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Changeable weather in the Chamonix Valley

Sometimes the weather wins, sometimes skiing wins

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Graham Pinkerton | Chamonix Reporter | Published: 7 Mar 2019


Changeable weather in the Chamonix Valley

Every so often, the Chamonix mountains take the opportunity to remind us all who's boss in this town. Monday was one of those days. Whist the weather forecasts had been predicting stronger than usual winds, what we got was worse than expected and, as a result, every ski area in the valley with the exception of Les Houches was shut for the day.

The mountains obviously felt a bit bad about what they'd done though as, come Tuesday, the weather flipped and we had blue skies again complete with much-reduced winds and a welcome layer of fresh snow.

After waiting to see what lifts were going to open when, we caught the train up to Grands Montets for a day of mixing lifts and leg power to get the best snow we could. The Herse chairlift didn't open until just before lunch so queues for Bochard and Tabe were about as bad as I've seen all season, despite the busiest weeks being behind us. Even so, it still took less than five minutes of waiting to get on a gondola. The pistes weren't particularly smooth but at least they were soft where the wind hadn't hit them too hard the day before, with soft moguls forming quickly. Off-piste, the main ski area was a mix of great soft snow and less great wind scoured firmness. Aim for the soft snow would be the obvious advice. 

Looking for some longer pitches of good snow we joined the hoards skinning over Col des Rachasses. Despite the crowds, there was plenty of space for everyone and we managed to descend all the way to the Argentière glacier only crossing our own tracks on beautiful velvety snow. Not the deepest or lightest either of us had ever skied but really pretty smashing none the less. The weather was now too warm for our planned afternoon route, so we just enjoyed the soft snow all the way to the valley floor and a stop for coffee at the Cremerie restaurant, hidden away off the Pierre a Ric home run, before catching the bus home.

Another day and another change in the weather. Looking about the valley on Wednesday morning, Les Houches seemed to have the most blue sky overhead so it was Les Houches that we headed to. The foehn wind had started again and, though Les Houches is the least affected area by this wind (and Flégère generally gets hit the hardest), it was still noticeable on the chairlifts and definitely noticeable looking at the snow getting whipped about on the high mountains.

The pistes were a mix of still a bit firm from the overnight thaw/freeze cycle through to soft and sugary, more reminiscent of skiing later in spring. Slope of the day was definitely the Chamois blue piste, partly for its sweeping views down into the Arve valley but mostly for the smooth piste getting gently refreshed by the wind constantly pushing a steady supply of fresh snow onto the piste. Folks seemed to be finding out about the delights of the run, however, and the Melezes chairlift soon had a short but noticeable queue, so we kept exploring.

After a morning at Les Houches, the itch for some off-piste skiing still needed to be scratched so the afternoon saw us back at the Aiguille du Midi telepherique for some laps from the mid station. The foehn had started to do its work on the snow here too, transforming it from yesterday's powder to a denser creamier consistency. But, with the lack of other skiers' tracks, the skiing was still pretty good. The exit trail, like that from the Mer du Glace, has now broken and some sections of walking are required unless you have a particularly cavalier attitude to your skis. Still, worth it for the turns higher up.

The weather is sticking with the theme of change for the next week at least. Thursday looks likely to bring more wind but also more snow. Estimates of how much vary but around 20cm seems to be the average. Next up comes a couple of days of probably dry and sometimes sunny weather, although with the ever-present threat of strong winds, especially higher up in the mountains. From Sunday onwards there is very little agreement in the weather models beyond that it will probably snow, and that it might snow quite a lot. As ever, the weather will do whatever it wants, so we'll find out next week exactly what it has in store for us but now would probably be a good time to get your powder skis waxed.

As ever, stay safe and have fun.

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.