Cham’Lines 5.4: Le Barbey Couloir

By: Ethan Stone April 25, 2018

Cham’Lines is a bi-weekly dose of both classic and unexpected lines in the Chamonix Valley, courtesy of two-time world freeride champion Aurélien Ducroz. Up this week: the less-frequented Barbey Couloir off the Aguille d’Argentiere.

Route name: “Barbey Couloir”
Starting altitude: 3900 meters
Arrival altitude: 3200 meters
Orientation: East North East

Word: Aurélien Ducroz

This year we’ve been fighting with the elements: finding the right mix of snow conditions, safety and visibility has been a challenge. Even if the visibility isn’t optimal due to a high-altitude veil of clouds, the Barbey appears to meet the criteria on this Sunday in April. We take the bet, and in any case we’ll turn back if conditions are bad! This won’t be the first time, especially this season! Accompanying me on this promising line is Mathis Dumas, photographer, guide and Chamonix rider.

We take the first gondola up Grand Montets and head to the foot of the Aguille d’Argentiere. We make the decision to go through the middle of the glacier. We arrive at the summer in two hours, after about 800 meters of vertical on skins, and a 300-meter walk on slopes of 40/45°.

The top of the spire of Argentière and the access to the Barbey couloir can be tricky, as there are large cornices along the entire edge. Several entries are possible for Barbey. The first is located a few meters below the real summit, and is generally used because there’s no cornice problem. However, it then requires you to cross to the right to reach the corridor. We decide to take another entry which is right at the top, and opens into a variant of Barbey.

The entrance of the line is rather steep, 50° for about 100 meters, before opening widely onto a large slope at 45°. It’s about noon, snow conditions seem good, but the visibility is worsening. The first meters of this entry are exposed south, the snow is crusted and really easy to ski. I take all precautions and progress slowly to the main line, where I found nice cold snow! Mathis joins me, and from there we go for 500 meters of pure happiness, linking up the turns despite a bit of low visibility.

This variant of the Barbey Couloir opens onto a rocky ledge, so at the bottom of the face it’s necessary to join the shoulder on the left, which brings us to the end of the classic Barbey route. We meet up on the shoulder before moving to the end of the line.

The bottom of the line is exposed and takes more sun. The snow is less fresh, but we still feast on the way down.

Once down the Barbey, the day is not over! Now we have to return, bypassing the Aiguille d’Argentiere and up the Saleinaz Glacier to the Chardonnet Pass to reach Argentiere. It’s about a one-hour hike to end an already full day.

The Barbey is a beautiful route, a slope of 700 meters at 45° where you can open up the turns in a quiet, unspoiled environment.

Mathis, thanks for accompanying me on this beautiful day!

The Disclaimer: Skiing off-piste and freeride routes involves many risks, like any activity in the mountains. It’s essential to have an excellent level of knowledge before engaging in any mountain routes. Gather all the information necessary on the snow conditions and weather before you commit. Take information from service providers and mountain professionals. For your safety, hire a ski instructor or a mountain guide. Always take with you the necessary safety equipment and above all know how to use it. Transceiver, shovel and probe are mandatory off-piste, and an airbag is highly recommended. Inform someone you know about the route you’re planning.