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Fantastic winter draws to a close in Val d'Isere

Resort remains snowsure until end of season

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| Wayne Watson, Val d'Isere Reporter | Published

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Fantastic winter draws to a close in Val d'Isere

At this time of year a good refreeze is essential to good conditions and during this past week it was too warm at night for a good freeze and we had a much tougher week because of it.

To make it even trickier we had a nasty foehn wind that gusted between 60 and 100km/h up towards the Italian border at the Fornet, making it unpleasant at times. But with that said we did have some excellent skiing, and it just goes to show what a brilliant area the L’Espace Killy really is.

Last Friday we headed to Tignes after a light freeze on Thursday night, and had a very good morning. The snow supported well on the upper half of the mountain, but was fragile lower down and needed to be skied gently with smooth movements and side-slipping. We just got away with the Super Cocaine (very politically incorrect name but I don’t know the new one), followed by a good run in the Sachette and a fragile Altiport to finish the morning. The fragile snow of Friday was an indication of what was to come for the week ahead, as the forecast wasn’t calling for any cold nights. Fragile spring snow is a great educator but a nightmare for people who lack pivoting finesse and side-slipping skills, as any abrupt movements or over-edging causes the skier to break through the surface, which makes skiing very difficult plus it puts the knees at risk.

On Saturday we skinned to the Crete du Genepy and Mont Roup and had fantastically clean and smooth spring snow, but again the lower half was fragile. We then had a nice run on the Cugnai before finishing the morning on-piste, as the off-piste had become too soft and wasn’t supporting. Sunday was a very tricky day with grey skies and strong winds, and because of the lack of freeze I headed to altitude on the Grande Motte. It had frozen well up high, but I couldn’t find anything smooth and with the flat-light it was probably my worst morning off-piste of the entire season. Fortunately Monday was a much brighter day for my family’s last ski of the season, and even with the light refreeze we managed an excellent Sachette in great spring snow all the way to the bottom, and finished the morning with the Familial. It was a nice end to their season, and after a really tough day on Sunday it was great to bounce back with a cracking good ski.

Fortunately it was colder on Wednesday night and the good freeze made for much better skiing on Thursday, both on and off-piste. We managed supporting spring snow all the way to the bottom of the Sache, which would be about 1800m, and on Wednesday the snow was breaking through at about 2400m. That refreeze will greatly assist anyone going off on a hut-to-hut tour, because it will have helped to stabilise the mountain. I took a photo of a plaque avalanche that had popped out in the trees on the lower slope of the Lavachet. It just goes to show that slides do occur in the trees, and just because you may be in the trees doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re safe. This slide took place exactly where we stop to put on our skins after skiing the big Lavachet slope in powder during the winter.

The avalanche risk has gone up from 1/5 to 2/5 and eventually 3/5 during the week, and more snow is forecast for Thursday night and Friday with a little fresh snow on Saturday. If the temperatures drop we could have a couple of nice mornings of powder skiing before some excellent spring snow to finish the season, and what a bonus that would be. The live gigs are now winding down and the weather hasn’t been warm enough to organise any music outside. Karen and Andreas are booked to play après-ski at the Coin des Amis on Tuesday and that promises to be a great event, while the Baraque continues with its in-house music every night except Monday starting at 19:30. Have a fantastic end of season and a great summer, and next winter will roll around before you know it.

Follow more from Wayne in his Daily Diary.

NB: 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 also provide instruction in off-piste skiing, avalanche safety and mountaineering techniques. Make your time in the mountains unforgettable for the right reasons, ski safe!

Off-piste skiing and mountaineering are dangerous. The opinions expressed in these articles are very much time and condition-specific and the content is not intended in any way to be a substitute for hiring a mountain guide, undergoing professional mountaineering training and/or the individual's own backcountry decision making.