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Snowparks & Recreational skiing in Chamonix

As the slopes get quieter and the sun higher in the sky we hit the park and pistes of Le Tour and Grands Montets

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Graham Pinkerton | Chamonix Reporter | Published: 6 Mar 2018

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Snowparks & Recreational skiing in Chamonix

Well, last week was evidence, if evidence is needed, that the weather doesn't read the weather forecast. We expected a mix of the odd snow shower and light foehn wind between clearer spells with a fair bit of sun. Instead, we got served up snow, gusty foehn winds and some more snow.

This weather did make for some great off-piste snow but, unfortunately, it also showed the dark side of off-piste skiing. From Friday to Sunday nine people lost their lives in avalanches around the French Alps with several more either seriously injured or still missing. These accidents involved skiers of all levels of experience, from beginners through resort employees to high mountain guides, and on all levels of terrain from snowshoeing to off-piste touring. In Chamonix, on Sunday afternoon, three separate avalanches at Vallorcine resulted in the deaths of two skiers.

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Keen to enjoy some skiing without the stress of analysing the snow or needing to carry rucksacs full of equipment, we decided to head to Le Tour on Monday for some laps of the piste and the snowpark. Chamonix isn't known as a park resort, and the Le Tour park isn't likely to be hosting the X Games any time soon but, with this winters bumper snowfalls, the summit park crew have been busy building more and more features as the winter goes on.

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The park now features two distinct jump lines. A series of blue and red graded kickers through the middle of the park all have fairly mellow take off ramps and landings, shaped to not send you too high but with a long landing to catch you. If they're feeling a bit small, then there's now a line of six black kickers beside the lift line. These push you a bit higher in the air and have longer flat sections, the last kicker in the line being a bit steeper and shorter.

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Unfortunately for me, a combination of baggy clothes, lightweight and a well-developed sense of self-preservation meant I struggled to go fast enough to properly clear all the kickers on the black line but, for the better riders in the park, they're a great opportunity to show off in front of everyone on the poma! Elsewhere in the park, there's a selection of boxes and rails along with snow modules to get creative on. Plenty to play with and keep us occupied, and all with promises of more to come from the park shapers.

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Tuesday was meant to be similar in weather to Monday, or at least it was until the updated forecast on Monday evening. Instead of Monday's milky skies and good light, we had snow in the valley and layers of clouds as you went up the mountain. We headed to Grands Montets in the hope that we could get high enough to poke through the clouds and to stay above the heavier snow that got created during Sunday's tragic warming spell. Sure enough, as we went higher to the top of the resort we went through the worst of the clouds and had something approaching reasonable visibility at times but it still wasn't as easy going as the day before. Similarly, the snow was still light and fluffy where you found bits that hadn't been skied.

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Lower down on the mountain, the pistes were in surprisingly good condition. Now the half-term holiday crowds have dispersed there's much less skier traffic on the hill so the pistes last a bit longer before getting mogulled. We might not have been able to see much but at least we could still make turns without fearing too much for hard or icy snow. Every cloud has a silver lining after all.

Looking to the rest of the week to come, the forecast would best be described as changeable, which is the easiest sort of forecast to give. Any, or possibly even every day this week looks like it could have a combination of snow showers at varying altitudes and sunshine. A spell of foehn wind at the weekend might bring more snow to Italy, or it might not happen at all. Expect the unexpected and you'll no doubt be fine.

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