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Chasing the snow around Chamonix

From Brevent to Flegere to Grands Montets

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Graham Pinkerton | Chamonix Reporter | Published: 14 Mar 2018


Chasing the snow around Chamonix

You know that nagging feeling you get when skiing that, whilst the snow you're on is pretty good (because any snow is better than no snow), there's some less tracked/deeper/steeper skiing to be found somewhere nearby? Maybe if you just look round this ridgeline you'll find it...

Well, that's how I've been feeling the last few days. The skiing's been not bad but I was sure there was something better to be found. I just wasn't looking in quite the right place.

On Sunday, the search took us to Brevent and Flegere. Brevent was serving up poor visibility and a disappointing mix of crusty, firm snow and strangely sticky pistes. We kept looking, though, and found ourselves over in Flegere where the visibility was still poor but at least it was now due to falling snow and, whilst it wasn't a powder day, higher up off the Floria drag lift there were some good turns to be had through the cloud. As you got lower, the snow warmed to being a bit more sugary and the pistes by the Chavanne chair were pretty fun to carve about on.

Monday was cloudy again but there had been a little overnight snow, enough to cause delayed openings on several of the lifts when combined with stronger winds than the day before. We waited until the afternoon to head to Grands Montets, hoping it would be quieter and the forecast afternoon snow would fill in the slopes a bit more. Sure enough, it was quiet and even off popular lifts like the Herse Chairlift it was easy to find untouched snow just short traverses from the piste. The lunchtime snowfall had left about 20cm of fresh snow but, from below about 2100m, it was increasingly humid and heavy.

Overnight, we had an increase in the snowfall and a decrease in the temperatures, so back to GM to make full use of the vast vertical on offer. Starting with a lap from the top we found plenty of deep snow... we just couldn't really see much when skiing it! Even so, the lap was over far too quickly and, with the queue for the top lift starting to build, we headed next to Bochard for a lap into Lavancher bowl. Again, good snow, just not too easy to see where you were going as the speed increased. The snow was feeling a bit shallower and more wind compacted as we got closer to the tree line so, initially, we weren't too sure about heading into the woods but figured maybe they'd have helped slow the wind and stop the snow being too compacted and worked. 
Conveniently, it had. We stayed lapping the Pendent Retour and Tabe chairs that access the magic forest area of Grands Montets for the next few hours. We weren't the only ones and there were quite a few other skiers tracks to cross but the snow was great and plenty of the hucks were on. And it only took three days of searching to find!

After every great day skiing, the search for the next continues. With the prospect of some colder temperatures during the week and more snow on Thursday and at the weekend, I don't think we're going to have to wait too long or look too hard for more good riding. The drop in temperatures meant that Tuesday's avalanche danger had reduced from "high" to "considerable" which it's worth remembering still means a considerable risk of avalanches. As we progress further into spring, the weather of the day has more and more of an effect on the snow and, as a result, the risk for Wednesday is back up to HIGH. This pattern will continue for the rest of the season so watch for the warming from the sun during the day and be ready to make the most of the first few hours of the morning before moving back to the pistes and safer slopes as you go into the afternoon.

The weather remains predictably unpredictable, there being no sign of nice stable high pressure in the next few weeks and it being likely to fluctuate between sunshine and snow showers day to day. Just like this week, there's a reasonable chance of the weather being quite different on either side of the Mont Blanc tunnel too, so if you don't like what you see out the window in Chamonix, have a look at the Courmayeur webcams

Ski safely off-piste

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 hire one. Many ski schools, and also mountain guides, provide instruction in off-piste skiing, avalanche safety and mountaineering techniques. Make your time in the mountains unforgettable for the right reasons, ski safe!