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Mountain bike from Courmayeur to Chamonix – An icy adventure

24 years after the first historic first crossing of the Vallée Blanche on snow bikes, Mariano Pettavino , Andrea Arena and Monica Specogna wanted to do an encore. Along the way, Monica made history as the first woman to accomplish this endeavor. The descent is made very dangerous by the presence of many deep crevasses hidden by winter snow.

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Courmayeur, March 21 2014: This story began on Friday morning, around 9.00AM in Courmayeur, on the rooftop terrace of Punta Helbronner, 3462 meters. Surrounded by an amazing view opening onto the highest mountain range in the Alps, the journey ended a few hours after, at 15.00 in front of some ice-cold beers, on the terrace of a bar on the slopes of Chamonix.

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Between these two incredible locations was a thrilling adventure, which certainly deserved a celebratory toast. Joining the celebration was a small group of people, tired, sunburned, and full of enthusiasm. What really stood out is that close to them, instead of the usual pairs of skis, there were three mountain bikes. Mariano Pettavino, Andrea and Monica Specogna, three masters from the mountain biking Team MbAdventure have accomplished a remarkable feat crossing by bike – over 17 km entirely in the snow – the Vallée Blanche, a beautiful snow-white trail from Courmayeur to Chamonix.

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The three repeated this historic undertaking, first completed by Pettavino, together with two other comrades, Ezio and Claudio Ronco Pigeons, in 1990. Twenty-four years ago, downhill biking in the Vallée Blanche was a world first. “This year we brought home another record,” says Mariano Pettavino. “Monica was the first woman to have completed such a test. We were accompanied by two guides on skis, Anna and Sabina: the safety of the track was in their hands. “The group reached Punta Helbronner early in the morning, to a cabin reserved for them on the Mont Blanc cableway. Known as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” after a few minutes carrying to the village of La Palud, a few miles from Courmayeur, they reached the summit of Europe, through a landscape of incomparable beauty.

The Vallée Blanche is now one of the classic routes of freeride and back country skiing, and one of the most popular by far, but few dare to cross on a mountain bike. The glacier is etched deep by seracs and crevasses that make it totally impassable in the summer. In the winter, heavy snowfalls fill the cavities and hide them from view. The enchanted valley lies covered with a soft blanket, but hides many pitfalls: just a misstep, and the snow gives way, revealing the abyss below. “We move cautiously on the surface, but do not know if we are over a meter of snow or a 20-meter void, vacuum sealing of the snow is key,” says Mariano Pettavino .

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At the time of the first voyage, in 1990, one of the cyclists slipped into a crevasse, luckily he remained clinging to bicycle across the opening, and was rescued by his companions. This time there were no incidents, the descent went very well.

Text & Photos: www.mbaventure.it

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