As usual there has been a great deal of good off-piste skiing in Chamonix the last 2 weeks. After a long time of cold temperatures and light snow we got warm and unstable weather during week 8. Just when the winter fleeces were about to be stached away we got hit by the biggest storm of the year on the 26th of Feb – it just would not stop snowing! Warm and variable weather with regular snow falls and strong winds seams to follow in the footsteps of the big dump… keeping powder skiing on its peak and avalanche danger high.
When it was still cold we went to explore the mountains on the Swiss boarder, well away from the lift systems, but kind of between Le Tour and Champex. Skinning up from Col de Forclaz we skied from the pre-summit of Pointe Ronde called Croix de Prélayes. We found this a very pleasant area to ski tour in, with a lot of opportunities for fun descents. Having the mountain to ourselves set up for a good photo session in the beautiful afternoon light. You also do not need to buy any lift ticket to get up the mountain.
This was the last day of skiing in super light powder and glittery surface frost for a while. These layers of cold and loose snow did cause the warmer, heavier snow that fell on top to settle quite badly some places. Be sure to know the level of avalanche danger before heading off-piste or planning a ski tour in the backcountry. More about judging snow stability in An Introduction to avalanches.
Another ski tour in the backcountry of Chamonix this week was hiking to Aiguillette des Houches from Brevent. This is a good ski tour for beginners. Both the north and south face of the peak can be skied, and the snow cover stretches all the way down to the train station in Les Houches right now.
The many visiting free riders in Chamonix spread out all over the valley since the snow was good more or less everywhere during these warm days of alternating sunshine and snow showers, keeping the queues small. Grands Montets has probably been the most popular lift system (for good reasons); being high enough to escape the rain and offering large open off-piste areas straight off the lifts. Here a pre-booking system is applied to the top-lift. You can reserve your bin at Compagnie du Mt Blanc on busy holiday weeks.
We also got the opportunity to ski the runs on the west side of Aiguille du Midi, Cosmiques couloir and Glacier Rond, in great conditions. These are serious runs (only for expert skiers and ski mountaineers), sometimes involving a few rappels, 45 degrees steep and exposed skiing, as well as glaciers.
Once down in the Bosson glacier, 1000m vertical skiing from the Aiguille du Midi, there is still another 1800m of fun skiing down to Chamonix. Never getting used to the stunning scenery, you keep falling in love with the Chamonix mountains every time you ski on the west side.
Also the steeper runs on the Vallee Blanche side has offer fantastic snow, such as the Grand Envers. Lower angle runs are almost not skable when there is so much snow!
35cm of snow on 2000m and 100cm on Aig. du Midi just over night, plus gale force wind up high, and continuously heavy snowfalls all day on the 26th of Feb caused most lifts to stay closed in Chamonix and in Courmayeur. This day we skied deep snow on the lower parts of the Helbronner.
Successively the avalanche risk was put up to 4 on the European scale and the clear day to follow was a delicate challenge.
No need to say there was plenty of powder for everyone, but to be skied with great care! We went back to Italy due to strong winds in Chamonix and skied the loose wind-protected powder in the trees in Courmayeur.
It is 8pm Saturday evening… föhn winds up to 130km/h has been warned for together with rain showers tonight. It is as still completely silent outside though, the whole valley holding its breath in the calm before the next storm…
As a guiding company and passionate off-piste skiers, a daily task is to stay updated on the weather forecasts and track the constantly changing snowpack, in order to be able to ski the best snow in high safety. It really is a 24h job! The best way is of course to be out in the mountains every day observing. Luckily we are a great team of competent people traveling the surrounding peaks and slopes, and we also have some good tools to help us.
Some useful information is:
– Our Chamonix Weather page, where we have a small collection of webcams and links to various weather forecasts that we use.
– The most detailed weather forecast we get from Metéo France by calling +33892680274 (pressing 1 for Haute Savoie and Haute Valle d’Aoste). It includes temperatures, cloudiness and winds on various levels of altitude. It is updated at around 07.30, noon, and 17.30. The number for the detailed avalanche report is +33892681020. All this in French though.
– Chamonix.com updates the Chamonix weather forecast in english at about 08.30 and sometimes 17.30. They also update road conditions and give a basic snow report.
– Compagnie du Mt Blanc where you find information of winds, depth of last snowfall, and lift status in all of the Chamonix lift systems. Updated every morning at least.
– We also use SnowForecast.com giving us an idea about where the snow will be falling…
Enjoy the mountains!
Get the most out of your ski day and ski safely in the off-piste with a Chamonix ski- and mountain guide.