Skiing Europe's Haute Route

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Take a guide, take an ice axe and take the exhilarating challenge of skiing the legendary Haute Route.

This spectaular route winds its way through the heart of the Alps: it heads eastwards from the base of Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest peak, and finishes in the unmistakeable shadow of the Matterhorn. In total, it ascends and descends almost 20,000m, crosses some 20 glaciers and meanders through France, Italy and Switzerland.

Our plan was to do one of the most popular and direct tours known as the Verbier variation, beginning in Chamonix, France, and ending in Zermatt, Switzerland six days later.

After spending the first day in weather that resembled nothing so much as the inside of a ping pong ball, barely able to see one another, let alone the mountains around us, waking up to clear skies on day two was a welcome relief. Though the valley below was still shrouded in clouds, the scene before us - a serene grey-blue expanse of glacier known as the Plateau du Triente, rimmed by peaks tinged pale pink by the morning sun - provided the first view of the unparalleled scenes that lay ahead.

For five days we glided along in a quiet line, pausing only to dab sunscreen on peeling noses and shift our gear from climbing- to downhill-skiing mode. We would arrive sweaty and ravenous at the next hut on our route, wolf down enormous platters of Spaghetti Bolognese or potato rösti, then curl up for a nap in the sun. We would be sent on our way with miniature bottles of pear schnapps and forced to detour to avoid high winds. On our last day, after seeing two groups abandon the final leg of the journey because low visibility appeared to block the way, we watched the clouds lift in a matter of minutes to reveal the ideal conditions to complete our tour.

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Just under seven hours later, we skied across the Col du Valpelline and came face to face with the Matterhorn.

Essentials

Where to stay at either end: In Chamonix, Hotel Gustavia is a convenient option across from the train station with a lively social scene. In Zermatt, Hotel Banhof is comfortable and friendly, with a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals.

Where to stay en route: High mountain huts offer simple dorm-style accommodations, meals and, if you're lucky, showers. Booking in advance is recommended.

Guides: Going with a guide isn't required, but is recommended if you're uncomfortable navigating your way through a whiteout or rappelling down a mountainside. Even if you’re experienced, a good guide can be an invaluable source of local knowledge. It's best to book in advance. The Northwest Mountain School and Chamonix Experience are both excellent options

Fitness/Experience: The trip is physically demanding - an average day involves 5 hours of skiing carrying a 14kg pack - so being reasonably fit is essential. Skiers should be comfortable skiing off-piste and down black runs. If you have no alpine touring experience, then it's a good idea to take some lessons before the tour to familiarise yourself with the gear and get avalanche training.

When to go: Mid-March through mid-May

How to get there: Geneva is the closest airport to Chamonix. From there, the bus to the Chamonix takes about 1.5 hours. At the other end, the train between Zermatt and Geneva takes about 5 hours.