After a dry start to the winter conditions have now taken a turn for the better and it looks like there is plenty of snow on the way too! Here is a run through of the last week in Chamonix and surrounding areas with a concise summary at the end of the post.
This last week I was based in Chamonix coaching Tim, Phil and John who were keen to improve their off piste skiing. Coming into the week reports from friends and colleagues were 'overwhelmingly underwhelming' and a quick glance through the Compagnie du Mont Blanc website for lift & piste showed very little open. AN open-minded approach is needed in Chamonix at the best of times, and even more so with tricky conditions.
On day 1 & 2 we headed for Les Contamines - with a mostly grassy hillside it takes very little cover for the off piste to be skiable and so it proved, with some light fresh powder on and off the piste on Monday and barely a soul around:
On Tuesday the jungle drums had obviously been beating as there were considerably more groups and airbag-toting skiers kicking around, but even more snow, and even more lifts open for everyone to spread out:
On day 3 we braved the 'raditude' of the Grands Montets (amazing how the vibe changes from place to place...) and found some good snow, though way more tracked out than the previous days... The top section of the cable car and Retour Pendant were closed, but this still leaves loads of useful terrain to work with. We took a tentative run down the top half of the Lavancher bowl, but stuck mostly to where the Chamois piste would go, as the amount of granite showing off to the sides was not encouraging. There were people heading off in all directions, and one can only assume the ski repair shops have had a busy busy week!
The gullies under the Canadian bowl and the lower section of Herse & Bochard had reasonable cover, allowing for some steeper turns:
Pierre a Ric was skiable, though very thin in the middle section, with care needed crossing the streams/ditches.
On Thursday the 'offpisteskiing powder radar' was in full effect and we headed over to Italy for the jackpot, knowing that Grands Montets would be a bunfight (if they opened at all). A great call as we skied light knee deep powder all day, with hardly anyone else off piste save a handful of clued-in skiers - and even greater when we found out that only the Tabe and Marmottons chairs opened at the GMs that day!
Yesterday the 0 isotherm was forecast to go high, with continued snow and wind, so Courmayeur was again the best option, though the snow off piste was very heavy. The big ski brigade had turned up in force today, but they were all 24 hours too late!
A good day to test out my new Soulquest jacket and pants (thank you Salomon UK !!) which did a good job of keeping me dry despite the 'moist' atmosphere.
All in all a great week despite some challenging conditions - Phil, Tim and John are already booked in again for next year and I am looking forward to it already.
Conditions summary as at 8 Jan 2016:
Grands Montets: Very bony, but getting better with each snowfall. Canadian bowl, lower gullies above mid-station and the 'minigolf' around the Tabé chair all have a reasonable base. Entry to Italian bowl is rockier than I have ever seen, and I would personally wait for a lot more base before venturing too far into Lavancher.
Le Tour: Information is that the terrain off the top chair (minus back bowls - no info) has reasonable cover and was skiing well mid-week.
Flegere/Brevent: Very little information, as very few lifts were open on this side through the week. Being South-facing this side had much less (or no) base prior to this week's snowfalls...
St Gervais: Reports of good skiing in the trees on Thursday, though the high rain/snow level yesterday will not have been kind here.
Contamines: Skiing very well early in the week. More than 60% of lifts open, and reasonable cover in the Aiguille Croche sector on Tuesday. The hillside lookers right of this was very wind-scoured though, so will need a decent extra base to bring it in.
Courmayeur: Youla & Arp stayed shut this week, but the tree skiing lower down was excellent on Thursday, though care needed as there are still some stumps lurking which are only just covered.
The high isotherm may be a blessing in disguise as it should help to consolidate the extra snow that came down on Thursday (it took 15 minutes to dig out the car in Val Veny after a day's skiing!) as long as temperatures cool down again shortly.
**Warning** Off piste remains very dangerous at the moment and requires very careful selection of areas and slopes.