winter as they can freeze.
    • Food – bring some of your favorite hill nibbles (chocolate, energy bars)*
    • Suncream and lip salve
    • Camera with a large capacity memory card!
    • Money – most hotels, shops and restaurants accept credit cards, but not all the alpine huts do. You should allow about 30-40 Swiss Francs or 20-30 Euros per day for lunch and drinks (amount approximate and depends on consumption)
    Please note that your guide will have a few “spares” and other safety items that he or she will ask the group to carry between them; so leave a small space in your sack for an item e.g. spare skin, spare ski pole, emergency shelter.

    For a hut night:
    • Lightweight sleeping bag liner – now compulsory in most huts.
    • Wash kit with small personal first aid items – should include:
    • Toothbrush and paste - a mini one is ideal
    • Soap
    • Anti-bacterial hand cleaner
    • Wet wipes – essential to try to maintain hygiene
    • Tissues and toilet roll
    • Plasters – of various sizes and possibly some adhesive wound dressings.
    • Pain Killers – aspirin or Paracetamol/Nurofen
    • Antiseptic cream or wipes
    • Blister kit – compeed and elastic tape to hold it in place (essential)!
    • (Note: Guides will have comprehensive first aid kits and are qualified in mountain first aid)
    • Small light quick dry towel e.g. a Lifeventure Soft fiber towel
    • Most huts have limited washing facilities
    • Earplugs – it can get quite noisy!
    • Headtorch - lightweight and carry spare batteries.
    • Book, pack of cards and or Ipod/MP3 player – It’s nice to have something to read or listen to when you are in the huts or to challenge your fellow travelers to a game of card. These items are not essential but if you have space you might appreciate them.
    What to wear in the hut
    We are often asked by people what they should wear in the hut. It's a good question as you don't want to carry many or any extra clothes with you if they are not required. In the winter you will probably end up wearing your base layer thermals (top & bottom) or you can carry a lightweight pair of loose trousers to wear around the hut in the afternoons/evenings. Your base layer top is what you will probably wear on your top half or you can carry a t-shirt to wear in the hut that can double to sleep in. 

    Food and Water
    We suggest you bring with you or buy in resort snack food that you can take out on the hill with you each day. Things like cereal bars, dried fruit and nuts, chocolate, sugary sweets or your favorite hill snacks. When you’re staying overnight in huts its best to take supplies for the days you are away. Huts do sell food but it’s expensive and sometimes stocks run low.
    If you have any food allergies or dietary requirements especially if you are a Coeliac (Gluten free) or have a dairy allergy we strongly recommend you bring some food with you that you can supplement your dinners with. The huts are fairly good at providing for vegetarians but less so for other dietary needs.
    You have to buy bottled water in the huts as usually any running water is non-potable. Bottled water is expensive in French and Swiss huts; you can be paying upto 12-16CHF per 1.5L bottle of water. So please ensure you budget for this cost.

  • On our ski safaris we do use the lift systems in resorts to gain height before heading off into the back country on a tour. You will need to have:
    Ski Skins – these are skins, now made of artificial fabric, that stick to the bottom of your skis and allow you to walk up hill. They must be cut to fit your skis exactly, so if you are bringing your own skis you must provide your own skins.
    Ski Crampons (aka couteaux in French) - most ski touring bindings have ski crampons specifically designed for the binding. We always carry these just in case. Again if you are bringing your skis and touring bindings you must provide your own ski crampons.
    Ice Axe - general lightweight mountaineering / alpine pick. Ideally this needs to be short enough to fit in your pack.
    Boot Crampons - ideally lightweight aluminium ones although steel crampons are required for more demanding tours
    Climbing Harness - a simple lightweight harness. The key feature is that it should have fully adjustable leg loops for putting on over ski boots, crampons, etc.

    On some safaris in non-glaciated terrain an ice-axe, boot crampons and climbing harness may not always be required. However as conditions and itineraries can change we do generally recommend that you bring these items with you. If you do not own these items they can be rented to you by our guides or via one of the local sports shops.

  • The “Safety Trilogy” - required on all our ski tours and off-piste courses.

    • Avalanche Transceiver/Beacon
    • Snow shovel
    • Avalanche probe
    Remember it is not enough just to carry this equipment; you have to know how to use it.
    How about joining one of our specialist avalanche courses – check out www.mountaintracks.co.uk/activity/avalanche-training
  • Most resorts have ski shops that hire ski equipment and we try to provide relevant contact details for all our courses and tours.

    Prices do change by resort/country, but here’s an approximate guide to hire costs for 6-days hire:

    Touring Skis plus skins and ski crampons €150-180
    Touring boots €80-90 
    Boot Crampons €45-50
    Ice Axe €30-40
    Harness €20-30
    Helmet €20-30
    Transceiver/shovel/probe €75-80

    Our guides also generally have additional sets of safety equipment (transceiver/shovel/probe) which they hire out to clients for €65 for 6 days hire. Must be booked in advance.
Matterhorn August 2016 5

Switzerland

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Switzerland is a mountainous Central European country consisting of 26 Cantons, with Bern as its main federal city.  

It is boarded by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.  Its a landlocked country with the mountainous regions occupying a greater part of its territory.  

Home to around 8 million people (2013) the country has many pretty villages, lakes and mountains.  The highest mountain in Switzerland is the Monterosa (specifically the Dufourspitze) at 4,634m.  The country has the highest concentration of 4000m peaks at 48.

Its 2 largest cities of Zurich and Geneva are global economic centres and gateways to the Alps from countries across the world. 

Its main languages are French, German, Italian and Romansh.

  • It is a condition of booking that you are insured for your chosen activity and the cover must include medical expenses, personal accident, personal liability, third party risks and rescue (including helicopter rescue). You are strongly advised also to take out cover against cancellation and curtailment.

    For UK residents Ski Club Travel Insurance may be a suitable option.

    For more details and to purchase a policy online visit http://www.skiclubinsurance.co.uk/
    If you need assistance arranging your personal insurance please let us know.
     

  • The most convenient airports are either Zurich or Geneva airports.

    A fast train tunnel has reduced journey times from Zurich to Saas Grund by about 1 hour so the journey time is slightly less than from Geneva. (2 hours from Zurich, 2 hours 20 minutes from Geneva).

    The train doesn't go as far as Saas Grund and you have to change in Visp on to the Postbus. You need to ensure you get to Visp no later than 1900 otherwise you'll miss the last bus. The bus journey is just over 20kms and takes about 30 minutes.

  • All our ski tours are led by our team of IFMGA Mountain Guides. The team is led by Olly Allen, Matt Dickinson and Nick Parks. 

  • 5 nights in comfortable hotels (twin rooms) and 2 nights in mountain huts (all half-board). Lunches by and large will be taken at restaurants on the mountain or in villages, though we will carry hill snacks too. The safari starts and finishes in Saas Grund and so travelling clothes can be left at our hotel to be collected on the way back.
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