Chamonix - Mt Blanc
What is VolSkiRando? To be honest I made the term up because nothing else really captured what I was doing. But I think it best describes an activity which combines paragliding (Vol), Skiing (Ski) with backcountry ski-touring (Rando) to complete a mountain itinerary. 'Vol' is the French for flight, and 'Rando' is short for randonnée, the French word for hiking or touring.
Some people call this activity combo, because it's a combination of different sports. But combo is also used to describe alpine climbing plus flying, and also the fun activity of paragliders who take-off with their skis, use thermals to climb, then top land on a mountain, and then ski down. VolSki is sometimes used to describe the itineraries in The Unlimited Liste, but our itineraries include important sections of ski-touring. So the best name is I think VolSkiRando!
VolSkiRando requires a mastery of paragliding, ski-touring and basic alpinism. The take-offs are potentially difficult, and suitable take-off spots have to be identified in wild locations to make them as safe as possible, when you are often tired and also fully committed to the flight - not taking off may mean a very complicated descent or climb back. VolSkiRando also requires our knowledge of ski-touring and alpinism to be sufficient enough to approach the rest of the itinerary with a clear mind. We have to make informed decision about wind conditions and weather, avalanche risk and route finding, as well as the take-off. In summary, we do VolSkiRando in perfect weather, we plan thoroughly, and we do ascents well within our comfort levels. The beauty is in choosing the perfect day, the combination and the itinerary!
I like to think we are in an age of discovery with VolSkiRando. Lightweight wings have existed for some time, but in the last years good ultra lightweight wings are arriving which weigh between 1kg and 2kg and pack quite tightly. With other light weight equipment they allow us to move quickly and complete longer ascents comfortably, and also to have in our rucksacks all the necessary equipment to combine different sports and access the high mountains safely (avalanche and glacial travel gear, skins etc).
As mentioned on the home page, Chamonix and surroundings are particularly well suited to a style of VolSkiRando which is combined with ski-lifts to go further and higher, and make more adventurous itineraries possible. What has often been considered a major disadvantage of Chamonix’s ski area – that many of the lifts are disconnected – suddenly becomes an opportunity, as we find new ways to connect them, and also to reach our favourite cols, summits and ski descents. The Mt Blanc Unlimited ski-pass covers a truly enormous area and the possibilities are .. Unlimited!
A final feature of this new sport is the access it gives us - on the right day - to powder snow. Quality snow in the holy grail of back country skiers, and increasingly rare as more and more people chase fresh tracks during increasingly shorter and warmer winter seasons. The increased freedom to move around the high mountains that VolSkiRando combined with ski-lifts gives us, allows access to prized untracked powder snow ski descents, where few others can venture with such ease.
A final word on responsible landings. The majority of the official landings in Chamonix are closed at certain times of the year. Please ask around and consult the local clubs's site (Les Grattes Ciel) for info. In addition during VolSkiRandos we often land in unforeseen locations. All agricultural land in France with snow has right of access, but with or without snow be extra respectful as you land and leave any unofficial landing. A couple of itineraries include landings at the Chamonix golf course which is not an official landing, and which should only be done when it is covered in snow. The landing close to the Mt Blanc tunnel roundabout is not an official landing, but often used. Please also note the restricted airspace around Chamonix, in particular the Heliport in Le Bois du Bouchet and the nature reserves in Les Aiguille Rouges.
I really do hope you enjoy The Unlimited Liste, and that it inspires you to plan your own VolSkiRando adventures in Chamonix-Mt Blanc and on other massifs – where I am sure the same style of adventure is also possible. The plan is to add to The Unlimited Liste in the winter seasons to come..
A special thanks to the friends who went with me on these VolSkiRando trips. We set off hoping our dreams would come true, and came back with smiles and wonderful memories.