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Mixture of sunshine & showers for Chamonix

April's taking the stereotype to extremes

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Graham Pinkerton | Chamonix Reporter | Published: 10 Apr 2019


Mixture of sunshine & showers for Chamonix

April. According to T.S. Eliot, the cruellest month. In April you'd be forgiven for wanting sunny skies and warm weather, cruising about in the slush.

But April doesn't care what you think. It is, as previously noted, the cruellest month after all.

Sunday, after a few days of either great snow or great weather though not necessarily both, was a mix of difficult snow conditions and poor visibility. Up at Grands Montets there was about 10cm of fresh snow on top of the older layer, which was either soft but cut up, crusty but cut up, moguls or piste, depending on whereabouts on the hill you were. Challenging conditions are great for making you a better skier, and this wasn't a day for massaging you ego, but they aren't always the most enjoyable days on the slopes. I was having fun, but I'm more than willing to concede I was probably in the minority. Tomorrow is Monday, and Monday is another day.

Monday is a sunny day. Using the highly accurate weather forecasting technique of looking out the window in the morning, we decided to have a cruisy day in the sun up at Brevent and Flegere. Unfortunately the clouds seemed to have had the same idea, and by the time we were up on the hill the murk had descended, made all the more frustrating by the tantalising glimpses of Grands Montets and the Midi bathed in sunshine opposite us. Another issue for piste skiers is the closure of the Charles Bozon piste from the top of Brevent due to rock fall blocking the slope.

The lift is still open to go to the restaurant or ski off piste, but otherwise the piste is done for  the winter. Never mind, skiing is still skiing, even if a couple of pistes are closed and the light was a bit flat at points. The pistes seemed in better condition over at Flegere, the snow being in the process of turning from yesterday's fresh to tomorrow's spring snow. The sun still broke through on occasion and it was far from busy. Maybe not the greatest day of the season, but if it was average then I'm happy with average.  Where would Tuesday take us?

Touring it turned out. With a fairly safe avalanche forecast, fine weather, and powder snow still on sheltered north facing slopes (or spring snow on sun exposed south facing aspects) touring was a fairly obvious choice. It is April, so the sun has a lot more power to it than just a few weeks ago, and it quickly got quite warm. The sheltered slopes kept their snow fairly untouched, the air temperature away from direct sun was still fairly low, but gaining height in the full force of the sun was a purgatorial affair. The good news for tourers is that the Berard valley is still full of snow and,with the occasional inventive line, you can still ski all the way back to the bar.

What does the next week have in store? Cloudy with occasional sunshine and showers would be the simplest way to sum up the forecasts all the way through to the weekend. Generally the showers seem to be expected in the afternoon, and the sunshine in the morning, which is a good combination for day touring. But checking the forecast daily and looking at the sky in the morning will be the most accurate measure. Plenty of life left in the season yet then.

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.