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Skiing deep, deep powder in Courmayeur

Skyway mid station and Val Veny tree runs

With heavy snow falling on the hills and avalanche risk predicted to be high (category 4 above 1800m as it turned out), we had made plans to hit Courmayeur's trees on Tuesday.

This ended up being a very good decision as not many lifts opened in the Chamonix valley at all and surprisingly not too many Chamonix residents had the same idea as us so crowds and lift lines were low all day.

Exiting the Mont Blanc Tunnel around 9am we parked up in one of the many spaces still available in the free section of the Val Veny parking (main parking is now a €4 pay-and-display ticket), a sure sign that we wouldn't be fighting the crowds.

Unfortunately with so much new snow the Val Veny cable car was still being prepped for opening, but the Skyway lift was running so we took a walk over there for a few laps down from Pavillon mid station first.

Much like the glaciers accessed from top of the Skyway lift, the terrain from mid station down is completely unpisted, unmarked and unpatrolled so off piste experience, avalanche safety equipment & skills and/or the services of a high mountain guide are essential. Indeed we did see a few of our Chamonix guide friends taking their happy clients up the Skyway.

From mid station down we took three laps, following routes we have learned from the past few years in a good 40cm+ fresh powder. On our first lap we were aware of some windslab in some sections so took a sensibly cautious approach to finding a safe route out, and on the next two laps stuck to the safest options, comparing notes with friends in other groups back in the lift after an easy ski/skate through town. The snow wasn't getting tracked-up too quickly but when the Val Veny lift opened at about 11am we headed straight over there to make the most of it.

Only the access lifts from Courmayeur town and Val Veny plus a few others were open, but the trees off the Val Veny have plenty of options; in my first two years living in Chamonix we would often drive through and lap the Val Veny all day even when the whole resort was open. Crowds were low again so not much squeezing into the lift required and no fighting to get out first at the top as there was plenty of snow for everyone.

The good trees are accessed by skiing along the mellow piste away from the lift station as far as you like before dropping in to the right, and take a little learning to find the best areas but that's half the fun. The home run road runs across the bottom of the whole zone and you have to go way way right to get into much trouble with cliffs so you can't go too wrong with route finding.

The snow was just slightly dense and heavy; not "blower pow," but nice and supportive for skiing fast through the trees and an excellent landing platform for taking any airs from the pillows which are out there for you to find, especially in the open field area lower down before it good tracked-up.

The heavily-tracked snow in the obvious routes was quite firm and compacted but thanks to our experience in this zone over the years we were easily able to find mostly untouched snow on all five laps right up until 3pm.

A little more snow is predicted around Chamonix in the next two days before some sunny but very warm weather on Friday-Saturday. This may well stabilise the snow pack eventually but the rise in temperature could lead to some very dangerous conditions for a few days so ski smart everyone!


Follow more from Lorne in his ski blog.  


NB: 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 back country decision making.


Location: Italy



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