Arolla to Zermatt by ski

A couple of weekends ago, Tanya, Mélina, Hugo and I skied from Arolla to Zermatt over two days, with a night at the Cabane de Bertol. The first day involved a climb of 1300 m from Arolla up to the cabin. We skied up to the Bas Glacier d’Arolla, turned a wide corner around a headland of rock under Mont Collon, hit the Plans de Bertol and climbed the steep slope to the hut. It was a bluebird day.

Mélina, toujours en forme.
Hugo and Tanya with the Haute Glacier d’Arolla and Mont Collon in the background.
Pigne d’Arolla (and Mont Blanc de Cheilon on right).
Tanya on the last slope before the cabin.

The Cabane de Bertol is perched in an outrageous position at 3311 m altitude, right on top of a thin ridge of rock. To reach it you have to climb up a tall set of ladders. Tanya and I had been there in summer, but this was a first time climbing the ladders in ski boots. We left our skis at the base of the ladders and headed up to check out the absolutely incredible view.

The audacious position of the Cabane de Bertol (3311 m).
Mid afternoon. Matterhorn, Dent d’Hérens, Dents de Bertol, Bouquetins, and Glacier du Mont Miné.
Planning for the long tour the next day.
Sunset on Dent Blanche (4357 m).
Sunset, Glacier du Mont Miné and the Matterhorn ( 4478 m).

We set off early the next day for the long tour down to Zermatt. We first crossed the Glacier du Mont Miné and went to the summit of Tête Blanche (3710 m). On the way up there we passed through a particularly cold area of cloud – when I reached into my backpack to get another layer, the normally soft fabric was frozen crackly. Tête Blanche was in the sun, and we enjoyed the views.

Setting off towards Tête Blanche.
Cold patch.
The top of Tête Blanche (3710 m).
Tête de Valpelline (3799 m), which we climbed next.
Crew picture on Tête Blanche.

After Tête Blanche, we dropped down onto the Stockjigletscher and crossed to the top of Tête de Valpelline (3799 m). The summit was across a small band of snow that we walked over; from the top you could see Mont Blanc in the distance in one direction, and Dent d’Hérens and the Matterhorn super close in the other.

Roping up for glacier travel.
The summit of Tête de Valpelline (3799 m).
Summit views, Dent Blanche on left, then Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Ober Gabelhorn.
Matterhorn and Dent d’Hérens.
Tanya on Tête de Valpelline.
Mont Blanc in the distance.
Heading back from the summit.

From there it was downhill but still a long way to Zermatt. The route, which is essentially the last part of the famous ‘haute route’, took us winding down glaciers until we were right under the Matterhorn, then out to Zermatt through a long valley.

Tanya and Dent Blanche.
A pause before skiing past an icefall.

It was right under the northern flank of the Matterhorn where, skiing fast on relatively flat ground, I hit one rock with a ski and almost immediately afterwards hit another one with my forehead. The ski was bent out of shape at the tip, and I received a cross-shaped cut above the eyebrow. After being patched up with the help of a friendly passing doctor, I skied gingerly down to Zermatt. In town we fronted up to a medical centre, where I had two stitches put in. (By the way, I ran the numbers, and my accident registers barely a one on the Shackleton Epicness Scale).

Steri-strips to the rescue.
About to be stitched up, ski boots still on.

Arolla to Zermatt by ski is a good long tour – we skied 24 km on the second day alone. For our hard work, though, we were rewarded with amazing views, an incredible sunset, and some glorious skiing in wild country. And, I now have a little scar with which to remember this fantastic trip.

March 29, 2016


  1. Wooooow! This story has it all! Ascent, dramatic descent, memorial scars that presumably will warn you about changing weather, friends, snow, sun and a stint in sickbay! Y’all rock so hard.

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