Is the Haute Route really the ultimate ski tour in the Alps?

Chamonix to Zermatt is the most famous traverse in Europe, but does that mean it is actually the best one for you and your group to attempt?

Published on Thu 28 Mar, 2019

The Haute Route is considered one of the finest ski-touring itineraries in the world

The ‘Haute Route’ from Chamonix to Zermatt, was first skied in 1911 and has since been dreamt of by thousands of Alpinists to ski, climb and tour. The most famous traverse in The Alps.

The Classic Haute Route has been adapted via Verbier, becoming the aptly named Verbier Haute Route, which reduces some of the climbing and focuses more on actually sliding down the white stuff. Both variations are famous worldwide for their history, iconic views, challenging and variable terrain, and location between two of the Alps’ backcountry Meccas: Zermatt and Chamonix.

However, is the Haute Route really the ultimate ski tour in the Alps? As the route comes into its prime this spring, with the huts filling up and a fresh dusting of powder, we’re looking elsewhere in the Alps for a rock-star tour experience.

Whichever ski tour you choose, whether it's the Haute Route or the Ecrins Traverse we think hiring a private guide, or joining a guided group, is the sure-fire way to make the most of the adventure. An experienced guide, with un-matched local knowledge will know every line and climb. They’ll often be able to suggest alternative routes depending on the weather conditions, they know the huts in the area inside-out, they’ll point out wildlife to you and ultimately will just be a great buddy for your trip! Visit our ski guides section to find guides in any of the destinations we’ve mentioned here.

Haute Route Touring
The Chamonix/Zermatt Haute Route is iconic for many ski tourers, split boarders and climbers

hiking the Haute Route
If your priority on a tour is the skiing, you could lessen the hike by taking the Berner tour

For pure downhill skiing: The Berner Oberland

The most popular Haute Route includes a visit to Verbier. This is because tourers found they could clock up more downhill, and still reach Zermatt. Why not change plans completely and head to Berner Oberland where you get even more ski for your skin?

Although the Haute Route gives a sense of real destination and journey, the Berner Tour prioritises around six days of breath-taking descents through ‘tremendous vertical relief and giant valley glaciers more akin to Alaska than to these lower latitudes’ say UIAGM guides Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston.

For the best huts and hospitality: The Ortler Ski Circuit

The Haute Route has established popular mountain huts and refuges between Chamonix and Zermatt. However, The Ortler Ski circuit is renowned for some of the most hospitable of huts in the Alps. Obviously you’re not touring for the sake of luxury accommodation, otherwise let’s be honest you’d be in a hot tub back in the valley; but aren’t you more likely to give it your all on the day’s tour, if you know you’ve got a hearty meal and great night’s sleep ahead of you?

The route itself is similar in difficulty to the Haute Routes. Along the way, the Branca hut is famous for its excellent espresso machine, great food and really decent showers. Its sun terrace catches the afternoon rays, and isn’t too chilly at 2500m. You’ll be treated to more stunning sun terrace views at the Konkordia hut also.

Find Ski Guides in Chamonix

Hiking to a hut on the Haute Route
After a long day's tour, good showers, good grub and a good sleep are the ultimate luxuries! (A beer on a sun terrace doesn't often go amiss either!)
The Ecrins Traverse
Crowds? What crowds? See a whole other side to any ski resort by heading on a multi-day tour

For the wilderness experience: The Ecrins Traverse

If your enthusiasm for ski touring stems from escaping the pushy lift queues, snotty children and valley views of apartment blocks, then the sensational scenery of the Ecrins Traverse could trump the Haute Route.

There’s less mountaineering on this route, meaning you can move quicker with lighter packs, but also use the extra time to admire your surroundings. The Ecrins Traverse explores the best of rural France, its little-known villages are steeped in tradition, and artisan wood-carving. The natural park you’ll be touring through protects some unique species unique species such as the Lanza salamander, Guillestre tulip, Isabella butterfly and Astragalus fox; chamois, marmots and eagles are abundant on the Ecrins Traverse. Alongside all the flora and fauna, the true appeal of this tour is how quiet it is in comparison to the Haute Route.

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