Snow storms & sun in Val d'Isere this week
We had 140km/h winds on Sunday night and 80cms of snow. For the first time in my 35 years here, we were able to ski while the ‘black flag’ was flying! It’s rare to see the black flag anyway but it’s the first time the resort has been open with a 5/5 avalanche risk. I skied for a couple of hours and the snow was extremely heavy but we made some turns and enjoyed being outside.
This has turned into a ‘once-in-every-thirty-years’ storm. We’ve had over 2 metres of snow on Sunday and Monday and on Tuesday the snow was still coming down. On Tuesday, the entire town was shut down with 5/5 avalanche risk and the security services worried about the security of the village. All the roads in-and-out of town were closed, the road to La Daille, Le Fornet, the Balme, the Chatelard and Joseray were also closed. The schools and the Centre Sportif were shut and everyone waited to hear when any road would open as they were cut off from the main part of the village.
The sky did clear a little around 09:30, which was a blessing for the security people who had some light to dynamite the danger areas. Throwing dynamite around is dangerous enough, let alone doing it in flat light, so the clearing probably made their job so much easier and safer. Eventually, the resort had a very limited opening on Tuesday afternoon and I was very surprised with the quality of snow. It was much lighter and drier than what we’ve experienced lately and it pointed towards a good day on Wednesday.
The avalanche risk was 5/5 on Tuesday afternoon and everyone had to be aware of the danger. The security service opened the resort hoping that people would be respectful of the conditions and behave accordingly. Unfortunately, skiers were cutting into the notoriously dangerous Spatule and some boarders were taken in a slab off the Super S, with one of them severely damaging his knee. It was far from ideal behaviour and exactly the reason the resort hesitates to open when conditions are this delicate.
On Wednesday morning we had some good visibility and, although the avalanche risk was still 4/5, we enjoyed some stunning skiing. It was a real reward for those of us who had been patiently waiting to get skiing again.
Locals are talking about how these conditions resemble the weather pattern of 1970 when a massive avalanche hit the UCPA on February 10th, at 08:00. 39 people died, mostly children, and 37 were injured and it was a terrible time for all the locals who had to dig out the victims. Needless to say, the security services took this storm very, very seriously. The big difference back then was that it didn’t rain during the storm. The rain makes the snowpack extremely heavy and, when the mountain purges itself, the avalanches are much slower, don’t travel as far, and don’t have the destructive ‘wind-blast’ in front of them. In 1970, it stayed cold during the storm and the fatal avalanche was a powder avalanche, which can have a ‘wind-blast’ with the force of wind reaching between 200 and 300 km/h!
The contrary of what’s happening now has also happened in the past. I was having drinks with an old neighbour who is 85 years old and has been in Val d’Isere since 1952, and he told me about a winter in the 60s when they drove up to the Col de L’Iseran, in the middle of February, to ‘skin’ up to the Pays Desert! That year it hardly snowed all season long and the contrast to that scenario and what we have now is really quite incredible.
Thursday was another lovely day with wall-to-wall sunshine and great snow both on and off-piste, and the avalanche risk dropped to 3/5. With a couple of consecutive days of sun, the pistes have firmed up a little. This also means that it's easier for the machines to groom the snow to perfection so, with sun forecast for the next couple of days, piste skiing should be brilliant.
Have a fantastic weekend and log on Monday for another update.
Follow more from Wayne on his Daily Diary.
Ski safely off-piste
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 and also mountain guides provide instruction in off-piste skiing, avalanche safety and mountaineering techniques. Make your time in the mountains unforgettable for the right reasons, ski safe!
Location: Val d'Isere Region