Category Archives: Chamonix

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?

Advertisements

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…

HAVE A GREAT CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

Pre-season snow fix

It’s been dumping with snow in the Alps over the past few days, generating much excitement and anticipation for a great start to the ski season. And with still two months until most alpine resorts open for business, things are certainly looking good!

Les Arcs this morning (16th October)!

The first snowfall of the season came even earlier this year though, with snow falling in Canada, The Alps, and even Scotland, as early as the end of August! As it happened, I was travelling out to the French Alps when they received their first substantial snowfall, which settled as low as 1800m.

We were actually expecting to catch the end of the alpine summer, but the driving rain that hammered our car on the journey from Geneva to St Gervais seemed to suggest that summer had well and truly ended. The next morning snow was clearly visible on the Aravis mountains, which is almost unheard of at the end of August! Fortunately the weather had improved dramatically overnight and by the end of the day the sky had cleared and the sun reappeared. However, the snow remained on the mountains for the duration of the weekend, serving as a tantalising reminder that winter is just around the corner.

La Vallée Blanche from the top of the Aiguille du Midi

A trip to the top of the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix increased our hunger for winter even more. At 3842m, its precipitous peaks and glaciated valleys are permanently shrouded in deep ice and snow, in the form of La Vallée Blanche glacier, and overlooked by the formidable Mont Blanc, which looms above.

The views from the top are absolutely stunning and you can’t help but be transfixed and humbled by your surroundings. In winter it’s possible to ride down La Vallée Blanche, with a guide, but although there’s still plenty of snow in summer, the crevasses are too exposed for it to be safe. Instead, our descent was made in the vertiginous cable car, and as we plunged back down to Chamonix, we were already planning our next ascent, which will be with our boards, and a guide, in tow!

To see more pictures of the stunning views, check out the album on the Riding Switch Facebook Page.

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…