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Cold temperatures and cold snow to start February in Chamonix

Cold weather skiing and some tips to make the most of the coming half-term holidays

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Graham Pinkerton | Chamonix Reporter | Published: 7 Feb 2018

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Cold temperatures and cold snow to start February in Chamonix

Snow on Thursday lead to several days of good skiing under sometimes blue, sometimes cloudy skies. The biggest challenge of the week seems to have been guessing where and when the blue sky was going to make an appearance! With such stable weather, piste conditions haven't really been changing much day to day. A bit firmer and smoother in the morning, a bit softer but a bit bumpier by the end of the day.

The conditions have been fairly good for touring too, particularly above about 2000m where Thursday's snowfall is deep enough to hide the firmer layer below. This fresh snow can be quite sluffy when touring or skiing off-piste, but of more concern are the occasional massive avalanches now happening. Generally occurring below 2400m altitude, these slides are going the full depth of the substantial snowpack and, although too large to be triggered by skiers, cause huge damage to anything below them and some have made accessing/exiting some touring areas a little more complicated.

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Cruising around Brevent on Monday morning, the light was irritatingly flat which made spotting the best places to ski a little trickier than usual. Fortunately, the sun made a bit more of an effort in the afternoon, I guess even it suffers from Monday morning blues. The usual freeride spots around Col Cornu and Hotel Face were still holding fairly soft snow where there's not been too much sun. However, it's quite tracked now and, in several places, there's been enough skier traffic to scrape the new snow completely away leaving just the older unpleasant hard layer. Which can be surprisingly tricky to spot in flat light!

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After being the only ski area open for most of January, locals are probably getting a bit bored of Les Houches but, on a sunny day, it can be a great choice for piste cruising. As the higher ski areas with bigger vertical are one of the big draws for folk visiting Chamonix, little low down Les Houches often gets forgotten when the weather's good, so we had a grand Tuesday afternoon enjoying the quiet pistes and the more varied views you get from the far end of the valley. The pistes looking over Sallanches and the Arve valley were definitely a bit firmer than those facing back towards Chamonix, but the change of scenery made up for it.

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On the north-facing side of the valley, snow conditions are a little better as the lack of sun means you get good snow down to about 1500m where you can find it untracked (and there are a few areas still but we all need to keep our little secret spots....). If anything, the slight warming and settling has improved the skiing at mid to low altitudes as it's given a little more density to the very light snow of Thursday.

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Looking forward, there's now two forecasts to pay attention to. As ever, the weather forecast but also the European school holiday dates. The less predictable forecast, i.e. the weather, looks like much of the same for now, with no real snow nor settled 100% sunshine days on the horizon. Further out it seems likely the sky will give a Valentine's day present of some more substantial snow but the weather's a fickle partner so I wouldn't trust that too much. 

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Next week is the start of the vacations which will run through to the weekend of the 10th/11th March. The first two weeks (10th to 25th February) have the largest numbers of schools on holiday, so will likely be the two peak weeks of the winter. Chamonix does get a lot busier during these periods but that doesn't mean all the good skiing stops.

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You can avoid the worst of the queues by starting your ski day a little earlier or later than usual. Getting up the hill away from the 09:00-10:30 peak period will help dodge the wait for the main lifts of the morning. Another good hack is to get your skiing whilst everyone else has stopped for lunch, so have your food a little earlier or later than usual and enjoy quite pistes whilst other's enjoy food. Or if you're like me, have an earlier AND a later lunch, sandwiching your skiing between sandwiches. It also worth looking at pre-booking certain lifts. The Grand Montets top lift and Aiguille du Midi can both be reserved online in advance, letting you keep skiing until it's your reserved time to head up, then walk past the line of skiers who've been waiting all the whiles you've been skiing. Finally, it's surprising how much quieter a lot of lifts get after 3 in the afternoon. The slopes are only open for another 60 to 90 minutes, but, as everyone heads for the apres ski, you can get a surprising amount of riding done.

Or you could stop skiing for four weeks and watch the Olympics from the sofa instead. I think I'll enjoy the skiing!

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!

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