First Ski Descent of the Aiguille d’Argentière near Chamonix

The lack of snow in the Alps this winter has been a problem for average backcountry skiers, but a few rogue experts have seen opportunities for bold new routes down thin ribbons of snow. The latest example is France’s Tom Lafaille and the UK’s Fay Manners’ crazy yet logical line down the Aiguille d’Argentière near Mont Blanc.

Laffaille and Manners (who lives in Chamonix) started from the Grand Montets parking lot in Chamonix on Feb. 17. The pair climbed the Aiguille d’Argentière via the Glacier du Milieu. They only had a general idea of the route up the Charlet-Straton Ridge to the West Summit. They brought only a 30m static rope and left nothing behind.

“It pushes you to downclimb and commit more, but also to be more efficient,” Tom Lafaille wrote on social media.

Scary descent

They skied down the same route, connecting several snow lines and downclimbing where necessary. Check some photos and video clips of the very steep descent on Tom Lafaille’s Instagram:

“It’s a real ski mountaineering route, with sections that are sometimes steep, sometimes less, with lots of transitions, downclimbing, traverses, [and] climbing,” Lafaille said.

Traversing a smooth granite slab with crampons on and skis on the back.

Downclimbing an exposed, snowless section. Photo: Tom Lafaille


This is the first ski descent of the whole Charlet-Straton Ridge, although the exit couloir (lower down) was skied at least once before.

Tom Lafaille, 22, is an aspiring guide and skier based in Chamonix. He is also the son of the legendary Jean Christophe Lafaille, one of the best climbers of the turn of the century. Lafaille the elder perished in 2006 while soloing Makalu in winter when his son was only five years old.

The young Lafaille started as a downhill ski racer, then switched to climbing, with a focus on melding skiing and climbing. Last summer, he skied down Broad Peak in Pakistan.

Fay Manners is a full-time skier and alpine climber. Two years ago, she completed the first female ascent of the Phantom Direct route on the south face of the Grand Jorasses. She did this, the longest ice route in the Mont Blanc massif, in a single push from the valley. Manners also completed the North Face of Eiger, the American Direct on the Dru, the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses, and the Cassin Ridge on Denali (with an all-female team).

In 2023 she achieved a first ascent on Trango II (Karakoram) with Spain’s Pou brothers and two more firsts on the Father Tower in the Mythic Cirque (Greenland) with Michelle Dvorak. She also climbed one of those Greenland peaks with Martin Feistl.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.