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

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

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

That platform at 3,777 meters above sea level 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 linked by a bridge | Photo Martin Janner at Wikimedia Commons

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

Detail of the summit, with the tourist platform to the left, from where the cable cars depart | Photo Michel Caplain at Wikimedia Commons

Tourists are not recommended to leave the facilities and observation decks, 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 ridge of the glacier.

In addition, it is only during the summer months that it is possible to go from France to Italy by air, since that is when the Mont Blanc Panoramic Gondola lift operates (inaugurated in December 1957), 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 at Wikimedia Commons

It lasts about 35 minutes and includes 5 short stops (corresponding to the arrivals of the end cabins, 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 rock-cut station at L’Aiguille du Midi and the Gros Rognon (at 3,541 meters above sea level) where the line deviates 7 to 9 degrees to the right.

Groups of three cable car cabins | Photo Remih at Wikimedia Commons

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

After leaving Gros Rognon, the line begins a descent over the rocks, and then becomes horizontal in the center, the cabins being suspended about 300 meters above the Géant glacier, and then rising slightly 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 section, 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, which in turn are anchored in the rock of the nearby peaks called Little and Great Flambeau, with a difference of altitude in the anchorages of 136 meters.

A group of three cabins passes by the suspended support, anchored to the Petite and Grande Flambeau by cables 315 meters long | Photo GFDL at Wikimedia Commons

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


Skyway Monte Bianco | The Valley Blanche (Le Massif du Mont Blanc) | Ski | Aiguille du Midi (Mont Blanc Nature Resort) | Panoramic Mont Blanc (Mont Blanc Nature Resort) | Wikipedia

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