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Winter returns to Val d'Isere after settled period

Some recent snowfall and more on the forecast

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Wayne Watson | Val d'Isere Reporter | Published: 8 Mar 2019

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Winter returns to Val d'Isere after settled period

We’ve had some fantastic skiing during the past week, with a couple of light snowfalls that made a huge difference, along with some in-and-out weather, meaning a few sunny days as well as some time spent in flat light. We had some ferocious northerly winds clocked at over 200kmph during the night, followed by strong southerly foehn winds, but amongst it all the skiing has been fantastic.

Last Friday was a real mix, and I took my team up to the Fornet and dove straight into the steep and impressive Vallonnet. On the first run we had stunning sunshine top to bottom, and we really savoured it as the clouds were forecast to close in by 10:00 or 11:00. By the time we circled back around for a second run the visibility had decreased but we still had decent visibility, but by the third run we were in a total white-out and ended up feeling our way down the Grand Vallon three times to finish off a really good morning. A little fresh snow had fallen Thursday night so we had a softer feel underfoot, which was greatly appreciated when you can’t see where you’re skiing.

On Saturday the sun returned after a light snowfall, and after avoiding the stunning Fornet for most of the season due to poor snow conditions, I returned and we had some great skiing in the Vallonnet, the Grand Vallon, the Combe du Signal, the Combe du 3300, and a trip over the Col Pers to finish a cracking good morning. The only way to ski the Col Pers this season is to exit via the Grand Torsai to avoid the Gorge du Malpasset, which is impassable. Almost daily someone is being rescued from the Gorge at great expense and to the annoyance of the rescue services that have better things to do and don’t need manpower and a rescue helicopter tied up because people are ignoring the daily warnings on Radio Val, the signs which are posted at the top of the Cascade chairlift and on the Col Pers itself, and the warnings on this post. Please stay out of the Gorge du Malpasset as it’s in an impassable and dangerous state at the moment. With the sun shining again on Sunday I headed to Tignes and enjoyed a fantastic day off the Grande Motte. We’d had some violent overnight winds so some of the snow was compressed, but for the most part it was excellent skiing.

On Sunday afternoon a father took his children and his nephew off-piste and they ended up in the Couloir-To-Nowhere just off the Spatule. This is an inviting looking couloir from the top, but it ends in an unseen cliff and the only way out is an extremely difficult and steep climb out in thigh deep snow, or to be winched out by helicopter. It’s another place where frequent rescues take place, and because it’s in a dangerous area the pisteurs are putting themselves at risk every time they go in to help someone. Please avoid following tracks if you don’t know where they lead, because often the people in front of you don’t know where they’re going either.

A little fresh snow fell Sunday night, and on Monday we had a windy flat-light day. The wind was strong enough to prevent the Tommeuses link into Tignes opening, so I ended up seeking shelter from the wind and took my group for a skin to Mont Roup. We had decent visibility and about 10cm of fresh snow to ski in, so it was a pretty good result on a difficult day. The weather moved in during the afternoon and huge queues developed as the links back to Tignes closed down due to strong winds, and hundreds of skiers staying in Tignes were stranded and had to wait for busses to come and collect them. On those days with violent winds you’re better off staying on the side of the resort that you’re staying in to avoid being stranded, as it happens a few times every season.

On Tuesday the sun returned, and we had an absolutely stunning day with surprisingly deep snow off the Grande Motte. We stayed away from the classic itineraries to avoid the powder-frenzy that comes on every sunny day after a snowfall, especially when it’s the middle of the French holidays (pictures tell the story), and we had wonderful skiing without anyone else around. The visibility wasn’t as good on Wednesday, so we skied in the trees in the Lower Lavachet into Tignes, and then skied the Sachette followed by the Familial. I was stopped by three French Mountain Gendarmes in the middle of the Sache (way off piste in the middle of nowhere) and was asked for my papers. Fortunately I carry my Carte Proffessionnele with me and they took my name, my ski school info and were pleased that I’d passed through the French system as not too many foreigners have, and we then continued on our way. They are doing spot-checks to make sure that those leading groups are qualified and legal, and they are also looking for idiots who are endangering other people on the pistes by skiing too fast and out of control. It’s all good news really, but it was a bit of a surprise as I never saw them coming and they must have been hiding somewhere.

On Wednesday afternoon there was a punch-up in the Piste Perdue. The Piste Perdue is a narrow little gorge, which is quite impressive and a real favourite with kids. It can be extremely difficult to pass through as it has drop-offs, little tunnels that you sometimes need to crawl through, and generally a place to be avoided unless it’s in great condition and you’re aware of what you’re getting yourself into. On Wednesday two people had an argument over who was going to go first through a tricky area and punches were thrown, blood was drawn, and I’m not too sure if the police were involved or not. It’s all been happening this week! 5cm to 10cm of snow appeared as if by magic on Thursday morning and we had a brilliant day, where before we had very low expectations. I was expecting a scratchy day with very little fresh snow, high winds and poor visibility, but the light was much better than expected, the wind wasn’t a factor, and the magical snow made a huge difference giving us a fresh canvas to lay our tracks in.

All-in-all it was a great week of skiing, and it seemed as if the resort was pretty quiet considering it was the Parisian holidays, which was expected to be one of the busiest weeks of the season. Next week should be relatively quiet with a mix of sunny days along with some cloudy days, and we should see some fresh snow. Sounds just about perfect! Have a great week and look out for another update next Friday. And three things you don’t want to miss musically are the Guinea Pigs at Le Petit Danois on Thursdays at 17:30, Karen and Andreas at the Danois on Fridays at 17:30, and anyone who’s playing at the Baraque nightly starting at 19:30 (except Mondays).

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.