Which haute route is for you?

Written by Jonathan
21st December 2017

At Mountain Tracks we are always searching for new and alternative ski touring destinations, and each year we’ve increased the range of tours available to our clients with the aim of offering different adventures to suit every taste and ambition. Multi-day ski tours really are amazing missions into the wilds under the power of your own legs and skis! They offer the scope to explore the mountains far, far away from the bustle of busy ski resorts and experience the beauty of the wilderness environment.

The diversity our selection of ski tours offers also provides the many who choose to join us each spring ski touring with a new destination and experience to savour: in fact, it’ll take the best part of a decade to ski each of the haute routes we propose! Mountain Tracks has established itself as the go-to choice in particular for the most iconic and famous ski tours such as the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route that begins on the Mont Blanc massif, and the Urner Haute Route traversing the Central Swiss Alps. Notwithstanding the deserved popularity of these two great tours, you may also wish however to consider one of the six other slightly less well-known ‘haute route’ ski tour trips being led by a Mountain Tracks IFMGA-qualified Mountain Guide this coming season. With such an extensive offering, choosing might seem just a little bit daunting. Fret not! Here’s a rundown of all of the eight tours, each with its own merits and subtle nuances in the ski and wilderness experience it provides. Whichever one you pick, you’ll be guaranteed a first-rate ski touring adventure!

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The Austrian Haute Route Ski Tour 

The Austrian Haute Route is one of the best hut-to-hut tours in the Tyrolean Alps. It traverses mountain landscapes that are both beautiful and unspoilt. The highlight of the week is the ascent of the 'King' of the Eastern Alps, the Grossglockner (3798m), which is the highest peak in Austria. This area of the Tyrol is steeped in a unique history and has a fascinating blend of both Austrian and Italian cultures (and fantastic cuisines too — the hospitality in the huts is a definite attraction of this ski tour!).

The Vanoise Haute Route Ski Tour

The Vanoise National Park is situated in the Tarentaise Valley. It is the largest national park in the French Alps and extends onwards to the Gran Paradiso National Park on the Italian side of the border and, together, these two parks cover over 1,250 km². The Vanoise is possibly one of the most beautiful areas of wilderness in Europe accessible to ski tourers. This ski tour features six days of intensive and highly rewarding ski-mountaineering crammed with big ascents and 'out-there' descents, plus at least one night in one of the most stunning huts in the Alps! This tour is the jewel in the crown of the Vanoise area and is ideal for experienced ski tourers and mountaineers looking for a challenging yet highly rewarding week.

The Pyrenean Haute Route Ski Tour

The Pyrenean Haute Route was new to our programme in 2013 — and sold out straight away! Due recognition, then, that the route offers fantastic ski touring terrain. This is a six-day high level route which traverses a section of the long distance walking route, the GR10, and criss-crosses the French/Spanish border. The route travels from west to east and crosses the border several times. The tour lies entirely within the Pyrenees National Park. Whilst many of the famous ski tours in the Alps have become popular, the Pyrenean Haute Route is a superb opportunity to the avoid crowds. Consider tackling this fantastic high level route in the Pyrenees before it becomes well known!

The Imperial Crown Haute Route Ski Tour 

The Imperial Crown Haute Route in the Valais region of Switzerland derives its grand name from the spectacular range of 4,000m peaks that encircle the Val d’Anniviers, including the Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn and the Dent Blanche. This ski tour takes place in the heart of the Pennine Alps, a stunning ski touring area that is served by an extensive network of welcoming and comfortable mountain huts. Travelling with a qualified IFMGA Mountain Guide will give you the opportunity to truly explore the mountains and glaciers of this quintessentially Swiss region.

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The Grand Lui Haute Route Ski Tour

The Grand Lui variation of the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route is the longest and most technical route that eliminates the road break in the Verbier and Classic variations. This route is best suited to experienced ski tourers who are familiar with using an ice axe and crampons. The Grand Lui is for purists who wish to travel by foot for the whole way and requires seven days of skiing (compared to 5-6 days for the other variations of the Haute Route). The crux of this route is the ascent to the Plateau du Couloir (on Day 5): this is a very steep slope (at an angle of up to 45 degrees) and skiers need to be confident on steep snow on skis and crampons (the climb being made on foot with skis attached to packs).The tour is guided on a maximum ratio of 1:3, and a maximum group size of 6 with 2 IFMGA-qualified guides.

The Urner Haute Route Ski Tour DSC 4128 copy

The Urner Haute Route traverses the central Swiss Alps linking remote valleys and mountain huts between the two picturesque towns of Andermatt and Engelberg, both famous destinations for their reliable snow records throughout the winter. Andermatt and Engelberg are small towns that have retained their alpine charm and authenticity. This appeal, coupled with the fantastic off-piste terrain available, have made them popular with advanced skiers and, in particular, the Scandinavians. The Urner Haute Route tour is a brilliant alternative to other classic haute routes as it is off the beaten track in a particularly remote area of the Alps. The huts are small but comfortable and efficiently organised: this is Switzerland, after all! The tour crosses some steep terrain on both the ascents and descents, thus dissuading many of the less serious skiers — this just adds to the tour's attraction and tranquillity!

The Jotunheimen Haute Route Ski Tour

The weather conditions in the Jotunheimen mountains can be extremely harsh in the winter, but in the spring the winter storms abate and give way to more settled weather. Peaks in the Jotunheimen area tend to be rounded on the east side and steeper on the west side, ideal then for a trip that starts from the east and crosses the range to the west. The ski ascents on this tour are pretty gentle, and the descents are fun while still a little challenging! The mountain range as a whole is also considerably more open than many others, and thus one rarely encounters the feeling of 'claustrophobia' in deep valleys that is experienced elsewhere. The huts along the way are of a very high standard with 3-course evening meals and showers being the norm here! And, if you get into the huts late in the afternoon, the long days of sunshine mean there’s still plenty of time for a cold beer before the sun drops!

Of course, we mustn’t forget to mention the crown jewel of all the ski tours: the Classic Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route…

DSC 5059 copy 2 The Classic Haute Route Ski Tour

The Haute Route is without a doubt the most famous and spectacular ski tour in the world. In fact, CNN named the Classic Haute Route as one of the “journeys that will change your life” — we couldn’t agree more! The Haute Route traverses through the heart of the Alps and links Chamonix and Zermatt, two Alpine towns that over the years have come to be the most closely associated with mountaineering anywhere in the world. The six-day journey provides numerous opportunities for magnificent ski ascents and descents on every stage of the tour. The Haute Route really is a high level route, with five nights being spent in high mountain huts. The route, which begins in France and crosses in Switzerland, for the most part takes the ski tourer high above the tree line, crossing glaciated terrain that is surrounded by truly breath-taking mountain scenery. Whilst the Haute Route is undoubtedly very popular, our carefully selected route allows you to enjoy all the high points of the Verbier variation but avoids over-tracked areas. The Haute Route extends to just over 130km/80 miles, and has around 6,000m/19,500ft of ascent. For advanced skiers the classic Haute Route really is a "must do" trip.

We hope this overview of the great haute route ski tours on offer through the Mountain Tracks winter programme has proved an informative guide. We expect too that it’s possibly cultivated more than just a little enthusiasm for joining us on a Mountain Tracks ski tour this spring… we’d of course be very happy to see you on skis and skins! To find out more about all our multi-day ski touring trips, visit our dedicated webpage on hut-to-hut ski tours. If you’ve any questions at all, do drop us an This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call the office: we’re happy to help with advice and queries!

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