From the refuge, the ascent route starts with a short descent (that can be completed with skins on) in a northerly direction towards the Glacier de Grands Couloirs and then ascends steeply through the moraine on the looker’s left hand side of the glacier. After a short steep pitch, you will then find yourself on the Glacier des Grands Couloirs, which needs to be ascended to reach the summit of the Grande Casse. It is possible to skin the whole way, with some very steep kick turns, but many will find it easier (and less stress!) to remove their skis and bootpack a short, steep pitch in the middle of the glacier.
Once the steep pitch of the glacier is over then there’s just a short & mellow ski up to the ridgeline that can be bootpacked to reach the summit.
Take the same path to reach the ridgeline as the Face Nord Centrale, but keep traversing to the end of this ridgeline to reach the top of this descent.
Similar to the Face Nord Centrale, the top section presents you with a frequently icy and wind scoured ramp (sometimes less icy on the skier’s left hand side) leading down onto the north face.
This route doesn’t require you to thread your way through a looming sérac field and so route finding is a little more straightforward than the Face Nord Centrale, and thus is the ‘easiest’ descent on the North Face (please use the term easy subjectively - all of the descents on the North Face are serious undertakings).
Once you’re past the first few tentative turns, you’re out on the stunning north face of the Grande Casse and can choose your way down the face, just be aware that you need to traverse in a skier’s right direction to avoid cliffs below. Oh, and keep an eye out for any icy patches where fresh snow has been sloughing off.
This face is consistently steep, so the ability to stay focused for an extremely long, steep pitch and the awareness to look out for icy sections to avoid are essential.
Once down onto the Glacier de l’Epéna, you can take the final half of ‘Refuge du Col de la Vanoise Ski Tour’ to return to Tignes.