Ski-Areas > Northern Alps > Savoie (73) > Tarentaise > La Plagne > La Plagne Off Piste > The Bellecôte

The Bellecôte massif is composed of some 6 km of ridges forming a maze of valleys and couloirs. The prevailing winds deposit large amounts of snow on the North face which is prone to enormous avalanches. Many of the couloirs are very steep and tend to purge themselves immediately after fresh snowfall but there is a constant risk of wind slab formed on a poor base.

Many of the entrances and exits of the couloirs are difficult to locate, and coupled with the exposure mean that people should hire a guide or ski with someone with local knowledge.

From the top of the Bellecôte gondola a chair lift called The Traverse takes you to the Rochu and Bellecôte blacks. It is also possible to ski down to the point de Friolin and then to Nancroix to pick up the Les Arcs shuttle bus. The new Paradiski cable car link between la Plagne and les Arcs via Nancroix has opened up the Bellecôte by making the return much more straightforward although there is a risk that some of the current off piste may get developed. Skiers can continue past the Friolin or track right to the Creux Bozon to link with the Bauches chair.

Small off piste couloir

From the chair you can follow the contour of the slope to the North West ridge of the Bellecôte, there is normally a cornice, from here you can descend the ridge to ski the North Face of the Bellecôte. The slope is around 35 degrees at the top. Higher up is the Canadiens couloir, used in freeride competitions, the angle is a steep 45 degrees at the entry. Finally there is the Couloir du Cairn, about 30 minutes scramble up the ridge (crampons are strongly recommended) this couloir exits onto cliffs and skiers usually traverse left to the Canadiens.

Bellecote North Face / Face Nord

The summit of the Bellecôte can be reached by ascending this ridge further but more usually you would climb under the summer drag lifts on the Chiaupe glacier to the col, then climb the Glacier du Nant, around 1h 30 from the lifts. Two couloirs offer themselves from the Bellecôte. The first is the Vallençant. The couloir itself features around 1150 of descent, that's more than the total vertical of most if not all US ski resorts! The angle is a near impossible 50 degrees for the first 200 meters leveling out to 35 degrees lower down bottom. There are rocks and cliffs which make a nasty welcome for anyone who falls. Skiing down to the road at Lanches gives 1900 meters total vertical. The second couloir is the Gros Glacier, the entry is from the Col du Midi de Bellecôte at the east of the summit. The glacier presents the interesting challenge of a Bergschrund (the glacier has detached from the rock). The slope is 45 degrees near the summit. Lower down skiers can escape from the glacier in couloirs to the left or right, however some of these end in cliffs, take a guide!

Finally the Dôme des Picherès is reached by descending the glacier Cul du Nant and traversing across to the Glacier du Midi de Bellecôte (around 2 hour from the lifts). From here the Couloir du Pianiste is found to the north west of the Dome, the couloir offers 800 meters of descent before rejoining the Gros Glacier. Finally the Pepin is found by descending the North East ridge for 150 meters and following a branch of the Pepin glacier. There is a shoulder that separates two couloirs, the one to the left is steeper and narrower, the one to the right is more frequently skied.

Ariane taking care in a gloomy couloir

The Glacier of the Cul du Nant also presents a fantastic descent down to Champagny to meet up with the resort shuttle bus. This south facing glacier is like a giant fridge and conserves the powder well. As with the Bellecôte it is reached by climbing under the summer ski drag lifts (45 m) to the col (3266 m) and then descending the other side of the ridge onto a large glacier. Keep to the right as seracs threaten the left bank of the glacier and as you descend into the valley there are cliffs on the left. At the Plaisance refuge (radio) there is a right turn, keep to the left and don't fall into the stream which runs under the snow bridges as it is possible to get trapped and swept under the snow! The valleys opens up again and is traversed by avalanche deposits. Don't follow the stream at this point as it tumbles into a waterfall. Instead try and pick up the summer path which leads down to the cross country pistes in the Laisonney valley. 3km of pistes lead to Champagny-le-Haut to finish a total of 1750 meters of vertical.

Finally from the top of the Bellecôte gondola it is possible to traverse right to the ridge and a large bowl which frequently has spring snow if you time it right. Lower down there is a lot of scree and rocks, as the slope levels out climb south to the Passage de la Frête and then ski down to Champagny. It is also possible to ski off the Chiaupe glacier past the stables at 2300 meters, This route looks very tempting from the point of view of the Bellecôte pistes and there are often tracks but ends in the same cliffs as the Vélières (see above) and there have been frequent accidents on the lower part.

Further Information

Link to Les Arcs / Peisey webcam showing North Face of the Bellecôte (note large file)

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