Tag Archives: St Gervais

From slush to pow in 24 hours

Just when I thought this season couldn’t get any stranger, on my most recent trip to the Alps I experienced the most dramatic turnaround in conditions I’ve ever seen.

Horses on piste

Horses on piste!

When we arrived in Morzine, mid March, it felt like summer. Temperatures were in the high teens in the town and people were wandering around in shorts and flip flops. It hadn’t snowed for three weeks and although there had been loads of snow prior to that, the high temperatures were starting to take their toll on the slopes, with bare patches starting to appear lower down. There were even horses out to pasture on a run that was still open to skiers!

Spring shredding is a lot of fun, especially on a board, and beers in the sun are an added bonus, but after three weeks of spring conditions already this season (in December, February and March!) we were craving a bit of snow.

24 hours later, at the same altitude. Photo: Chris Barrow

24 hours later, at the same altitude. Photo: Chris Barrow

Typically it was forecast to snow on the day that we were due to leave, and when it became apparent that it was going to be more than just a sprinkling, we were helpless to resist the urge to stay out, especially as our flights would only cost £30 to change and we were able to go and stay with friends in nearby St Gervais.

On the Saturday morning we left Morzine it was pissing with rain and we were starting to doubt our decision to stay, but consoled ourselves with the thought that it must be falling as snow higher up.

Sure enough, as we drove towards Chamonix later that afternoon the rain gradually turned to sleet and then snow the closer we got. It was still snowing when we got to St Gervais that evening and we went to bed early, excited at the prospect of our first proper powder day of the season.

Photo: Chris Barrow

Photo: Chris Barrow

The next morning we awoke to find winter restored and the landscape once again covered in a white blanket of snow. However, it was only when we got up to the ski area that we were able to appreciate just how much snow had fallen overnight. The snow was at least knee deep* in unpisted areas and it was still coming down hard. It wasn’t the lightest powder I’ve ever ridden but it was powder nonetheless, and after a winter of spring conditions, it was heaven.The slopes were also empty and we were still enjoying fresh tracks well into the afternoon.

It continued to snow for the rest of the day and most of the night, so the next morning we headed up to Les Contamines for first lifts. The snow was even deeper and up to waist deep* in places, which was awesome, unless you fell and had to dig yourself out! Visibility wasn’t great early on but by mid morning it had brightened up, allowing us to take full advantage of the conditions. Once again, the slopes were quiet and there was untouched powder in abundance all day long.

Photo: Daniel Leadbetter

Photo: Daniel Leadbetter

By the next again day it felt like spring again but the snow was still great, if starting to get a little heavy and tracked out in places.

We headed to Argentière in Chamonix for our last day where the snow was deep but chopped up off piste. It was fun but after nine full days of riding, we were definitely starting to feel it in our legs.

Sitting in the sun after our last run, beer in hand, we felt tired but elated after such an unexpectedly awesome end to our trip and possibly the season. I’m hoping to get out to Spring Break at the end of April, but if those turn out to be my last few days of the season, I couldn’t have hoped for them to be any better.

* Measurements are based on my diminutive 5’3 stature.

For more photos check out the Riding Switch Facebook page.

 Over to you…

How was winter 2013/14 for you?

The early season gamble

Early season snowboarding trips are always a bit of a gamble, as you never know what conditions are going to be like. It could be dumping with snow one year and St G Dec13barren the next. However, by the time December comes around I’m always desperate to get out to the mountains so am prepared to take the chance, especially as the number of people who’re not means that it’s invariably cheap and quiet.

I’ve just returned from five days in and around St Gervais in the French Alps and conditions were strangely spring-like. Despite the fact that the season got off to a great start in early November with heavy snowfall across the Alps, sadly it wasn’t sustained and by the time we arrived on 13th December there hadn’t been any Les Contamines Dec 13substantial snowfall for around three weeks. Sunny days and mild temperatures had also accompanied the lack of precipitation although cold nights had allowed for plenty of snowmaking, which meant that the slopes were in surprisingly good shape considering.

During our stay we rode St Gervais, Les Contamines, Argentière and Flaine, and conditions were pretty similar across the board. Most resorts had only opened recently and had limited terrain, but low numbers of visitors meant that the slopes hadn’t taken too much of a beating. Minimal snow cover meant that loose rocks and exposed patches were fairly common lower down, but rock hopping was quite fun and our boards emerged relatively unscathed!

That cloud means snow's on its way!

That cloud means snow’s on its way!

