With a magnificent setting, a sunny aspect, and an amenable 500 – 800 metres of ascent, the Col du Belvedere is a great introduction to ski touring in Chamonix. The route takes you from the edge of the Flegere ski area to the summer tourist hotspot of Lac Blanc. This famous viewpoint is much quieter in winter, when it can only be reached by ski touring. Above Lac Blanc, the col stands at the head of a wonderful valley, whose sense of remoteness belies its proximity to the pistes.
The first part of the tour, the ascent to Lac Blanc, can be achieved in three ways. The longest route starts by following the Trappe piste from the Flegere gondola. Leave the piste on the left hand side, just after it crosses the line of the Chavanne chairlift. From here, a long traverse gains the approximate line of the summer footpath. Follow this through a succession of bowls and steep valleys to reach the lake.
The other two routes take the Index chairlift and Floria drag lift to gain some altitude. The shortest route takes a high traverse from the Crochues red piste. This leads to an exposed crossing of the rocks around Tete Aubury. Once past the rocky ridge, the climb to the lake is very short. you can avoid the exposure of Tete Aubury by following the Crochues piste further down to a flat section near its easternmost point. From here, carefully avoiding the wildlife restrictions, you can begin a fairly short climb to the lake.
For me, one of the highlights of the tour is crossing the lake on skis. This feels like a dangerous moment, but the ice is generally very thick. I’ve never heard of any accidents here. Do be aware that you are crossing deep water, so avoid this if there are signs that the snow and ice cover is weakening. Check with the Office de Haute Montagne if you are unsure.
The route to the col becomes obvious after the crossing of the lake. Head straight up the middle of the valley. If there is any avalanche risk, avoid exposure to the steep south facing slopes on your right. Climb a succession of steeper steps with flatter sections in between. The final steep section before the col reaches a little over 30 degrees of steepness.
You may see people heading left about halfway up the climb. They will probably be heading to the Aiguille Crochues – another great ski tour that is a little harder and more involved than this one.
Once you reach the col, beware of the steep slopes down the other side. These access the the North facing Berard glacier, which can be reached in three 50 metre abseils (150m total). A ski down the steep glacier takes you into the Berard valley, a popular destination for ski tourers. This route is well worth doing. However it is a big step up in terms of difficulty, commitment, and the equipment you’ll need to bring.
For our route, the standard Col du Belvedere, take off your skins here to return by the same route.
In warm sunny weather, you can hope for great spring corn snow conditions if you time your descent right. The shape of the valley means that you can play around with slope angles and aspects to find the best snow.
At the bottom, try to carry some speed across the lake to save pushing with your poles. The flat area near the lake makes a good picnic spot, with some of the best views of the Mont Blanc range.
From here down the terrain is a little more complex. The route weaves through a series of little valleys and bowls, so you have plenty of choices to play with. At some point you will have to traverse right to reach the Trappe chairlift, so don’t be too tempted by the untracked snow below. If you drop too far you’ll need to put the skins back on and climb back up.
The Col de Belvedere is one of the classics of the Aiguilles Rouges, and a relatively straightforward introduction to Chamonix ski touring with no glaciers and mostly straightforward route finding. While it is not especially prone to avalanche risk, the slope angle does reach 30 degrees, and there is potential exposure to steep slopes above. Do check the avalanche bulletin before setting out. If you’re not sure, get advice or go with a professional.
Get in touch via our contact page if you want to ski the Col du Belvedere with us, or if you want an introduction to ski touring.