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The Massifs by Masherbrum | Episode 5 - La Vanoise

Courchevel, Val Thorens, Tignes... behind the winter excitement of internationally renowned resorts, lies a wilder, more natural massif, which reveals itself to those who take the time to explore it. So as they say, all tastes are in nature... and especially in Vanoise!

Often, the first contact with the Vanoise is made via one of the immense resorts that the massif hosts. Whether it is via the 3 Valleys, the largest ski area in the world, Tignes, Les Arcs, Val d'Isère or La Plagne, the Vanoise is often identified as the land of XXL alpine skiing.

But it would be wrong to think of this corner of the Alps as just a giant resort. Did you know that the Parc National de la Vanoise, merged with its transalpine neighbour the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, forms the largest national park in Europe? It was the very first national park to be created in France, back in 1963. Its original mission: to allow the reintroduction of the ibex, threatened with extinction in the massif because of hunting. This mission was a success, as the park is now home to 2,100 ibexes, an animal that has become the emblem of the massif, as well as 6,000 chamois. While walking in the Vanoise, you may also have the chance to see one of the 30 pairs of golden eagles, which have been present in the park for 40 years.

The ibex, emblem of the Vanoise

The Vanoise is also a land of high mountains, led by the famous Grande Casse (3855m), the highest point in Savoie. With it, more than 100 summits exceed 3000m, a large part of which are home to voluminous glaciers.

At the top of the Grande Casse, the highest point of the Vanoise - ©Boris Pivaudran

Three original activities to enjoy in the Vanoise 

Glacier hiking

With 93km2 of glaciers, and its great summits, the Vanoise is the ideal playground for glacier trekking. Halfway between hiking and mountaineering, this activity allows you to leave the trails to discover the world of glaciers, roped up and wearing crampons. A gentle approach for those wishing to take their first steps in the high mountains, even if the activity requires the supervision of experienced people. To find out more, read our article on how to start mountaineering. The Pointe de la Réchasse (3212m), the Pointe du Dard (3204m) or the Dôme de Chasseforêt (3586m) are among the most popular summits for glacier hikers. For the most enduring, the famous Dômes traverse (from the Dent Parrachée refuge to the Col de la Vanoise refuge) allows you to appreciate the immensity of the Vanoise glaciers: it is simply a matter of crossing the largest ice cap in France!

The Vanoise has large glacial expanses, as seen here at Dôme de la Sache (3588m) - ©Boris Pivaudran


Who has never contemplated, with a mixture of envy and admiration, the front splits of a telemark skier? One thing is certain, the few die-hard telemark skiers, in the resorts or on the trails, never go unnoticed. For a few years now, the discipline has been trying to relaunch itself with the promotion of competitions. And Pralognan-la-Vanoise is one of those resorts that want to revitalise the discipline as it has hosted the World Cup in 2018, 2019 and 2020. An international event which is growing year after year, and which is gradually giving back notoriety to this discipline. So untie your heels and discover new sliding sensations!

The telemark turn slot

Animal photography

Let's get out of the sports activities we have been presenting to you since the beginning of this series of massifs by Masherbrum. It is impossible to talk about the Vanoise National Park without mentioning the wide biodiversity that makes its reputation. A biodiversity that makes nature photographers happy, in search of the best shots of birds of prey, horned animals or rare flowers. Several mid-mountain guides of the massif offer you observation and/or photography hikes of the fauna and flora. And if you prefer to contemplate the photos rather than take them, we recommend the book "Là-Haut" by Thomas Delahaye. This nature and mountain enthusiast has travelled the length and breadth of the Vanoise to capture the most beautiful species in his camera.

Three must-do hikes in the Vanoise (selected by our friends at @randonneesenvanoise)

The Vanoise pass refuge by the Lac des Vaches

You may have already seen a photo of this emblematic lake of the massif, crossed by a stone path at the foot of the Grande Casse (3855m). Starting from Pralognan, this hike will allow you to get as close as possible to the magnificent Aiguille de la Vanoise (2796m), and to go all the way around it if you choose the loop option. Although the climb is quite steep from the hamlet of Les Fontanettes, the chalets of La Glières offer you a quick first stop. At the foot of the Aiguille you will find the famous Lac des vaches with its stone slabs on the surface to cross. You will only have 180d+ left to reach the goal, the superb refuge of the Col de la Vanoise, just renovated. A haven of peace that will allow you to regain your strength for the descent on the other side of the Aiguille de la Vanoise, via the Lac des Assiettes.

The Vanoise pass and its refuge - © Randonnées en Vanoise

Grand Méan glacier in Bonneval-sur-Arc

Omnipresent in the Vanoise landscape, many glaciers can be approached by hiking. This is the case of the Grand Méan glacier, which shelters a moraine lake fed by its melting. From the Ecot car park in Bonneval, head towards the Evettes refuge, then cross the Plan des Evettes to follow a marked path. The ascent becomes a little harder on the slopes of Mont Séti, but a few hectometres further on the Grand Méan lake will appear, overlooked by the eponymous glacier. Its milky colour is typical of glacial lakes. Return by the same route.

The glacial lake of Grand Méan - © Randonnées en Vanoise

Col de la Chavière from the refuge de l'Orgère

Welcome to the vastness of the Maurienne. Starting from the Orgère refuge (1935m), this hike takes you to a key point on the GR55 linking Tignes to Modane: the Chavière pass (2796m). During the 850d+ you will progressively leave the green pastures to enter a mineral world, under the silhouette of the Aiguilles de Peclet and Polset. At the pass, your efforts will be rewarded by a double view towards the Mont Blanc to the north and the Ecrins to the south. Don't miss the diversions to the magnificent Lac de la Partie (2460m).

At the top of the Col de la Gravière, with a view of Mont Blanc - © Randonnées en Vanoise

La Vanoise by Masherbrum

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