After a week of sunshine, it's snowing again...
Working off the Xmas excess at Les Houches. All pistes and lifts open and in good condition
Did you get what you wanted for Christmas? If you asked for blue skies and open pistes then you probably did! With most of December featuring snowfall in varying degrees of intensity, the last week of mostly sunshine has been very welcome.
Of course, whilst that sunshine and warmth has been great for the piste skiing, it's not helped the off-piste snow any, especially when combined with the strong winds at altitude which have made conditions in the high mountains challenging at best. Some more snow would be just perfect to sort that out... Sure enough, the 26th of December sees a return to snowy weather.
Eager to sweat out some of the previous day's eating excess, well maybe not 'eager', perhaps 'needing to' would be more accurate. I digress. With exercise being needed, a trip to the Les Houches skin track seemed like a grand idea.
Even if we weren't looking for some exercise, Les Houches is a great choice for days when the weather is a little less than inspiring. Being a bit lower than the other ski stations in the Chamonix valley the area dodges the worst of the wind that can make Le Tour or the top of Grand Montets so unpalatable on a stormy day. What's more, with most of the pistes being lined by trees you get some help with seeing where the piste goes as the cloud levels drop or the snow starts falling and the dreaded flat light strikes.
Starting from the base of the Prarion gondola the skin track makes it's way up the hill using a mix of summer forestry roads, downhill mountain bike tracks and walking trails. It never strays too far from the piste, so if energy or enthusiasm levels drop (or the new boots you got for Christmas start to give you blisters) it's easy to escape back onto the piste and head down the hill. Equally, you get just enough distance into the trees to feel like you're away from the hustle and bustle of the ski area. We started out climbing in light rain, which didn't do much for enthusiasm levels, but by the time we had reached the Maisonneuve Chairlift this had turned to snow and made the forest look much more festive.
The track keeps ascending past the temptations of Les Vieilles Luges restaurant and its giant "vin chaud" sign and a short while later splits into the hare or tortoise options. We took the hare, the quicker we got up the quicker we could get skiing, but the tortoise option takes an enjoyably circuitous route through the trees.
The skin track is never too challenging and right now is in great condition, however near the top there is a short steeper section that gives you an opportunity to practice your kick turns, or wish you'd spent more time learning them on flatter ground.
Having put all that energy into getting to the top of the hill, it seemed only right to go for a bit of a ski and use the lifts that have been installed at great effort and expense to save us the bother of using our own muscles in the first place.
The visibility wasn't great so instead of enjoying the Plancerts piste, my usualfavourite slope in Les Houches, and its open vista towards Megeve, Combloux and the Aravis mountains, we stayed a little lower in the trees to help give some definition to the skiing.
On the whole the pistes were much quieter than they had been the previous couple of days and the more out of the way runs, such as Mur des Epines, were deserted for the most part. Of course, when you can only see a few hundred meters at a time it makes everything look quiet. If you can't see the other skiers then they're not there right? But, as we headed back to the base of the hill, the snow stopped and the clouds lifted enough to see some views again. And it still didn't look very busy!
What presents is the weather going to give in the next week? The three wise supercomputers of weather forecasting suggest we'll get a couple days of heavy snow and cold weather, before things start to warm up around the new year, but still with precipitation. After that there's still a lot of uncertainty as to just how much snow will fall, and how warm it will be, but what is sure is that it will still be snowing for most of the pistes in Chamonix and we'll start 2018 with plenty of snow for the rest of the season.
Location: Chamonix - Les Houches