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Bitter cold skiing in Val d'Isere

Crazy temperature variations this week

Featured in:

Wayne Watson | Val d'Isere Reporter | Published: 2 Mar 2018


Bitter cold skiing in Val d'Isere

Monday was probably the coldest day I can ever remember during my 37 years in Val d’Isere, and was a reminder of why I don’t miss skiing in Canada! The only saving grace was the lack of wind because if a significant breeze was blowing it would be been unbearable.

Besides finding good snow for our clients, the main focus was on keeping them safe and warm so that no one would end up with frost-bitten toes. People who spend a lifetime in the mountains have experience as well as little tricks they use to keep warm. We also know the signs that signal trouble is brewing and it’s time to seek shelter but some holidaymakers have never experienced this type of cold before and can be overwhelmed quite easily.

Val d'Isere

On Monday we headed to the Grande Motte (not the summit) because the slopes below the cable-car are east and south-facing, meaning they are the warmest places you’re going to find. You can take the funicular up which means being indoors instead of exposed on a chairlift. It all worked well and we managed to spend the entire four-hour session outside without needing to go in.

Val d'Isere

It was a similar story on Tuesday where we ‘skinned’ on south-facing slopes on the Crete du Genepy to stay warm. Again we managed the morning without a hot chocolate stop! Both days were sunny and the piste skiing was excellent as well, considering it’s been a very busy week the pistes have remained in great condition.

Val d'Isere

Wednesday was forecast to be cloudy but the morning started off brightly and we profited from an adventurous little climb up to the Borsat West. It was hard work and a bit of a scramble but we were rewarded with a stunning slope of ‘clean’ powder. I took longer than I had anticipated so we did go in to warm-up and have a hot chocolate before continuing our morning, which included a 15-minute ‘skin’ to stay warm and access some lovely snow on gentle terrain. Fortunately, Wednesday was the last serious cold day with between -20ºC and 25ºC.

Val d'Isere

On Thursday it was 20 degrees warmer and we went from hanging on by our fingertips and trying to protect ourselves from the cold to being over-dressed and uncomfortably hot at times! It snowed about one centimetre in town, which doesn’t help much, so we headed up to the Fornet were we’d have the best chance of some fresh snow. We ended up with 15 to 20cm in the gullies and enough light to have an incredibly good morning. We skied the Combe du 3300 on the Pissaillas Glacier three times before heading over the Col Pers to finish the morning.

Val d'Isere

We’ve had a great week of wildlife sightings with chamois in the Charvet valley, bouquetin above the Gorge du Malpasset and three Perdrix Blanche on the Borsat Ridge. I almost froze my fingers trying to photograph them and I took five photos, four of which were blanks but fortunately the last shot managed to capture them. They are just towards the top of the photos, which means I was very close to another blank!

Val d'Isere

Tips for staying warm on bitterly cold days:

1. Stay in the sun.
2. Stay out of the wind.
3. Wear extra layers.
4. Wear a neck fleece and a good hat.
5. Ride enclosed lifts such as cable-cars and funiculars instead of chairlifts.
6. Wear neoprene boot covers.
7. Wear mitts instead of gloves if your hands are sensitive to the cold.
8. Buy some electric socks. Apparently, they are robust, washable and I’m definitely buying a pair for next season for bitter days. If I’d known about them a month ago and that we were in for a month of cold weather I’d have gladly paid the 200 euros and not struggled to keep my feet from being frost-bitten!

I should have written these tips a month ago but file them away for next season as I think the seriously cold weather is behind us. The weekend ahead looks as if we’ll get a little snow on Friday and Saturday with the possibility of some sun on Sunday. Have a great weekend and look out for another update on Monday!

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!