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Almost time to put away the skis in Chamonix

That's it, that's all for this winter

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Graham Pinkerton | Chamonix Reporter | Published: 2 May 2019

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Almost time to put away the skis in Chamonix

May 1st and the resort skiing is done in Chamonix. There's a final gasp at the weekend coming where the Grands Montets lifts get fired up one last time but, other than the weekend of the 4th and 5th, we're done.

Winter 2018/19 has gone out in style though. Anyone hoping for some fine high-pressure days will have been disappointed but there's been no shortage of fresh snow and face shots for everyone else. 

The visibility has been a bit hit and miss. Friday and Saturday did have plenty of navigationally challenging moments as we chased the better snow and windows of vision around the mountain. If you got it right, you were rewarded with some great skiing in spring powder on an almost deserted mountain. The lack of people also meant that the pistes weren't getting cut up too badly, so you could stick to carving out the arcs if you preferred. Even Pierre a Ric, usually past its best by the end of April, is holding up well. It's not full width all the way down and you need to take the skis off about 50 meters before the Plan Joran lift station, but it's still much better to ski down than download for anyone of intermediate standard or above.

Monday was the day of the week, with the biggest decision for most riders being Midi or Grands Montets? Those heading to the Midi would have to contend with the usual morning queues but the reward would be a classic descent in absolutely prime snow conditions, made even better by the knowledge that the bad weather had limited the amount the Midi lift had been able to open over the previous seven days.

Over at Grands Montets, the lack of the top lift has meant that there's way less competition for fresh tracks as many of the freeriders take their powder skis to other areas instead. For those prepared to tour the few hundred meters from the Bochard lift up to the Col des Rachasses, they could have a morning of skiing amazing snow under a blue sky. As the day went on, the sun and spring warmth started to make the more exposed snow a bit heavier but anywhere that wasn't in the full force of the sun was staying gloriously light. Then the clouds returned and we were back to the previous days' games of waiting for windows in the cloud to really enjoy the turns. Still a great day to be out in the mountains.

Even a day without snowfall later there was still plenty of space left on the upper mountain if you wanted to tour up and leave your tracks in the snow. We chose to give the piste skis one last outing, a choice we were pretty happy with given the condition of the pistes. From the Herse chairlift and Bochard telecabine, the pistes looked like they might be running a little firm but looks are deceptive and they were almost perfect, firm but with plenty of grip to really get an edge into. Even Pierre a Ric, though the snow was turning more granular than higher on the mountain, was in great condition. It's been looking far, far worse at the end of April in years past!

If it's so quiet up on the mountain, what's everyone up to instead? Well, trail runners, mountain bikers, climbers, walkers and more are all making the seasonal transition from Goretex to t-shirts. Chamonix is a year-round playground, after all, and already you can get busy with your summer sport of choice in the valley whilst waiting for the lifts to reopen for the summer. Check out all the best summer activities.

If you're not prepared to give up on skiing quite yet, make sure you get out for the closing weekend. Every "Freeride Days" has a theme, this year it's superhero fancy dress. What could be more entertaining than Superman on the waterslide, Catwoman snow tubing or the Hulk trying the zip-wire traverse? If you want to try to emulate the superheroes of the Chamonix Valley, then there's even a race up Pierre a Ric. All this and only €5 for a day pass, it's hard to say no!

And anyway, it's Chamonix, the skiing doesn't stop just because the resort's closed. The Aiguille du Midi keeps running with the almost unlimited touring and steep skiing opportunities it affords. So far it's not been a vintage north-face season for the Midi, with many of the classic lines still waiting on a really good spring storm to plaster the glacial ice in sticky snow but conditions are rapidly improving in the recent weather and it might just be a late starter for the valley's steep skiers. The Vallée Blanche is past its prime for the year, with the exit starting to become more interesting as the snow and, more importantly, snow bridges start to thin and melt lower down. However, for experienced ski mountaineers and guided parties, there's still plenty of good skiing to be had there too.

The final guess at what the weather's going to do for the next few days... Once again, the forecasts are doing a good job of sitting on the fence. After Wednesday's fine weather, it seems Thursday will start sunny and deteriorate from there into a snowy and changeable Friday and Saturday. Just how much snow will fall is hard to predict but I think you can be fairly confident of plenty powder above 2000m by Sunday. There should hopefully be an improvement for the last Grands Montets day of winter, we'll see you up the hill to find out if there is.

Thanks for being with Chamonet for winter 2019, we hope you've had as good a season as we've had and we'll see you when the snow starts falling again for winter 2020.

NB: Exploring beyond the ski resort boundaries is an amazing experience for anyone who's physically fit and has mastered the pistes well enough. There are, however, risks associated with venturing outside the safety of the marked/patrolled ski area, including awareness of your actions on those below you on the slopes. Mountain guides are professionally qualified and have extensive knowledge of the local terrain to provide you with the safest and most enjoyable possible experience in the mountains; as a visitor here we highly recommend you hiring one. Many ski schools also provide instruction in off-piste skiing, avalanche safety and mountaineering techniques. Make your time in the mountains unforgettable for the right reasons, ski safe!

Off-piste skiing and mountaineering are dangerous. The opinions expressed in these articles are very much time and condition-specific and the content is not intended in any way to be a substitute for hiring a mountain guide, undergoing professional mountaineering training and/or the individual's own backcountry decision making.