Tag Archives: St Gervais

Powder chasing

“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 St Gervais powderhad 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.

Snow in St GervaisHowever, 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 View from chairliftdown 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!

Sunrise St GervaisThe 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!

Clearing snowAs 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.

Avalanche transceiverIt 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.

Megève tree runs 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.

Les SaisiesWe 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.

Fresh tracks, La ClusazMuch 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.

Col de Balme, La ClusazThe 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 Col de Balme, La Clusaztook 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!

For more photos head to the Riding Switch Facebook page or Instagram

Searching for snow

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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…

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…

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!!