The spectacular cable car that connects France and Italy by air through the Alps

The highest of the Aiguilles de Chamonix, one of the most well-known and photographed landscapes of the Alps that is part of the Mont Blanc massif, is L’Aiguille du Midi (Aiguille du Midi), whose summit reaches 3,842 meters of altitude.

It is crowned by a tower that houses telecommunication antennas and which is reached by an elevator from the platform located some 65 meters below.

This platform at an altitude of 3,777 meters is a popular tourist destination that can be reached directly from the town of Chamonix via the L’Aiguille du Midi Cable Car, which came into operation in 1955.

L’Aiguille du Midi, with the telecommunications tower and the tourist platform on the left. Both are joined by a bridge | photo Martin Janner on Wikimedia Commons

At the time of its inauguration, and for the following two decades, it was the highest cable car in the world, and still today holds the record for the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world. It goes from 1,035 to 3,842 meters of altitude in two sections: the first connects Chamonix with the Plan de l’Aiguille intermediate station at 2,317 meters, and then goes directly up without any support pillars to the 3,777 meter final station.

The entire journey takes about 20 minutes to reach the summit platform, where there is a panoramic viewpoint, a cafeteria, a gift shop and two spectacular facilities: a glass walkway inaugurated in December 2013 under the name of Step into the void (A step into the void) that allows you to walk 1,035 meters in a straight line contemplating the abyss under our feet; and another completely enclosed tubular walkway, nicknamed le tubeopened in 2016 and which completely surrounds the top.

Detail of the summit, with the tourist platform on the left, from where the cable cars leave | photo Michel Caplain on Wikimedia Commons

Tourists are not recommended to leave the facilities and observation terraces, due to the danger and the low temperatures that even in summer can drop to -10ºC. Mountaineers and skiers can use the tunnel that leads outside over the ice crest of the glacier.

Furthermore, only during the summer months is it possible to go from France to Italy by air, as this is when the Mont Blanc Panoramic Cable Car (inaugurated in December 1957) operates, which directly connects L’Aiguille du Midi (France) with the top of Punta Helbronner (next to the town of Courmayeur, Italy), located at 3,466 meters above sea level.

The spectacular route extends for 5 kilometers over the valley between the two peaks, the heart of the massif and the Mont Blanc tunnel that connects the two countries by road.

A group of three cabins on the cable car from L’Aiguille du Midi to Punta Helbronner | photo Jerome Bon on Wikimedia Commons

It lasts about 35 minutes and includes 5 short stops (corresponding to the arrivals of the cabins at the ends, which go in 12 groups of 3 by 3). The entire route runs at more than 3,000 meters of altitude.

The first section, a descent of 1,684 meters, runs between the station carved into the rock at L’Aiguille du Midi and the Gros Rognon (at 3,541 meters of altitude) where the line deviates from 7 to 9 degrees to the right.

Groups of three cable car cabins | photo Rémih on Wikimedia Commons

It is the most rugged part of the route and the most spectacular. The Gros Rognon substation is purely technical, since it serves as a support for the diversion of the line, and passengers are not allowed to get off.

Leaving Gros Rognon, the line begins a descent over the rocks, then becomes horizontal in the center, the cabins hovering about 300 meters above the Géant Glacier, and then slightly up to the Col de Flambeaux. This second section is 2,831 meters long, constituting one of the longest spans in the world without intermediate supports.

The third and last stretch, 447 meters long, ends at Punta Helbronner. Given the impossibility of building tall support towers in this area, it was decided to use a suspended support supported by 315-meter-long cables that are in turn anchored in the rock of the nearby peaks called Petit and Grand Flambeau, with a difference of altitude in the anchorages of 136 meters.

A group of three cabins passes next to the suspended support, anchored to the Petit and Grand Flambeau by cables 315 meters long | GFDL photo on Wikimedia Commons

Back in Italy, the descent from Punta Helbronner to the town of Courmayeur is done on the Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, open to the public in 2015. The price of a return ticket between L’Aiguille du Midi and Helbronner is, at today, 103 euros.


Sources

Skyway Monte Bianco | La vallée Blanche (Le Massif du Mont Blanc) | Ski lifts-mecaniques.net | Aiguille du Midi (Mont-Blanc Natural Resort) | Panoramic Mont-Blanc (Mont-Blanc Natural Resort) | Wikipedia