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A Journey Down The Vallée Blanche

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/80/Vallee_blanche_remontee_a_pied.jpg

It’s four in the morning and Kyle Jones begins his day waking up to darkness. It’s nearing the end of his weeklong ski trip in Chamonix, France with his high school’s ski club, but Jones is anxious for the day.

The first cable car up Mount Blanc is not until eight, but Jones and his friends are getting up early to prepare for the rugged 15-mile ski route The Vallée Blanche.

The skiers get a crash course with their guide, Jerome, on how to survive the dangers of the Vallée Blanche before they do the six-hour run. Avalanche safety and what to do in case of an avalanche are what they go over mostly. They also learn how to ice climb if they need to help their guide get out of a crevasse.

Their guide Jerome was born and raised in Chamonix. He has never left that part of the French Alps, so the guys knew they were in good hands. Jerome had skied it all and Jones classified him as a “French ski bum.”

As they prepare to catch the first cable car of the morning, the group checks to make sure they have everything. They have a handle on the side of their backpack they can pull that brings out an avalanche airbag, which allows them to float on top of the snow if an avalanche occurs. An avalanche probe is attached to their chests so that if they get buried under the snow, their guide can use another probe to locate them. Inside each heavy-duty backpack is a bunch of rope, lunches for the day, ice picks and a shovel. On their feet are crampons, an attachment to put over their ski boots with spikes on the bottom to give them grip while walking. Each member had a harness attached at the waste in case they were to fall into a crevasse.

The first cable car of the morning approached Jones and his clan at 8 a.m. sharp. They entered the car that could hold up to 50 people, which would take them to a second cable car that would bring them to the top of the Vallée Blanche.

The doors of the second cable car open and Jones looks out at the huge valley of Mount Blanc, and what will be the beginning of their six-hour journey on the Aiguille du Midi. He stands atop 12,602 feet of elevation and has only one goal: to get to the bottom.

The group cannot drop in just yet. They first must walk along a 3-foot-wide ridge attached to one another by their harnesses. On each side of Jones is a fall to his death. There are no ropes on either side, so the skiers must be very careful walking. This is when Jones’ nerves kick in. The group must follow Jerome and walk about 150-200 yards to get to their drop in spot, but all they can think about is their steps in front of them.

As they approach their drop in spot, a steep cliff that looks over a huge valley, Jones begins to feel excitement as they begin their descent. The valley can be compared to the back bowls of the Rockies, but much steeper and much more beautiful.

Jones drops in on the run of a lifetime, and all he can see in front of him is this wide-open valley and tons of fresh powder. All he sees is white. 10 minutes in, the group approaches a crevasse field. Jones began to ski through what seemed like moguls but were giant cracks that could suck him up. The key to getting through field alive was to follow Jerome’s exact move.

At this point, Jones runs into a problem. He catches an edge that causes his ski to pop off. Suddenly he sees his ski sliding down to an open crevasse, and just as he holds his breath to see it fall down, it stops. That was a close call.

Later, the group ran into a 20-foot-tall ice cliff, which Jerome climbed down because the bottom was flat disallowing the group to jump off it. Jerome attached a rope to the top and bottom of the cliff, and the group popped their skis off and zip-lined down. What seemed to be just a ski run turned into a mountain adventure. The group was prepared for the worst.

The Vallée Blanche snakes its way down Mount Blanc with a few flat parts and the occasional cliff. Toward the bottom, the group closed in on the tree line, but the group could not jump right into it. They first had to hike up about 45 minutes to another ridge where they could drop into a bowl that leads to all the trees.

Halfway through the trees, the group ran into another obstacle: train tracks. Luckily there was a perfect cliff they could jump off to go over the tracks and land safely in open snow. There was a lot of room for error, but Jones was not scared. He jumped over the tracks and continued on one of the best tree skiing runs he has done.

The Vallée Blanche was some of the most challenging skiing Jones has done. When they got to the end of the run, the group was exhausted after their six-hour journey, which capped off their epic ski trip.

Jones and his friends had accomplished a major skiing feat that day, and made some memories they will never forget.

 

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