Photo Essay: Ski Touring the Famed "Haute Route" from Chamonix to Zermatt

Stunning photos from a trip of a lifetime through the beautiful and foreboding French, Swiss, and Italian Alps

Photo Essay:  Ski Touring the Famed "Haute Route" from Chamonix to Zermatt

Author

David Ryder

Photographer

David Ryder

Camera

Canon 5D MkIII

Film

64GB Lexar CF

When your friend is a mountain guide and needs a guinea pig for his first tour on one of backcountry skiing's all-time classic routes, the Haute Route, you just say yes. Especially when said friend is experienced alpinist and Tacoma, WA climbing gym owner Tod Bloxham.

As details emerged it quickly became clear the trip was to be a rare one indeed—we were to trek from Chamonix to Zermatt, taking us through beautiful and treacherous terrain in the high peaks of the French, Swiss, and even for a few minutes on the final day, the Italian Alps. So, I kissed goodbye to my mileage account and booked a series of cheap red-eye flights that eventually brought me to Zurich, Switzerland to begin our journey.

I could have been in better shape, sure, but nevertheless I was ready to face my fears and earn those final beers in Zermatt under the towering Matterhorn.

ryder alps 16

Chamonix was the starting point, and the "classic" Haute Route was our plan. This had been the original route first taken by members of the English Alpine Club in the 1800s, and in the time that’s elapsed the terrain has grown no easier to navigate. Nowadays, of course, you can enjoy beer and wine each night, along with prepared meals in backcountry huts that resemble hostels.

It's a pretty unique experience to be able to make this journey without carrying a tent and other overnight gear, and having the security of solid structure waiting for you each night. That said, the trek still takes about a week to wind through the stunning glaciated terrain and required us to ski up and down thousands of feet per day, often using crampons and ice axes for the steeper portions with our skis on our backs.

ryder alps 20
ryder alps 13

In the end, after such preparation, travel and effort, we were blown off course by a very unusual storm that brought winds of above 100 kilometers per hour and spewed dangerous amounts of snow. After making a somewhat adrenaline-fueled hasty exit mid-tour and paralleling the route on trains and taxis (without having packed street clothes or even normal shoes), we still managed to spend two nights in the backcountry huts, with a handful of other day trips off-piste.

Certainly I could have spent those miles in worse ways.

ryder alps 1
ryder alps 2
ryder alps 4
ryder alps 5
ryder alps 7
ryder alps 8
ryder alps 9
ryder alps 10
ryder alps 14
ryder alps 15
ryder alps 17
ryder alps 18
ryder alps 19
ryder alps 21
ryder alps 22
ryder alps 23
Related articles
Smith Squad Imprint 3D Review: Is Old Tech the Future of Snow Goggles?
Trying Smith's 3D Printed Ski & Snowboard Goggles to See If They're Worth the Hype

A hands-on test of Smith's recently expanded line of custom-made, 3D printed goggles with the Squad and Squad XL

Black Crows Explores Japan's Abandoned Ski Resorts With New Film & Gear
Black Crows Explores Japan's Abandoned Ski Resorts With New Film & Gear

Archival footage and interviews reveal that Japan's dreamy ski scene might've peaked decades ago

13 Best Gifts for Skiers: Our Editors’ Top Picks for Winter 2024
The 13 Best Gifts to Give Skiers This Holiday Season

A wishlist of editor-approved gear for the discerning skier, including USA-made ski socks, leather mittens, custom fit goggles, and much more

Raide Launches With a Sleek Ski Pack Backed by Serious Engineering
A New Brand Called Raide Just Made One of the Best Backcountry Ski Packs Ever

After stints at SpaceX and The North Face, the Colorado-based company's founder has turned to solving design problems with mountain gear

Q&A: How Hyperlite Mountain Gear & Cody Townsend Made the Crux 40 Ski Pack
How Hyperlite Mountain Gear Used Pro Insight to Make the Ultimate Ski Pack

Insights from a lifetime of skiing and a quest to descend the biggest lines in North America helped the skier and brand make the end-all bag

13 Best Anorak Jackets for Men and Women
13 Stylish and Weatherproof Anorak Jackets for Mountain and Casual Wear

Half a zipper, twice the style, and all of the weather protection you may need both in town and the backcountry

More articles
Photo Essay: Ski Touring the Famed "Haute Route" from Chamonix to Zermatt

Gallery Mode

Photographer

David Ryder

Camera

Canon 5D MkIII

Film

64GB Lexar CF

Back to article
Our New Photo Book Is Now Available!

Meet WINTER, a fine art photo zine full of adventure inspiration

  • 70 pages of beautiful photography
  • 35 international contributors
  • Limited-edition & hand numbered
  • Printed in NYC with love
Shop Now
Our New Photo Book Is Now Available!