Couloirs Des Sultanes

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The Route

couloirs des sultanes

Couloirs des Sultanes - routes

From the tennis courts the route initially crosses a wide field heading south-west before turning due west and climbing through woods which are more or less skiable. The route crosses ski de fond tracks (Chaussennaye) at 1150 meters then across the trail head at piont 1309 meters on the IGN topomap. From here you slowly climb out of the woodland. The Pas de l’Oeille can be climbed by three routes. To the far left after the Aiguilles du Gua is the summer path (useful if you are coming from the Col de l'Arzelier rather than Prelenfrey.

aiguilles du gua

Sylv and David in front of the Aiguilles du Gua

The main Sultanes couloir is next. This is around 40º over 200 meters. It is quite large, there is plenty of room for skiing and directly east facing. Given the altitude to be skied early on spring days. The Sultanes are apparently the small pinnacles that guard the entrance to the couloirs.

couloir de sultanes

Couloir des Sultanes

Next is a narrow, winding and steep couloir, this joins the right couloir and is more exposed and probably rates 4.2. There are some small rock bars in the couloir so it should only be skied after a close inspection from below to make sure the conditions are right. Finally the north couloir on the right faces to the north-east and protected from the sun by a rock wall. It guards its powder better and transforms earlier in the spring but will also become icier earlier in the day.

We set out from the tennis grounds at 8am one Saturday morning in mid-March. There was just enough snow to ski at Prelenfrey but rain threatened. We climbed up the north couloir.

Couloir des Sultanes North

Not really sure of whether it exited. We hoped to find better snow conditions and on the right bank the snow was still light and powdery a week after the last falls. It seems that this route is seldom, if ever, travelled.

Couloir des Sultanes final pitch

At the top of the couloir we would find out why. There was a fairly airy traverse of some 100 meters above the top of the Sultanes couloir. This is when we found out not everyone had crampons or ice-axes but undaunted we decided to continue.

Couloir des Sultanes traverse

The Traverse

The traverse was followed by a monster cornice. Ben borrowed a second ice-axe, strapped our 30 meter length of rope around his waist and lunged up the face, traversing left to exit onto the Pas de l’Oeille. I was no way certain I could have stopped his fall if he had slipped on this ultra-exposed section.

Couloir des Sultanes corniche


Routes such as the Sultanes should not be attempted if the temperature is rapidly warming due to the risk of the cornice breaking away and sweeping skiers off the face. Our north-couloir avoids most of this objective danger, especially if you do not attempt the traverse.

Climbing to the pas-de-oeille

Climbing to the Pas de Oeille

Ben lowered the rope down and we scrambled up a rock face to the summit. From here it is possible to climb up to the Dome d’Oeille to add another 100 meters vertical. We slung the rope over a suitable belay point and used it to rappel back down to the top of the couloir.

pas-de-oeille descent

Sylvia descending

We had heard of people jumping the cornice on skis but it would need to be both smaller and the snow conditions to be much better. Even then the landing and first few meters are extremely exposed.

The north couloir consists of three pitches of about 50 vertical meters angled at 45°. The skiing is wide and relatively easy. At the top there is another couloir immediately to the right that is both more enclosed, more winding and steeper. It promised better snow – this was certainly the case for the top 50 meters we skied but snow had now set in and visibility was limited so we decided not to chance it.

Sultanes couloir north

Skiing at last

When you reach the Chaussennaye road it is advisable to traverse a little to the north until you are directly above the tennis courts as the woods are clear and skiable at this point.

Route Card

GPS: N 45.0148° E 05.5839°, 1960 meters (Pas de l’Oeille)
Orientation: East
Toponeige Rating: Danger: 2, Climb: PD, Ski: 4.1
Climbing: 1010 meters, 3315 ft.

Road Access

From Grenoble take the motorway towards Sisteron. Leave the motorway at junction 12 (Vif), cross Vif and take the first exit direction Col de l'Arzelier at the roundabout on the north side of town, follow the D8 to Prelenfrey. At the village take the 2nd road to the right direction les Faures and park at the tennis courts. Later in the season you can take the Bonneaux forest road to gain a bit of height.


To climb passed the exit cornice you will need a pair of crampons, ice axes and a rope for security. This route (along with many others) should only be attempted with stable conditions. Cornice are dangerous - you should keep well away from the edge. They are also liable to break away after heavy rain or warming conditions and could hit skiers below or trigger an avalanche. In the winter of 2002 a local skier had a narrow escape after the couloir purged:

"Our friend Yves skied the Pas de L'oeille-Sultanes yesterday. Warming conditions played him a very poor hand, an avalanche broke under his skis. Only his experience and a good deal of luck saved him. The route is at least purged now, although unskiable, the debris is piled 4 meters high at the bottom of the couloir"

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