Couloir Marbrèe off-piste ski descent, Courmayeur
Mountain Guide Rudy Buccella introduces the Marbrèe couloir freeride descent above Courmayeur, a long and beautiful off-piste run in the Mont Blanc massif.
The Marbrèe descent is a quite particular run: a 1800m vertical drop, steep at first with sections in the region of 45°, especially at the start where the wind gusts the snow from Colle di Rochefort; pay particular attention to accumulated snow which can cause dangerous windslabs. The lower section descends down the Rochefort glacier, easy and with few crevasses, to enter the fir and larch forest in Val Ferret. Throughout winter is is possible to ski all the way to Planpincieux, the small hamlet belonging to Courmayeur.
I met up with Davide Capozzi at the usual bar at the Mont Blanc cable car to discuss which descent we'd go for. Given the unfavourable conditions for the Toula glacier we opted for a quick dash down the Marbrèe, as quick as lightening seeing that the good weather was forecast to hold out for less than half a day.
We took the first cable car at 8:30 knowing that right away we'd had to put in some effort, seeing that from the second station you need to walk up 250 steps to reach the new Rifugio Torino (open only in summer) which leads to all the Mont Blanc routes including the legendary Vallée Blanche. Great training for altitude! The steps are obligatory since the final leg which leads to the top of Punta Helbronner has been dismantled to make way for the modern, high-altitude building site that will terminate in 2015 when the new, ultra-modern cable car will start operating.
Seeing the posters of the project hung up on the station walls often made me wonder whether something of this magnitude was really necessary. Perhaps the comparison with the Aiguille Du Midi cable car from Chamonix hurt, or perhaps in the future we'll ski down perfectly groomed pistes? But these controversies are simply far too many and, quite frankly, water under the bridge! In any case the ancient cable car no longer conformed to safety regulations and therefore needed replacing.
But let's get back to the descent: for some years now the start is reached by ascending directly up the Marbrèe south ridge, a short gully leads to the summit and from here a steep, exposed slope leads directly into the enormous funnel-shaped upper section of the descent. We chose to go there. As we began the approach we met Guido, a friend of ours who, being alone, decided to join us. Needless to say if you want a certain safety margin it's better to ski as a group, be aware of the dangers one is faced with in the mountains, find out about the prevailing conditions, the snow pack etc. All things which have been said a thousand times, but nevertheless need saying again!
When we reached the top we decided to drop in one at a time to avoid skiing one on top of the other. After the rocks at the start the upper section widens out into an enormous 40° slope where we managed to ski some large curves and after the Bergschrund we skied freely all the way back down into the valley. This is possibly one of the most beautiful descents in the entire Mont Blanc range; skiing beneath the Dent du Géant and the Grandes Jorasses looming high up above is something truly unique!
This descent is just one of the many described in my Courmayeur freeride guidebook (except for the approach described above). I wrote the guidebook since there was nothing specific about off-piste - or rather freeride - skiing around Courmayeur. Together with Roma Giulio Verdecchia we methodically gathered all the information about these off-piste descents and these are now printed in this great little book, along with plenty of photographs with the route lines. It's easy to read and translated into French, English and Italian. I sincerely hope this guidebook will be of help to all those who want discover the wonderful Mont Blanc ski descents.
Rudy Buccella, UIAGM Mountain Guide
Courmayeur Mont Blanc freeride..
The most beautiful Mont Blanc freeride descents
Italian, English, French
by Rudy Buccella