However, higher up the snow was pretty good and we even got a few turns in what could loosely be described as powder. On the whole though off piste was either not really worth venturing into or, in the case of Flaine, very dangerous. This wasn’t necessarily due to an unstable snowpack but rather massive holes everywhere.

It was a far cry from the same week last year when we were out in Courchevel. It had already been dumping for ages by the time we arrived and continued all week, providing us with deep fresh pow for the duration. It was undoubtedly the best early season conditions I’ve ever experienced if not the best ever.

Snow the day after we left!

Snow the day after we left!

By comparison, this season’s early conditions may have seemed a little disappointing, but in reality they really weren’t that bad. It’s not unheard of for there to be next to no snow until well into December. Two years ago there was a worrying lack of snow at the start of December and everyone was freaking out, but then it started to snow and didn’t stop for weeks! You just can’t predict how it’s going to pan out, but in my mind it’s always worth a punt.

Needless to say, it started to snow the day after we left and delivered 20-25cm in the St Gervais area over a couple of days. And the good news is that there’s even more forecast over Christmas, which hopefully bodes well for the next trip out in the new year!

Over to you…

Have you had your first turns of the season yet? Are you lucky enough to be out there for Christmas or New Year? How is it? Feel free to share your photos on the Riding Switch Facebook page and make us jealous! I’ll post more of mine there too…


Guest blog post for PowderBeds.com

Last week I spent an amazing four days in St Gervais and was asked by PowderBeds.com to write a guest post for their website. Follow the link below to read the post which gives the lowdown on the resort and surrounding areas, Les Contamines and Chamonix, as well as current conditions out there…

Guest blog post for PowderBeds.com: Four Days In St Gervais

And while you’re there, why not grab yourself an amazing late season deal on ski accommodation? I can highly recommend Chalet la Charme!

Check out the Riding Switch Facebook Page for more photos of the trip…

Word on the piste: From woe to snow!

It’s been quite a week in the snow world. To think it was only just over a week ago that there was serious concern over the outlook for the 2011/12 ski season in Europe, and even the future of snowsports in Europe full stop!

Blue sky powder day in St Gervais - 8 December. Photo: Chris Barrow

The fact that the British press didn’t pick up on this until after it had started snowing caused an uproar from certain parts of the  ski industry who, for the second year running, were seeing their already recession-hit businesses being crucified by the good old British press.

But when it did finally start to snow, it really snowed, and didn’t stop for several days. A fact that the ski industry took great pleasure in drawing to the attention of the sloppy hacks.

In a matter of days the previously snow starved slopes have been buried under well over a metre  of light fluffy snow, and what was looking like being one of the worst starts to the season on record, is now shaping up to be one of the best!

Perfect conditions for Glenshee's opening day. Photo: Glenshee Ski Centre

And it’s not just the Alps who have been blessed by the snow Gods. Despite Hurricane Bawbag‘s best efforts to blow away all the fresh snow that had fallen in Scotland over the past week, and sabotage efforts to prepare the ski areas for an early opening (a derailed gondola, damaged chairlifts and power cuts  being among some of its handiwork), Glenshee, Cairngorm and The Lecht opened for business this weekend. And, as you can see above, conditions were fantastic!

I was starting to feel quite envious of friends out in the Alps and over in the US and Canada, but now I can’t wait to get back up to Scotland to put in my first turns of the season!

Anyone managed to get out on the slopes yet? Let me know where you’ve been and how it was. Go on, make me jealous…!

Word on the piste: It’s snowing!

It’s a sight for sore eyes. After prolonged strike action which had left even the uppermost alpine slopes looking as green in December as they had in August, the snow Gods have finally gone back to work!

Reports of fresh snow are coming in from across the Alps and according to my sources out there, there’s a good covering above 1600m, with an even more active front forecast to pass through tonight and tomorrow which should bring with it a load more of the white stuff! Here’s a picture from Chris at Haute Altitude in St Gervais. Looking good!

Slopes looking good in St Gervais

And here’s another one from the guys at Upflatdown in Tignes where it’s starting to look a lot more as you’d expect at this time of year. Although conditions have been relatively good up on the glacier, the Tignes residents (and those planning to visit!) are hoping the long awaited snowfall will see the rest of the mountain being open before long. Fingers crossed!

Everything's all white in Tignes!

And it’s not just the Alps that are finally being compensated for the apparent strike action from above. Drawing the curtains in my parent’s house near Edinburgh this morning, I was met with the wonderful sight of a blanket of white. I felt like a  kid on Christmas morning!

