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Winter's coming back to Chamonix

Winter reminds us that the season's not done and dusted yet

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Graham Pinkerton | Chamonix Reporter | Published: 3 Apr 2019


Winter's coming back to Chamonix

After a couple of weeks of warm and sunny weather, we'd all got pretty used to spring snow and topping up the goggle tan on the pistes. It came as a bit of a shock to read the forecast: snow, and snow to town level at that!

Before we get onto that, though, how are the pistes looking at the moment? With the clocks going back we took advantage of the firm south-facing snow early in the day to try and ski some of the couloirs above the Brévent ski area from the Aiguille Pourrie. This hill is better known for hosting the last few Chamonix rounds of the Freeride World Tour. That's on the north-facing slopes, though, and we were more interested in the spring snow nestled between the spires and couloirs of the south face.

Skiing around on the pistes first thing to get a better view of each line and check that there actually was snow in the couloirs, we had the added bonus of fresh corduroy on empty pistes. Sharp edges helped for sure but still worth getting up early for. The lines themselves all worked out just as planned and we had some great descents looking down on the ski area while enjoying the perfectly softened snow. You don't need to travel far in Chamonix to find some adventure.

As Monday was the last forecast sunny day for a while, we headed through the Mont Blanc tunnel to live la dolce vita in Courmayeur. The pistes were still a little firm first thing but nothing that couldn't be rectified with a stop for cappuccino and cornetti con crema. After an extra 30 minutes of sun, things were much improved. The pistes were deserted so we could tear about the resort using as much or as little of the space on the slopes as we wanted. The Lavechon piste was giving the best turns of the day, it's easy to see why it's normally reserved for race training, and the Le Greve draglift made it easy to do quick laps up and down.

Courmayeur is open until April 22nd and, with less snowfall this winter on the Italian side of the massif, it's possible that not all the pistes are going to make it to then. The home runs have already closed and some of the shorter link pistes lower on the mountain have been fenced off so the snow can be prioritised on the main pistes. Don't let that put you off, though, the open pistes are still great fun and higher up in the resort there's no shortage of snow at all. And with the myriad great cafes and restaurants around the ski area, with their stunning views of Monte Bianco and the southern faces of the massif, you'd be forgiven for forgetting about the skiing completely.

Tuesday was the transition day in weather but it was sunny enough in the morning so off to Grands Montets we went. With the Bochard lift currently out of action, the ski area is not exactly at full operational capacity. Whilst just a few years ago there were nine gondolas and chairlifts, today there are only four in working order. Still, you can whine about it, or you can go skiing. We went skiing.

With a thin veil of cloud taking the edge off the sun's warmth, the snow was staying on the firm side across the mountain, although it never seemed to be icy and there were plenty of nice chalky areas to be found too. The skin up to Col du Rachasses is a fair bit longer from the top of Herse at 2580m altitude than the top of Bochard at 2765m but there certainly seemed to be plenty of suitors heading up. We were there for downhill action, however. A combination of the weather and the lift issues seemed to be keeping people away and the pistes were far quieter than normal. If you really wanted to channel your inner Svindal then, conveniently, the Bochard pistes were still groomed so a traverse from Herse towards Bochard gave you the opportunity to really open up the skis on smooth slopes without another skier in sight. Sure, the out-of-action Bochard and the Grands Montets top cable car gave the biggest elevation gain, but laps from the top of Herse down to the Plan Joran base station still give 1300m of great skiing. No complaints from me about that.

The Grands Montets area is scheduled to be open for a month yet and there's still plenty of snow up the hill. Although the Pierre a Ric home run is starting to get a bit tatty looking towards the end, there's plenty of life left in it. As usual, it might not stay open until May but I wouldn't worry about not being able to ski back to Argentière for a while yet.

So, what of this talk about winter being back? Well, the forecasts are all suggesting we are going into a period of unsettled and snowy weather. As always with spring storms, the exact details are hard to predict but it seems likely that through Wednesday it will get cooler and, after the precipitation starts in the afternoon, the rain/snow limit will gradually drop down the mountain until it's snowing in Chamonix town itself. With between 25cm and 45cm of fresh snow expected to fall at 2000m, Friday to Saturday should be a brief lull to enjoy the better conditions, and then back to more snow showers for the start of the next week.

The season's far from over then, high and even medium altitude powder days to come, then back to good old spring touring and piste skiing. Happy days.

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.