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Great Gondolas Of The Alps Part 1 - Verbier

Verbier GondolaSkiing in Europe is all about the gondola. Cable cars in the Alps deliver some of the finest ski terrain on earth. Verbier’s magic bubble lifts are no exception.

 - Story and Photos by Seth Lightcap

It’s hard to say what’s more impressive about skiing in the Alps, the fact that amazing ski terrain lurks on every horizon or the fact that nearly every inch of that terrain can be accessed from a gondola?! The network of cable cars that ingeniously link the peaks and valleys of the Alps is downright unbelievable. Just about any vista worth seeing or skiing has a gondola positioned to drop you within striking distance of the top.

On a recent trip to the Alps I fell in love with several of these téléphériques. Their warm confines kept us out of the bitter cold until we were ready to shred and the terrain just outside the cable car doors blew our minds every run. In celebration of my beloved bubble lifts I’ve put together a three-part photo essay documenting some of the classic gondola accessed terrain in Verbier, Chamonix and St. Anton. The series starts off swingin’ for the fences detailing two of the most incredible ski lifts in the world - the Mont Gelé and Mont Fort cable cars in Verbier, Switzerland.

Verbier Mount GeleWho needs lift towers? Not the Mont-Gelé téléphérique. This ridiculous cable car rises about a 1000 feet along one continuous span of cable to the top of one of the sickest alpine pyramids known to the lift-accessed world. Every flank of the gorgeous Mont Gelé holds legit alpine lines many of which can be stretched into 2500 foot long runs. The beauty of shredding Mont Gelé is that the laps are relatively fast (you only have to take one other short gondola to return to the telépherique base station) and the terrain is diverse, steep and littered with lines that don’t require any traversing (a rarity in Verbier). You can strap-in right outside the top station and rip straight into an 800 foot long couloir.

Verbier Mount GeleYou’re looking at the northwest side of Mont Gelé. An approximately eight minute ride in the téléphérique deposits you directly on top of the peak.

Verbier Mount GeleHere is the southwest side of Mont Gelé. The rolling benches are as rippable as they look - lots of wide open shoulders pouring into mini-headwalls and small cliffs. The snow on this sunny side will often cook quickly but it was so cold during our visit that the snow was winter fresh. Now re-focus your eyes on the ski tracks in the foreground of this shot on the lower right side.

Verbier Mount FortThe tracks you saw are from the apron of these couloirs. They are accessible with a short hike off the top of a 150-person gondola known as the Mont Fort ‘Jumbo’. The Jumbo is only the first stage in the Mont Fort gondola link-up however. You can see the top station of the second stage of the Mont Fort gondola in the upper right of this shot.

Verbier Mount FortThe second stage of the Mont Fort gondola rises off the glacier and drops off skiers at 10,853 feet - Verbier’s highest lift. The easiest way down is the mogul field at right. Hundreds of not-so-easy routes plummet off the peak in every direction including the improbable and exposed tracks that you can see in the dead center of the rocky headwall.

Verbier Mount FortIt’s possible to ski a 8,239 foot run of the top of Mont Fort. You can also hike out the ridge from the top of the gondola and access the infamous Bec de Rosses, the venue for the Verbier Extreme comp. And of course, if you happened to be hungry before you roll out to slay the Bec, you can can get an expresso and a sandwich at the top station.

Verbier Mount FortWe climbed the ridge above the Mont Fort gondola and dropped off the peak into the steep dog leg couloir you can see above Allison. This line began a tour that took us around the back of Verbier and down into a neighboring resort valley called Nendaz. From Nendaz, one lift and two gondolas put us back on the top of Mont Fort.

Verbier Mount FortWe owe all our good times on the Verbier gondolas to local ripper Julien Laurencon. It was an honor to explore his backyard with him. Next time we’re in Verbier he promised to show us more of the rad touring terrain behind Mont Fort that you can see to his left.

BrunsonOur last day in Verbier we joined Julien at a small adjacent resort called Bruson. Using splitboards to tour out the ridge we dropped into a massive bowl that faced the gondola accessed terrain we had been shredding the previous days. Above Julien’s slash you can see the triangular Mont Gelé. The big peak to the right of Mont Gelé is the Bec de Rosses. The Verbier Extreme contest rides the opposite face of that peak.

Bec de RossesSo then what’s the Bec de Rosses contest face look like? Here’s the face as of Feb 7th. Pretty sharky at the moment.

Look out for ‘Great Gondolas of the Alps - Part Two: Chamonix’ dropping next week!

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