Snow in Scotland this morning

Outside the window it’s still snowing and it’s forecast to continue over the next few days. I just hope it keeps coming and puts down a good base in the Scottish ski areas. A little respite tomorrow afternoon would be good, just to allow me to get down to London, but maybe I’m just being picky!

Anyway, as a wise friend once said, “the weather’s the weather”! ;)

Please post a comment if you’ve got any tales of snow to report. Let’s share the excitement… winter starts here!!

Friends in high places

When planning a summer holiday, most people tend to stick to the age-old formula of sun, sea and sand, and were it not for the fact that I have friends who live in the Alps, I too might have been heading off to the south of France, Spain or, most likely, Scotland! But as the plane fare from London to Geneva was only slightly more than a train fare to Edinburgh and the journey time roughly equivalent, the Alps won hands down.

Chalet la Charme

My friends Chris and Hannah run the gorgeous 4 star Chalet la Charme in St Gervais, a pretty little spa town which sits in the heart of the Mont Blanc Massif, an hour’s drive from Geneva. With St Gervais and Les Contamines ski areas on the doorstep and Megeve and Chamonix within easy reach, it goes without saying that it’s a fantastic destination for winter sports. But it’s also a great place to visit in the summer, whether you’re looking for an action-packed getaway, a relaxing break in the sun or a combination of both.

Sunset from the terrace

The chalet itself perches just above the town centre and offers stunning, unobstructed views of the Chaine d’Aravis. It can accommodate up to 10 people in 5 luxury en-suite bedrooms, on either a half board, B&B or self catered basis. It has a large, comfortable living room with a wood burning fire which is perfect for relaxing in on cold winter evenings, and there’s a great terrace for summer barbeques which gets the sun until it drops behind the mountains, creating the most magnificent sunsets.

Only 20 minutes drive from St Gervais is the adrenaline sports mecca of Chamonix. It’s just as great a place to visit in summer as it is in winter whether you want to partake in one of the many activities on offer, or would rather just wander round the town centre, stopping off at one of the many bars and restaurants to indulge in some local specialities, take in the stunning views and watch a very different world go by.

Summer is peak season in Chamonix and interspersed among the tourists are countless sickeningly fit looking men and women dressed in the latest technical clothing and laden down with ropes and other climbing paraphernalia, the quantity of which is apparently directly proportional to their level of expertise, or so they’d like you to believe!

View of the Aiguille de Midi and the Glacier des Bossons

People watching in Chamonix incites both adulation and amusement. While the physiques and rugged appearance of many may attest to their ability to negotiate the treacherous terrain which looms above, there does seem to be a certain degree of posturing which is entertaining, if not a little irritating. But perhaps that just betrays a hint of jealousy resulting from the aching limbs that we were experiencing after our relatively straightforward venture into the mountains!

Looking down on Chamonix and the Glacier des Bossons

We may not have summited Mont Blanc or scaled the Grand Dru, but hiking up alongside the Glacier des Bossons was breathtaking (literally as well as metaphorically) and there wasn’t even a need for a rope or ice axe, even if we did wish we’d taken one (or better still, two) for effect!

Other activities available for us mere (albeit plucky) mortals are rafting, mountain biking and paragliding, but we chose to focus more on the alternative alpine pursuits of ultimate cheese consumption and extreme wine tasting which we were easily able to justify after our alpine ascent!

After conquering Chamonix, we moved on to Megeve, a 10 minute drive from St Gervais, for more of the same. The inviting restaurant terraces which line the pretty streets of the old town made it the perfect location to push ourselves to the limits of our waistbands.

After five fantastic days in and around St Gervais I’d experienced everything that’s great about a beach holiday, and more. We’d chilled in the sun, explored beautiful old towns and (over) indulged in local food and wines, but we’d also had the extra dimension of some of the most stunning and awe-inspiring scenery in the world and the immense adventure playground that it plays host to.

Annecy. Or is it the Med?!

And after stopping off at the beautiful town of Annecy en route to the airport, with its gorgeous lake complete with sandy beaches, and more ice cream parlours per square mile than I’ve ever encountered, the only ingredient that was still missing was the sea. But let’s face it, who likes salt water anyway?!

Given a choice between the beach and the mountains, I’ll take the mountains every time. So, while I’d much rather they still lived closer to home, sometimes it does pay to have friends in high places!

*Massive thanks to Hannah and Chris for being such fantastic hosts and giving me the most amazing holiday!

Click here to find out more about the area and book your own summer or winter break at Chalet la Charme.