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Flat light and sunshine in Val d'Isere

Cloudy weather and challenging skiing in good snow.

Featured in:

Wayne Watson | Val d'Isere Reporter | Published: 19th February 2018


Check out this Flat light and sunshine in Val d'Isere

Well, it has been a pretty eventful weekend with lots of lessons to be learned. Bad visibility and a deadly avalanche reminded us that safety is paramount when enjoying off-piste skiing.

Thursday was a tough day with very limited visibility and Friday was marginally better. It was raining in the village and we skied up on the Pissaillas Glacier at the Fornet to stay as high as possible and we had moments of brightness, which were very welcome and made navigating much easier. The snow at lower altitudes was heavy but surprisingly skiable and, all in all, it was a very good day in tough conditions.

The problem with skiing in flat light above the tree line is not being able to see terrain traps such as holes, bumps, cornices and even cliffs. When guiding off-piste it is important to be in places you trust, where the terrain is smooth and you know there are no hidden obstacles to take you by surprise. On Saturday we had another extremely ‘white’ day where the visibility was very poor and I spent most of my morning off the Grande Motte where I totally trust and am comfortable with the terrain in front of me. Unfortunately, on the last run of the morning, I took a less known (in flat light) run home and ended up skiing off a huge cornice and was very lucky to not hurt myself. I must have dropped about five metres before landing and coming out of my skis and then tumbled down for another three or four metres. The photo shows me where I landed and came out of my skis because I’ve crawled back up to them, The point is, that skiing off-piste in flat-light needs extreme caution and it is incredibly easy to become disorientated.

You only need to be a few metres away from where you think you are and trouble can be lurking. I’m quite cross with myself because it was a stupid mistake and I was very lucky to not have done some serious damage. Even when skiing on the piste in a white-out you need to be aware that the piste machines can leave unseen ruts or snowballs behind them and you shouldn’t take for granted that the pistes are perfectly smooth so reducing speed is always a good idea. Anyway, I was very grateful for the beautiful sunshine on Sunday.

Sunday was a stunning day and one of the best powder days of the season. After several very warm and wet days, we had a solid re-freeze Saturday night and the powder skiing was absolutely brilliant. We skied up at the Fornet and skied the Combe du 3300, the Pays Desert, the Col Pers and Oh My to finish.

Unfortunately, Sunday was marred by a tragic accident where a 44-year-old man and his 11-year-old daughter were killed in an avalanche on the Pissaillas Glacier at the Fornet. They were skiing a closed run at the time and even though the run was closed they were very unfortunate. Runs are closed for a reason, especially during the busiest week of the season so do yourself and the piste service a favour and refrain from skiing in closed areas. Apparently, the father was wearing an avalanche transceiver but it was turned off at the time, and when the avalanche came down towards them he threw himself on his daughter to protect her while his wife skied out of the avalanche’s path. Had his transceiver been turned on maybe they could have been saved but we’ll never know.

I often mention the state of the pavements but they have been incredibly slippery of late. The other day when it was raining, water was flowing down the street, under the flowing water was sheet ice and my feet went out from under me and I landed flat on my backpack and was absolutely soaked. I could barely stand up to collect my skis and was furious with the state of the roads and pavements. I’ve been here for 37-years and am pretty good at navigating my way around town but I still go down in the street once or twice a season so please be careful when walking around town. Looking back at the past few days it’s been a fairly rough weekend!

The week ahead looks pretty sunny except for Tuesday so have a wonderful time and leave the closed sectors alone!

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!

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