“Have you seen the snow forecast?” said Dan, grinning from ear to ear.
“Yeah, at last eh?” I replied, relieved that it was starting to look like the season wasn’t going to be a write off after all. It was the end of January, usually one of the best months for snow, and this was the first prolonged forecast of snow there had been all season.
“Shall we go this weekend?”
“I thought you were working?”
“I’ll sort it, let’s go”
And before I knew it, my powder hungry boyfriend had booked flights, arranged to stay with friends and even bought us both new avalanche safety gear. It was the best travel service I’d ever had, except for the fact he’d booked us flights at 6.30 in the morning. Surely he knows I’m not a morning person, sheesh.
However, there was method to his apparent madness and, having arrived in Geneva at 9.30 am, we were on the slopes of St Gervais by lunchtime, relieved not to have encountered any of the travel chaos that usually accompanies heavy snowfall. In fact, we’d had no problems whatsoever until we arrived at our friends’ chalet and had to put snow chains on to get up the drive!
As we looked down from the chairlift at the trees practically collapsing under the weight of all the snow, there was absolutely no question that the 3am alarm call had been worth it. Off piste the snow was at least knee deep and still coming down hard. It couldn’t have been more different to when we were here just before Christmas and the slopes and buildings were completely free of snow. In fact, in all the years I’ve been visiting St Gervais, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so snowy.
The next morning we awoke to the beautiful sight of the Aravis mountain range bathed in a pink hue, with the town below covered in a thick blanket of fresh snow. It was going to be a blue sky powder day!
The only thing getting between us and the powder covered slopes was the small issue of a foot of snow that was blocking the road up to the chalet, and we weren’t going anywhere until it had been cleared. It took two strapping lads (yes, I am talking about Dan and Chris) close to an hour to clear it, which is probably enough to take the edge off a powder day, especially if, like Chris, you have to do it every time there’s a big dump of snow. Talk about earning your turns!
As it turned out, we were actually quite happy not to have been up there first. St Gervais is relatively low so the powder can be slightly heavier than it would be at higher altitudes, and as its slopes don’t have the steepest gradient, if you get stuck it’s pretty hard work to get going again. There were still plenty of fresh tracks to be had but we made sure we kept an existing track within easy reach in case we needed a get out! At one point I bailed and was totally engulfed by snow, which was actually a little scary.
It seemed like quite an opportune time to do some avalanche safety and transceiver training so we took some time out to practice tracking buried transceivers under the guidance of experienced mountain man, Chris.
After half a day of blue skies the snow returned, and it kept dumping for the next few days, which meant lots more road clearing but also plenty more powder turns! In addition to St Gervais, we also took in the neighbouring resorts of Megève and Combleux, all of which have loads of great runs through the trees that were perfect for the snowy conditions. The combination of steeper gradient and lighter snow there also made it a dream to ride, and as the resorts were quiet, there were always freshies to be had.
For the last couple of days of our trip we’d planned to head somewhere a bit further afield and opted for La Clusaz on the other side of the Aravis, which is a resort I’d never been to before. It’s also pretty easy to get to from St Gervais, in theory, and normally just requires an hour-long drive up and over the Col d’Aravis. As the snow had eased and the roads seemed fine we set off, hoping to get to La Clusaz for an afternoon shred. The road that winds up to the Col d’Aravis had been well cleared, however, just as we approached the top, we came round a bend to find an abandoned snow plough in the middle of the road, which ended abruptly by its enormous blade. It was pretty apparent that we weren’t getting any further.
We could hardly believe it – we were practically there, but were going to have to go all the way back down, do a massive detour to Annecy and approach from there. If we hadn’t already booked and paid for accommodation in La Clusaz we’d have sacked it off and gone somewhere else instead, but we were committed now. However, rather than write off the day completely we decided to spend the afternoon in one of the nearby ski areas before embarking on the tedious detour. On the way up I’d noticed signs to Les Saisies, a little resort that I’d visited briefly when I worked for ski tour operator Ski Independence, so we headed there.
Much of the terrain in Les Saisies is fairly gentle but we managed to find an area with some great blacks and reds, and fantastic snow. On our way up there we passed over some very enticing expanses of untouched snow but when dipping into them on the way back down it was easy to see why no one had ventured in too far as the lack of gradient meant you’d soon grind to a halt.
When we finally made it to La Clusaz that evening we were pleasantly surprised by what a cool town it is and both agreed that it was worth the ball ache of a journey to get there.
The next day we discovered that the ski area was equally good. We spent most of the day up in the Col de Balme area of the resort which had wide open bowls, challenging terrain and loads of great snow. Despite the fact that it hadn’t snowed for two days, the snow was in great nick and there were still fresh tracks to be claimed. Word had quite clearly got out that the Col de Balme was the place to be and there were quite a few people heading up the lift to get a piece of the action. It was a massive bowl though so everyone dispersed pretty quickly at the top. Next time round we decided to take the other, decidedly quieter, chairlift, which linked to a drag lift that took you up to a practically deserted bowl that was far less tracked out and had some awesome lines to take, as well as stunning views. We ended up lapping that drag lift for the rest of the afternoon doing “one more run” after another until the light went and we decided we’d really better head back.
If we weren’t already feeling smug enough at having found such a sweet spot to shred, it was intensified further still when, on riding down, we realised that the rest of the mountain had been sitting in thick cloud while we’d been enjoying the sunshine higher up.
It was a fantastic end to what had been an amazing impromptu trip. We’re now back in the UK recovering from a serious powder come down, counting the days until our next trip and praying that we’ll be blessed with similar conditions. That’s the only problem with powder – it’s pretty addictive!