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Discover the Vanoise Massif

La Vanoise is one of the largest glacial areas in France with the Mont Blanc Massif, it is also the largest park in Europe together with the Gran Paradiso National Park on the Italian side ...

Geographical location and characteristics

The Vanoise massif is located between the Tarentaise valley, where the Isère river flows, and the Maurienne valley with the Arc river.

The highest point is the Grande Casse at 3855 meters above sea level. It is a fairly high massif with many peaks over 3000 meters. Glaciers are numerous and large, the ice cap of the Vanoise summit gave its name to the massif; it is one of the largest glacial areas in France, with the Mont Blanc massif.

It is a massif with a very varied geology, which also gave a very varied flora. The flowers are either calcicolous (like limestone, sedimentary rock) or silicole (like silica, metamorphic rock).

Mountaineering in the Vanoise Region

The Vanoise is a high massif with large glaciers, most of them are not very steep, which allow easy mountaineering routes.

More difficult mountaineering routes are also possible, as on the Grande Casse with the Couloir des Italiens (Italians Couloir), which is a face of snow and ice 800 meters high, between 50 and 60 degrees steepness.

The main ski resorts in Vanoise

The largest ski resorts in the world are in Vanoise, thanks to the altitude of its massif and a geology that favours bump shaped reliefs, where skiing is easy. There are more ski resorts in the Tarentaise valley, because the Vanoise is located especially on the ubac slopes (in the shade side of the mountain), where the snow stays longer and melts slower.

For the Tarentaise valleys:

  • Val d'Isère and Tignes with the Espace Killy ski area
  • Les Arcs and La Plagne to Paradiski
  • Courchevel, Méribel, les Ménuires and Val Thorens for the 3 Valleys
  • Pralognan La Vanoise
  • Champagny en Vanoise
  • Valmorel

For the Maurienne valleys:

  • Saint François Longchamps, which is connected to Valmorel
  • Aussois
  • Orelle, which is connected to Val Thorens

The Ski Resorts and the Vanoise Park

The Park was created in 1963 after the creation of some resorts like Val d'Isere and Tignes, but the park ended the extension of the ski stations. Although, some areas of the park have been changed, to allow the ski area to function. For example the Bailletaz and Grande Sassière Reserve were created to exchange protected areas, such as that of Tueda towards Méribel.

In the beginning, relationships between the park and ski resorts were tense, as it happened with the Glacier de Gerbroulaz in Val Thorens, but now the ski resorts have understood the interest of the Natural Park.

The Vanoise National Park

It is the first National Park in France, it was created in 1963 to protect the ibex which were close to extinction: there were only about sixty left in the internal valleys of the massif.

The Vanoise National Park consists of two areas:

Central area of the Vanoise Park

This area is completely protected. People can walk and enjoy nature, only pastoral activities are allowed, but with many controls.

Peripheral area of the Vanoise Park

The national park gives an advisory opinion for the development of a much larger area, which includes the main ski resorts. Currently there is no longer any real difference in the areas that are not protected.
The mountain law has largely taken over the reality of this area, it no longer really has a reason to exist now.

The Ibex and the Bearded Vulture

The ibex almost disappeared because of gun hunting, these magnificent animals have never been afraid of men because they took refuge in the cliffs and rocks. As long as man used arrows and spears to hunt them, their escape technique was enough to survive, but in the 18th century rifle hunting almost made them disappear before man could protect them. The vulture has been successfully reintroduced in the Vanoise National Park and generally in the Alpine range!

The Vanoise Park Refuges

Numerous mountain huts have been set up in the central area of the Park, to allow hikers to enjoy nature and the beautiful trekking and ski touring routes, in summer as in winter. The huts are kept in summer and winter for these two activities.

The main mountain summits of Vanoise:

  • La Grande Casse at 3855 meters
  • Pointe Mattews
  • The Domes of the Vanoise
  • Mont Pourri
  • La Grande Motte
  • Le Grand Bec de Pralognan
  • The Epena

The Vanoise Glacier Tour

This is the main hiking tour in the Vanoise: hikers can do the Tour of the Vanoise ice cap in 4 or 5 days, enjoying the landscapes on the Dôme de Chasseforêt, the Dent Parrachée in the Maurienne and the close Grande Casse from the Col de la Vanoise. It is a beautiful trekking route.

The Vanoise Glacier Traverse

It is one of the most famous ski touring itineraries in the Alps in winter, it is a small Chamonix-Zermatt!

In summer, mountaineers cross the Vanoise glaciers within several days, from hut to hut, like at Monte Rosa on the famous "Spaghetti Tour" route. La Vanoise is much less crowded ...

Trail in Vanoise

With the arrival of mountain trekking and hiking tour, the massif now counts many Trail races, such as the 6000 D and the TGV, the Tour de la Vanoise which takes place in one day instead of four for hikers.