The vast whiteness
of the Grand Désert
The Rosablanche sector (3,335m) is a great white desert that has provided the setting for many an unforgettable Alpine epic. At these heights it is all majestic landscapes and exhilarating powdery snow.
The urge to head off for a spot of ski-touring is understandably hard to resist when the snow is lying, all sunlit, untouched and powdery, and the avalanche report is on the positive side. And in Verbier, there are plenty of routes to choose from. One of the most frequented rises up to La Rosablanche, a 3,335m peak situated in the heart of the fascinating and timeless world of high-altitude mountains.
Though Bagnes-born mountain guide Claude-Alain Gailland knows the area like the back of his hand, he never tires of it: “La Rosablanche is the linchpin, the key to many 360-degree Alpine adventures,” he explained. Those with the greatest reserves of stamina can get there straight from the resort, a journey of around 10km and with an elevation gain of 1,600m. An easier option involves setting off from Les Ruinettes (a climb of 500m less). However, the loveliest and least physically taxing route of all – one that leads you right into nature’s arms – is to take the ski lifts to the Col des Gentianes (2,950m) or Mont-Fort (3,330m). The first option, accessible to intermediate skiers, takes in two successive climbs, while the second, for more proficient skiers, features a single climb and offers a warm-up by way of the legendary descent of Backside Mont-Fort.
“These routes partly intersect with those of the Haute Route and the Patrouille des Glaciers,” explains Gailland. They also pass close to Bec des Rosses, a breathtaking arena of rocks and snow, where the gladiators of Xtreme freeride battle against each other at the end of each season. It is a delightful little taster for the epic off-piste adventure that awaits and which explodes into life on reaching the glacier of the Grand Désert. Here, the imperious majesty of the landscapes simply overpowers the nevertheless intense sentiment exuded by carving out your own sketchy tracks, which man in all his vanity believes will last forever. The final 50-metre section is completed on foot.
The best is yet to come: the descent. Once again there are various options to choose from. The gentlest of them leads to Nendaz via the Cleuson dam. The route leading to the Val des Dix through the Glacier de Mourti invites more reflection than the rest. A bus then takes you back to Verbier, passing through a large part of the superb 4 Vallées ski area along the way. The third option, through the Vallon de Fionnay, is the most technically challenging of all and offers the wildest scenery. Enthusiasts will note that heliskiing is also on offer in La Rosablanche. Whatever choice you make, though, the services of a guide are an absolute necessity.