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One of the best weeks this season in Val d'Isere

Recent dump makes for excellent conditions in resort

Featured in: | Wayne Watson, Val d'Isere Reporter | Published
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This past week turned out to be one of the best weeks of the entire season, with absolutely stunning powder that remained cold and light, considering we’re in April.

Last Saturday night we had a 'retour de l’est', which is a phenomenal occurrence that happens a couple of times a season, and it can snow one meter at the Fornet near the Italian border, and may only snow about 10cm in the rest of the resort.

This was our first retour de l’est of the season and it snuck up on us as we weren’t really aware that is was snowing up at the Fornet, and thought it had only snowed about 5cm. Radio Val confirmed our thoughts announcing 5cm of overnight snow, but just as we were heading towards Tignes we heard a rumour that 45cm of powder had fallen on the Pisaillas Glacier, so we did a demi-tour and beelined it up to the glacier. After ignoring the Fornet all season because of the poor conditions, I enjoyed five consecutive days up there skiing amazing deep January-like powder. The visibility was kind to us as well as we had several sunny days, but even the flat-light days had enough light filtering through to navigate and ski comfortably.

I have started to ski all the way down to the valley floor and walk out the summer path above the gorge, which is a spectacular trip but you do need to be careful as there are a few moments of exposure. On Wednesday I returned to Tignes and skied a combination of great powder followed by some excellent spring snow. It’s been great to have my wife Gill and youngest daughter Katie (13) here for the past week, as it has been wonderful skiing with fantastic ambience.

The lack of retour de l’est storms this season is the main reason that the Gorge du Malpasset has been impassable this season. When we get big storms from the east that circle around the border, huge amounts of snow fall and then avalanches fill up the gorge and start to build snow bridges that are eventually strong and deep enough to cover the danger areas and support skiers passing over.

The last two seasons saw the gorge jammed full of snow before Christmas, which is why so many people have been trapped this winter and needed rescuing because they skied through it so easily during the past two winters, and have just taken for granted that the gorge is always full. Even when the gorge is passable it can still have a couple of tricky sections where if a skier or boarder were to fall and slide into a hole, they’d be swept under the snow bridges and drown. A few seasons ago four people drowned in different accidents, so when the gorge is advertised as impassable the warnings should be taken seriously.

At this time of year it’s important that people ski only on northern slopes after a snowfall, and give the sunny slopes, meaning easterly, southerly and westerly, the chance to transform into perfectly clean spring snow. If these spring slopes are skied immediately after a snowfall they’ll offer wet and heavy powder, compared to the much lighter snow found on the northern expositions, and the deep tracks left behind totally ruin those potential slopes and make them unskiable when they turn to spring snow. At this time of year it only takes one or two days for the wet powder to melt down and then refreeze into spring snow, and if everyone had a little patience we’d have much better spring skiing for everyone.

There is a music festival in front of the Salon des Fous Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon’s starting at 16:30. It has a great line-up of local musicians, and the terrace remains in the sun (as long as the sun is shining). Karen and Andreas will be playing in the Danois on Friday starting at 18:00, Ed Mulliet plays the Danois on Monday around 18:00, and the Baraque has nightly music starting at 15:00 except Mondays. If you like live music, get out there and enjoy yourself because the music scene in town is fantastic.

It’s sunburn season, so be careful and use high quality high factor creams, and get behind your ears and anywhere that’s exposed. The sun is lethal on cloudy days as well so don’t forget, as some of the people walking about the village are in a very sorry state. Next week looks pretty good weather-wise as we should have some sunny days, some partially sunny days, and a little snow mixed in. If it’s anything like the week we’ve just savoured, it’s going to be brilliant. Look out for another update next Friday, and have a wonderful time.

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.