Skyway To Heaven. Italy's Lift To Powder Paradise
There's the one lift where freeriders gather early, harnesses and ice axes dangling, adrenaline already pumping in anticipation of over 2000m backcountry descents. There's the quaint hamlet with a handful of hotels and restaurants. Remind you of anywhere? No this is not France's legendary La Grave but Italy's Entrèves, gateway to the latest freeride heaven thanks to the opening of the Skyway telecabine.The new Skyway telecabine on the Italian side of Mont Blanc opens up endless off piste opportunities. Only just over an hour from Geneva it is also powder paradise, 'gnarvana' for weekend ski warriors. Our Ski Contributor, Jonathan Bing Bingham rented an apartment in Entrèves to make the commute from the UK, bagging 50 days skiing this winter. How did he do it? Mainly by forward planning with easyJet and early nights during the week to recover.
After visiting Entrèves from the UK at the end of the season, last year, I decided to trial run a season rental. The sleepy village just outside Courmayeur is only 1 hr 15 mins from Geneva airport, away from the hustle and bustle of Chamonix and nestles at the foot of Monte Bianco, complimented by fine Italian food and coffee. With a little bit of planning ie. pre-booked easyJet flights well in advance along with hire cars, it is possible to be in the mountains every other weekend.
Entrèves is situated on the exit of the Mont Blanc tunnel if you're travelling from Geneva; a quaint hamlet with a corner shop that has its own bar and toilet, open all hours, except on Sundays. It even has a fruit machine. Entrèves boasts a handful of hotels and restaurants to serve the weekend Turin visitors and it's a stone's throw from the Val Veny cable car, often used by Chamonix locals and mountain guides when Chamonix is closed due to high winds or bad weather.
Although the resort is small it caters for all abilities from the sunny slopes on the Checruit to the endless steep north facing tree skiing of Val Veny, not to mention many options accessed from the Youla and Arp lifts; enough to keep any off piste enthusiast entertained.
With a little effort you can even skin to some of the terrain accessed by the local helicopter guides. Or if you're feeling lazy the helipad is situated footsteps away from the Val Veny lift. Contact GMH Helicopters here.
If you have not already heard the Old Helbronner cable car has been replaced with the Skyway telecabine at the cost of £110m operating from last season. And it's just down the road, less than a five mnute walk from the centre of Entrèves.
This opens up endless off piste opportunities. On the Italian side of Mont Blanc, the two stage revolving capsule whisks you first to Pavillon at 2173m and then onto the top of the Helbronner, arriving at an altitude of 3466m.
It's 2000 vertical metres in 10 minutes to step out onto thet terrace of Punta Helbronner right in the heart of the Mont Blanc Massif and enjoy a 360° view over the Alps: a fantastic landscape stretching from Mont Blanc, standing out at 4,810 metres, to the Dent du Géant. The horizon is a long line of Europe's famous 4000ers: the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Grivola, Gran Paradiso.
Check out more about the Skyway lift from Salomon Freeski.
From the Hellbronner summit choose from descending the Toula, Col de Entreves or the Marbrees to mention a few options. All return to La Palud and give over 2000m vertical descent. Or why not avoid the crowds of the classic Vallee Blanche and ski from the Italian side instead? Again endless options.
One of my favourites is to skin up Col de Tacul, which often has untracked cold powder snow long after the Vallee Blanche has been tracked out, descending into Chamonix for the compulsory beer and chicken avocado burger at the Elevation bar for some people spotting. You may even bump into one of your skiing heroes. Guess who? See below (with hint).
Does it work as a weekend warrior destination? Yes, if you are prepared to go to bed early during the week to recover, a small sacrifice to pay if you're looking to snag 50 days skiing (including some slightly longer weekends) this season. Fantastico!
Shout out to Johann Personnaz at Elan skis for supplying us with the Elan Ripsticks (image below); they are awesome and they definitely rip! Also to Sam at Ortovox UK for the kit that kept me warm and dry with 'Merino Inside'. It's a wool revolution and I can't fault it (also below).
Finally to Andrea and Fabio, our Italian ski guides who have shown us the way and kept us safe.
Contact them via email:
Andrea - Didoguida@gmail.com
Fabio - firstname.lastname@example.org