Saturday evening the course convenes in the Chamonix valley with a warm welcome by ISM guides at 6.45pm and course briefing followed by an evening meal.
After organising equipment we have a safety session on avalanche procedure and the use of transceivers. We take the Grands Montets lift system to the summit of the Grand Montets (3295m) and ski down to the Argentiere glacier at 2600m. A short ski ascent with skins on the glacier takes us to the Argentiere hut at 2771m. This hut has amazing views of the great North faces of Les Droites (4122m), Les Courtes (3856m) and Le Triolet.
An early start and short ski down the Argentiere glacier see us climbing to the first major col on the haute route, the Col du Chardonnet (3323m, 4 to 6hrs from the hut). Having stayed in the hut means that we climb this steep col in the cool of the morning, well before the Grand Montets lift system is open. The col has steep slopes on the far side and the 120m descent into Switzerland is made with the help of ropes to secure the party. From the glacier we make a traverse to the Fenetre de Saleina (3261m, 2hrs). This is usually climbed on foot for the last 100m. We now have a fantastic ski, firstly traversing across the scenic Trient Plateau and then down the Val d'Arpette, one of the finest descents of the trip, taking us down 1700m to the beautiful mountain resort of Champex. A well-earned, comfortable hotel night is taken at Le Chable.
We take the Verbier lift system to Mont Fort where a short ski gives access to the climb to the Col de la Chaux (2940m, 2hrs). (We avoid the Cabane Mont Fort as it can be very busy, being next to the piste, and it is slightly out of our way.) From the col we traverse to the Col de Momin and then ascend the Rosablanche (3336m). This is an excellent ski touring peak having fantastic views of the Mont Blanc massif and a superb north-facing glacier descent to the Prafleuri hut (2624m). We overnight at this newly-built hut, which is very comfortable and has showers.
An early start takes us over the Col des Roux (2804m, 1 hr) to a short descent followed by a big traverse around the side of the Lac des Dix. From here we have a 3 hour climb under the impressive north face of Mont Blanc de Cheilon (3870m) to the Dix hut at 2928m, where we spend the night. This is the largest hut on this Haute Route but it is very well run by the guardian and comfortable.
Today we make a ski traverse of the Pigne d'Arolla (3798m, 4 to 5hrs), the highest point of the Haute Route with magnificent views of the Matterhorn, Dent Blanche and Mont Blanc. This is a steady climb from the Dix hut and gives a great descent to the Cabane des Vignettes (3160m, 600m descent). This hut is perched on top of a cliff in a magnificent position over looking the Val d'Arolla and Otemma glacier.
The last day is a brilliant climax to the week, traversing three big cols (Col de L'Eveque 3392m, Col de Mont Brule 3210m, and Col de Valpelline 3568m; c.1100m of ascent). From the Col de Valpelline we have the most celebrated descent of the Haute Route, following the magnificent Stockjigletscher under the north face of the Matterhorn to reach Zermatt (1800m of descent). Care needs to be taken on this descent as the Stockjigletscher is renowned for it large crevasses. After a celebratory drink, we pack up and head back again to the hotel in the Chamonix valley.
Breakfast is included at the hotel before departure.
Maps: Martigny 282s 1:50 000, Arolla 283s 1:50 000, Mischabel 284s 1:50 000