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It's no joke, spring has come to Chamonix

Enjoying Easter weekend in outstanding April ski conditions

Featured in:

Graham Pinkerton | Chamonix Reporter | Published: 4 Apr 2018


It's no joke, spring has come to Chamonix

April's started and, with it, the weather is suddenly starting to feel like spring. March ended with a gradually dropping snowline so, by the time April started on Easter Sunday, there was a good 40cm of new snow in the mid-mountain and over 60cm up in the high mountains. A perfect combination for great skiing, albeit with some difficult decisions to stay safe off-piste.

With the clouds coming and going high up at first, we started with a few laps from the mid station of the Midi. It's not often you get great tree skiing this late in the season, and it's even rarer that you can ski the Midi mid-station without a long wander back to the valley floor. After a quick coffee and croissant stop, the clouds seemed to be parting so we filled the rucksacs with the requisite equipment for the high mountains and headed to the top of the Midi.

The descent tracks for the Midi arête are well established, as you'd expect at this time of year, and you can descend out of the wind quite quickly. Just as well, even with extra layers on it was bitterly cold compared to the laps we'd been enjoying over 1500m lower down. There's a lot of options available to you when you want to ski from the Midi but we chose to have a look round at the west face classics of Cosmiques and the Rond. Friends were already abseiling into Cosmiques as we arrived, their offer to use their 60-metre ropes would have got us into the couloir much quicker than we could on our 30-metre ropes but, instead, we left them to enjoy the line and headed round to the Rond. The entrance currently traverses a little higher than usual but is probably the easiest and best condition any of the four of us had ever found it.

It's a pretty spectacular view from the top of the Rond, the giant ski-jump-esque ramp leading down to Chamonix town far, far below. The centre of the upper face had some firm, almost icy snow hidden below about 20 cm of fresh but the flanks on either side held outstanding powder snow. Starting skier's left, then traversing to skier's right gave some of the deepest turns we'd had all season. The entrance to the exit couloir can often be tricky and require an ice axe for all but the most competent steep skiers, but today there was several easy options to ride straight in and enjoy yet more great snow down to the glacier.

With temperatures rising, none of us were keen to traverse under the north face of the Midi to get to the Para Face so, instead, we opted for the well traced Bossons Glacier exit. The snow stayed remarkably good all the way down to nearly the level of the riverbed and we made it to the tunnel carpark before we had to take skis off and start using more creative means of descent to beers in Chamonix.

If Sunday was the highs of spring skiing, then Monday featured a few of the lows. The warmer temperatures were making the snow heavier and heavier as the day progressed. The early birds who made the most of the skiing in the first few hours of the day got some great turns. We weren't early birds and headed to Les Houches in the hope that the snow would have already transformed into sugar and slush. Lower down and directly in the sun it had but, unfortunately, a lot of the piste was a mix of sticky and soft snow, so your skis kept getting the brakes thrown on. Not the most relaxing skiing! Still, it was far from unrideable and. as long as you kept your momentum up and guessed the texture of the snow right, it could be fun.

Whilst Tuesday could have been sunnier, the light was still good enough to enjoy the snow over on the Brevent and Flegere side of the mountain. The gusty Foehn wind had kept the Flegere access telecabine closed all day so the slopes there stayed quiet and, whilst the snow wasn't the best any of us had ridden this season, you could still enjoy the soft pistes. What's more, with a bit of searching about, you could find some still pretty soft and skiable off-piste, either where the snow had been sheltered from the sun and hadn't formed a crust or where the snow had been fully in the sun for a couple hours and the crust had melted through.

With another day or two like this, we'd have full spring snow conditions going on but the weather's not going to sit still just yet. The foehn wind that's heating up the Chamonix Valley has been dropping yet more snow through in Courmayeur. Obviously, the Chamonix weather's got jealous and it'll likely start snowing here in Chamonix on Wednesday afternoon. Initially, the rain/snow line will be above 1900m but that should drop quickly toward the altitude of Argentiere town overnight. From late on Thursday, though, it does look like the weather is going to be more settled, sunny and warm through until after the weekend.

Nothing can be taken for granted with the weather this winter, and there's every chance that we can get another blast of cold and snowy weather next week but a few days of sunshine will be great! So, whether you want to top up the goggle tan or get some late season powder turns, it looks like you'll get what you wanted in the next week. Isn't spring great.

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!