Changing conditions in Val d'Isere this week
We had a much-needed dump of snow over the weekend. Temperatures rose and it started to rain in town, doing wonders for stabilising the snowpack. After such a big snowfall, it was the best scenario we could have hoped for.
Rain in the mountains isn’t always a bad thing unless you’re in a low resort and the snow gets washed away. Up here in a high resort such as Val d’Isere, the rain is beneficial in the long run. The wet, heavy snow has purged itself on many steep slopes making for a much more stable base in the future, meaning much safer off-piste skiing.
When it rains during a big storm here, it also helps to protect the village itself because the big, wet-snow avalanches don’t travel as far and don’t reach the buildings. The danger to the village comes when there is a couple of metres of fresh snow without a warming trend and, instead of slow-moving, wet-snow avalanches, there are powder avalanches, which are much more devastating. Powder avalanches travel much further and at an incredible speed, reaching over 100km/h in the first five seconds, creating a wind-blast in front of them that can cause serious destruction. An example of this was in the early 70’s when a dry powder avalanche hit the UCPA (youth hostel) and killed 44 people while they were eating their breakfast. So, although the rain didn’t help our skiing on Monday it was welcome news for the rest of the season.
On Monday morning, it took the piste services until 09:45 to get the mountain open. However, I thought that, after all the snow and wind, it was a pretty good effort! Although the opening was very limited, at least we had some skiing because Tignes was almost completely shut down all day long. The snow was so heavy that I didn’t even try to ski off-piste and spent my time working on off-piste technique on the piste with my clients. There was a small slab avalanche on Monday afternoon where a guide was buried for 6 minutes. Fortunately, he’d given his clients a search-and-rescue session during the morning and they were able to find him and dig him out in time.
The temperature dropped significantly Monday night, which helped to dry out the snow and, with another 15cms of fresh light snow overnight, we had a fantastic morning skiing fabulous snow on Tuesday. The avalanche risk was still 4/5 so it was a matter of skiing on gentle slopes that aren’t steep enough to avalanche. It’s possible to have a risk-free day even when the risk is 4/5!
Wednesday turned out to be perhaps the best day of the season so far, as cold overnight temperatures dried out the snow even more. With clear blue skies, we savoured a brilliant day at the Fornet on the Pissaillas Glacier. We did three short walks of between 15 and 20 minutes each and accessed virgin powder and solitude. The avalanche risk was still high but had dropped to a delicate 3/5 on northern slopes, and remained at 4/5 on southern expositions.
The wind became a major factor on Thursday as 110km/h gusts were recorded on the summit of Solaise at 05:30. Because of the strong winds, we had a very limited opening. The blowing snow and flat light made it a tough day on the mountain but we still enjoyed some pretty good skiing.
It’s the ladies turn this weekend as Val d’Isere will host two World Cup Races on the weekend with a Downhill on Saturday and a Super G on Sunday. There will be a prize giving from Saturday’s race and the drawing of the bib numbers for Sunday’s race, all taking place in the centre of town around 18:00. It’s very entertaining and extremely well done so do come along and watch. If you’re a fan, you can even get an autograph of ‘selfie’ with your favourite star as the ladies do their best to accommodate their fans, especially the youngsters. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate because, if the ladies do not get in a training run, the downhill will be cancelled.
We’re expecting (or hoping) for some sunshine on Friday morning and again on Sunday, with snow on Saturday. It looks as if we’re in for a mixed bag weather-wise over the weekend, but enjoy your skiing and look out for another update on Monday.
Follow more from Wayne in his Daily Diary.
Location: Val d'Isere Valley