Category Archives: Les Contamines

Searching for snow

IMG_9838

Morzine

“Maybe we should take our mountain bikes instead”, I said to Dan as we packed our snowboard bag, only half joking. It was mid December and there was worryingly little snow in the Alps. And with only a few centimetres forecast before the return of more mild temperatures, it certainly didn’t look like we were going to get much snowboarding on our first trip of the season. Fortunately we weren’t just going for the snow and were visiting friends who live in St Gervais, but I’d be lying if I said that the chance to get in some early season turns wasn’t a major motivation.

IMG_9811

Avoriaz

It’s always a gamble booking a ski or snowboarding trip before Christmas. Sometimes it pays off, like the year before last, where we experienced some of the best powder we’d ever ridden, and sometimes it doesn’t, as was almost certainly going to be the case this time. Arriving in Geneva it felt like it could easily have been spring, and the temperature didn’t change dramatically as we climbed towards St Gervais. The next day our spirits were lifted when it started to snow, but sadly it soon turned to rain. Our only comfort was that it ought to be falling as snow higher up, but even that wasn’t a certainty.

IMG_9827

The Stash, Avoriaz

With neither St Gervais, Les Contamines nor Chamonix open, the next again day we decided to head to Avoriaz where we hoped the previous night’s precipitation might have fallen as snow. By the time we reached Les Gets and Morzine it became glaringly apparent just how bad the snow shortage was. The slopes were almost completely bare, and a discarded umbrella by the otherwise deserted mountain base was a poetically depressing sight that seemed to sum up the situation perfectly.

IMG_9865

Lower slopes at Les Contamines

It was raining lightly as we climbed up to Avoriaz, and the higher we got, the more desperately we willed it to turn to snow. Sadly it didn’t and on arrival we were disheartened to find almost as many people carrying umbrellas as skis and snowboards. There has to be only one thing more depressing than a lack of snow in a ski resort and that’s rain. However, encouraged by the fact that there seemed to be plenty of people on the slopes, we jumped on the lift, optimistic that it might be snowing at the top. But it wasn’t.

IMG_9868

Upper slopes at Les Contamines

Wiping the drizzle from our goggles and congratulating ourselves for having invested in GoreTex outerwear last season, we strapped on our boards and prepared to make the most of it. Amazingly, other than being a little heavy in places, the snow was actually pretty good and we managed to get some great runs in the limited area that was open. The snow cover was good, however, a chairlift ride over The Stash with its features looking ridiculously unridable, revealed just how much snow was still needed for the resort to open fully. Unfortunately my GoreTex indulgence hadn’t stretched to gloves, and after a couple of hours my usually trusty Hestras were like saturated sponges, and my hands resembled anaemic prunes.

WP_20141220_10_28_51_Smart

Freshies at Les Contamines

While it certainly wasn’t the first day of the season we’d dreamed of when we booked the flights back in October, full of hope for a stellar start to the season, we left feeling pretty happy with the day we’d had given the way things had panned out. Unexpectedly ok as it was, we weren’t exactly desperate to head back the next day, especially as conditions weren’t forecast to be any different. There was, however, a decent dump of snow forecast in a couple of day’s time, which coincided with Les Contamines’ (rescheduled) opening date of Saturday 20 December.

photo-21

Powder butters

Fortunately the forecast came good and we headed up to Les Contamines for first lifts on the Saturday morning. The snow was pretty average lower down so we went right up to the top as soon as the upper lifts opened. As we rode up the top lift we could barely contain our excitement at the sight of an open bowl full of fresh, untouched snow. As we climbed higher, the people who’d been ahead of us on the lift started to descend, leaving deep tracks in the snow and us even more desperate to get up there. By the time we got to the top there was still plenty of untouched pow for us to get freshies too, which we took great pleasure in doing. We lapped that lift until the entire bowl was tracked out, and then some more. It was better than we could ever have hoped for and we left feeling totally elated. When we got back down to the town it felt like spring again and was hard to believe that we’d been blasting through fresh powder less than an hour beforehand.

IMG_9879

Happy!

We left a few days before the massive storm that caused travel chaos on the busiest weekend of the season but saved the resorts from a disastrous New Year’s week. Unfortunately the turnaround in conditions didn’t last long and the slopes are once again in dire need of replenishment. Hopefully things will pick up in the Alps soon but until they do I’ll be sticking to the slopes of Scotland, on my mountain bike!

Have you been riding yet this season? How was it?

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!

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…