Analysing terrain data
The exposure grade does not take into account objective hazards (stone fall, seracs, etc) but only the consequences of the skier falling.
Low Exposure (E1): Exposure is limited to that of the slope itself. Getting hurt is still likely if the slope is steep and/or the snow is hard.
Medium Exposure (E2): As well as the slope itself, there are some obstacles (such as rock outcrops) which could aggravate injury.
High Exposure (E3): In case of a fall, death is highly likely.
Extreme Exposure (E4): In case of a fall, the skier faces certain death.
If you ski one couloir in Serre Chevalier, this should probably be it.
Previously accessible by chairlift, skiing La Balme now involves a 15-20 minute hike but it’s well worth the effort.
Visible for the first third of the ride up the Vallons chairlift, it’s at least as good as it looks.
Start at the top of the Vallons or Cucumelle chairlifts, walking south along the ridge for a few minutes at which point you’ll be able to put your skis back on and take as much speed as possible along the same ridge.
Once you can’t get any further on your skis, hike the rest on foot as far as the small cabin at the top.
Helpfully the ridge nearly always has a nicely groomed cat track in it as it is used by the ski patrol to get from one valley to the next quickly and for avalanche control.
This makes the going easier.
Once at the top, to get to the couloir, continue on the pisted track to the east until it turns sharply to the right.
Keep going straight on.
The entrance to the couloir is about 300 metres further on at an altitude of 2480 metres.
The line down is obvious from the top.
It’s important to follow the fall line through the narrow section of the couloir about 50 metres below.
Any foray to the left will leave you stuck above some fairly substantial cliffs.
Once through the narrow section, it really opens up until the tree line starts.
From here you can go more or less where you like until rejoining the Cucumelle piste below.