Backcountry adventure in Gran Paradiso

The objective of the trip was to ride the best lines we could find and eventually summit the Gran Paradiso mountain at an altitude of 4,061 meters.It is the only mountain of this elevation in the whole of Italy and whilst considered an easy 4000r peak it still has a summit day ascent of 1300m. This was a hut to hut splitboarding trip in the Gran Paradiso national park (Italy) during March of the 2017 winter season, run by The Rider Social.

In a season that was pretty dry overall in terms of precipitation we thought we had lucked out for this trip as a storm had settled over the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif and put down near enough a metre of fresh snow the night before we arrived.

Day One

The initial plan was to use the splitboards to walk up to the Victor Emmanuel hut (2,732m) for the first hut night. Having driven from Chatel into Chamonix and on through the Mont Blanc tunnel we arrived in Italy at the Gran Paradiso National Park car park and transitioned the splitboards into walk mode.

After just 25 minutes into the walk up the valley we pulled up to watch big snow avalanches off both sides of the mountain. The slides kept on with such intensity that we had no choice but to turn around and head back to the bus to rethink the route.

The new plan was to drive a short way back down the mountain to Pont and walk up to the Federico Chabod hut (2,743m) but another slide had covered the road going down. Until a digger arrived to clear the road we had no other option but to take an impromptu pasta lunch in a restaurant – no hardship in Italy!

An hour later we were skinning up a steep path through the forest on route the Chabot hut. The fresh snow of that morning was already transforming in the hot sun of the afternoon. The 900 metre ascent was pretty draining in that heat and we were pleased to get to the refuge, rehydrate in the shade and then drink a few beers in the sunshine before dinner. Dinner at the Chabod hut was really good – in true Italian style and recommended!

Day Two

The next morning we set out for a shorter walk of 800 metres to see what we could find. It was perfect bluebird conditions and we made for a ridge to check out a bivouac and the view. Rider Social UIAGM guide Paulo had his work cut out making a safe passage to the bivouac as the snow was literally up to his armpits.

The ride down was interesting. The accumulation of snow was too big to ride anything over 25 degrees safely so we followed a path back to the Chabod refuge in some pretty tricky and sticky conditions. However, it was still a good day and the perfect way to acclimatise for the following days ascent of the Gran Paradiso.

Day Three

The classic way to summit this 4000r is from the Victor Emmanuel hut. Its such a popular route that you can usually just follow an already well established skin-track to the summit. However, from the Chabod hut we were faced with breaking trail in some deep, deep snow. It was a real experience being up on the glacier in those conditions and it was pretty slow and steady going due to the conditions. At a couple of points we had to reassess our route due to wind loaded snow which added to the time spent going up.

When we reached the shoulder it was time for a quick lunch and to empty the already heavy bags of none essential items for the last push to the summit. We left these safely stored so we could pick them up on the way back down.

After a short hour of walking we were off the splitboards and putting on the boot crampons to make the ridgeline walk to the summit. It was a bluebird day – hot at the top which is unusual given the mountains reputation as a cold one. Our crew was the 4th to reach the top on that day, we were beaten by others making the summit from the Emmanuel hut which was arguably an easier route.

The reward was unbelievable views and the chance to make some awesome turns in fresh snow on big steeps all the way down to the Emmanuel hut. When we got there it was high-fives and several rounds of ice cold Moretti beer on the blazing hot sun terrace.

Day Four

After dinner that night we slept well at the refuge and woke early to make our way back. We skinned up for a quick 3 hours to ride a line back down and through the valley that was impassible those few days before due to avalanches. It was glorious sunshine all the way too. Happy days.

In total the guys put in around 3600m of vertical splitting over the 4 days we spent at altitude which was a great effort. After getting back to the bus we made our way back through the Mont Blanc tunnel and into France and then back to Chatel.

All in all it was a great adventure with good snow and a fair few challenges too. We can’t wait to go back there in 2018. Grazie Italy and the Gran Paradiso.

If you like the sounds of this adventure – get in touch with the team at The Rider Social who run splitboard trips based out of Chatel in the Portes du Soleil. They offer intro to splitboarding (Split and Mix) where you learn about splitboarding and spend some days on solid boards. They also offer more advanced splitboard trips (Hut to Hut) like the trip in this story.

The 2018 itinerary is:

Arrive in Chatel from Geneva airport. First night hotel accommodation

Leave Châtel and drive into Italy to the “Barrage des Places du Moulin”
and an easy skin up to the Prarayer refuge at 2005m

Starting from refuge Prarayer we will skin to the Col de Bella Tsa at 2997m (D+ 1050m) before heading back down to the Prarayer hut

From the refuge Prarayer we head to refuge Nacamuli. We will leave some none essential items in the hut before a summit of Becca Vannetta at 3661m. From there it is a descent back to the refuge (D+ 1300m).

Depart from refuge Nacamuli. A technical day with some traverses taking in Col Collon, Col Brûlé & Tête de Valpelline and then down to refuge Aosta (D+ 1100m).

DAY 6 – SPLITBOARD TOUR & RETURN TO CHATEL From the refuge Aosta its up to Epaule de la Dent d’Hérens and down to the valley (D+ 1200m). A long day finishing with a skin along the lake to come back at the car park. From there we head back to hotel accommodation in Chatel.


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