Tag 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?

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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…

Word on the piste

Now that the ski season has well and truly started to kick off and news from the slopes is coming in thick and fast, I thought I’d start to bring you regular summaries of what’s going down in the snow world, for those of you who don’t have the time to obsess about it as much as I do!

So, here’s the biggest news from the past few days…

First up was Jamie Nicholls‘ incredible win at the Burton Tokyo Rail Days Jam on Saturday. In front of a crowd of 3000 at the Roppongi Hills Arena the young lad from Yorkshire beat off competition from 16 of the world’s top jibbers, taking away a cheque for $1500 for his troubles. Massive congratulations Jamie!

Jamie smashing it in Tokyo

While Jamie was smashing it in Tokyo, something of equally epic proportions was happening over in Canada thanks to some girl called Nina, or something. While Europe’s Indian summer has extended to an Indian autumn, over in the Canadian Rockies it has been absolutely dumping! Whistler opened yesterday with a base of 130cm already in place and it’s still absolutely spewing down, with 90cm falling in 48 hours!

Someone who experienced this immense start to the winter up close and personal is pro skier, Mike Douglas who spent 6 days and nights ’embedded’ at the top of Whistler Mountain in the days leading up to opening day, filming the transformation of the mountain throughout the storms and paying tribute to the hard work of those who brave the extreme conditions in order to turn the mountain from treacherous wilderness  into an awesome winter playground. Here’s the master cut of his adventure…

And it’s not just Whistler that’s had a great start to the season, Banff is also looking fantastic. They had 30cm of fresh in Lake Louise on Wednesday and 22cm in Sunshine Village. Here’s one of the many pictures that friends out there have been tormenting me with over the past few days…

Beautiful Banff - shame about that ski tainting the view though 😉 Photo: Jason Connell

Europe, on the other hand, is not looking so good. A friend in Chamonix told me he was out hiking in shorts and t-shirt the other day and another friend took this photo in Val d’Isere

Val d'Isere on Monday. Photo: Philly Waygood

However, don’t worry of you’re heading out in the coming weeks as the good news is that it’s been cold enough for the snow cannons to work and there’s snow forecast for this weekend. Fingers crossed!

And news just in is that it’s started snowing in Scotland! Here’s a shot from the Lecht this morning…

Whoop whoop, bring on the Scottish snow!

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.