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The season keeps on giving in Val d'Isere

Fantastic springtime conditions across the Espace Killy

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Wayne Watson | Val d'Isere Reporter | Published: 19 Apr 2019

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The season keeps on giving in Val d'Isere

It has been a fabulous season even though we’ve had a fraction of last winter’s snowfall, and last week was another fantastic one with a powder on Friday followed by some outstanding spring snow.

Last Friday I took my group up to the Fornet and we had some great skiing in the Pays Desert. The visibility was in-and-out, and when it was out we were in a nasty fog, but for the most part we could navigate and avoid terrain traps.

We finished the morning with a trip over the Col Pers and exiting above the Gorge du Malpasset (which is still impassable, so be warned). On Friday night we had an extremely cold night and an excellent re-freeze that set up some stunning spring skiing, and on Saturday we skied Val d’Isere classics such as the Epaule du Charvet, Face du Charvet, Tour du Charvet, the Cugnai, and the Marmottons/Marmottes. It was as good of spring snow as I’ve had for a while as it was clean, and hadn’t yet been ruined by skiers skiing it too late in the day when they mark the slopes beyond repair with deep ruts and piles of slush that re-freeze into an unskiable mess. On Sunday I skinned to the Crete du Genepy and Mont Roup, and both itineraries were billiard table smooth, and absolutely perfect. It was a fantastic weekend, and it was great to have my 13-year-old daughter Katie along.

Monday was another beautiful day and I skied some of the Val d’Isere classics, and enjoyed another brilliant ski. My colleague Thomas took an 11-year-old boy for his first-ever skin, and they skied the Crete du Genepy followed by Mont Roup and the little lad will never forget his first time, as the snow, the scenery, and the ambience were fantastic, and the slopes are steep and very impressive. I love taking children off-piste as long as a parent is accompanying them, because it’s illegal to take under 18s off-piste without a parent.

On Tuesday it looked like we were in for a tough day as it was overcast and we weren’t expecting much sunshine to soften the spring slopes, but it cleared enough to let some heat through and we had some great skiing in Tignes. Without the heat of the sun my plan was to ski at lower altitudes where the heat of the day would soften the snow, and after a few bonus turns of winter powder in the Sachette we skinned for 10 minutes to access some lovely spring snow, which was good all the way to the bottom. We then skied the Par-avalanche down to the road that comes up to Tignes from the valley, and hiked 10 minutes back to the lifts before finishing an unexpectedly good morning with the Familial.

Because we skied some powder turns in the Sachette on Tuesday, we decided to head up to the Fornet on Wednesday to ski some powder on northern slopes at altitude before turning to spring snow lower down. Even with cloud cover and no direct sunlight the radiation at this time of year is fierce and we didn’t have as much powder as anticipated, but we still had a good ski with fantastic scenery. I had a young lady Francesca along for her first off-piste experience, and she had a great morning.

On Wednesday night we had a minimal refreeze, and with some clouds floating about and a strong foehn wind blowing on Thursday the skiing was quite tricky. We started with the Epaule du Charvet at 09:00, and it was already soft and fragile and needed good pivoting and side-slipping technique. Fragile spring snow is a great educator, and you don’t get away with abrupt movements or over-edging. My colleague Thomas and I teamed up and took our clients for a skin to Mont Roup, which was excellent but fragile towards the bottom, and then the Cugnai and the Marottons into the Marmottes to finish. It was a pretty good result after the fragile snow to start the morning, as our margin for getting the timing right was small because arriving late would mean the dreaded quick-snow where the support layer has melted and you drop straight through (quick-snow is unskiable and dangerous for the knees, and the risk of avalanche goes up considerably).

At this time of year your skis need regular waxing, and my daughter has been hot-waxing our skis every afternoon on the terrace. The wax stops your bases from drying out, and regular waxing makes such a difference to help glide through the sticky snow, and it makes turning your skis much easier (you don’t need to scrape them as scraping makes a real mess). If you have an old iron kicking about buy yourself some red wax (yellow for when it’s really slushy) and give it a try. It makes an incredible difference.

The live gigs are unfortunately winding down now, and Karen and Andreas are playing their last gig of the season at Le Petit Danois on Friday starting at 17:30. Andreas’ 14-year-old daughter Ness will be making a guest appearance to sing a song with her dad, and it will be a seriously good gig that shouldn’t be missed. The Baraque will continue to have live music every night except Monday’s starting at 19:30, and there will be the odd gig outside on the terraces when the weather suits. Ed Mullit and Jamie are playing at the Danois on Monday with a BBQ, but I’ll miss that one as I’ll be taking my family back to the airport.

The weather next week looks mixed and the most important factor at this time of the season is a good refreeze, which opens up our off-piste options. When it’s cloudy during the night the clouds insulate the surface from a good refreeze, which makes for very difficult and limited season. Fingers crossed for clear nights and have a great week.

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.