Tuesday 3 February 2015

St Gervais Powder

Unless you've been living on Mars, you should now be aware that the Alps has been getting absolutely hammered with snow since Thursday last week. The snowfall has been more or less continuous and generally pretty heavy too and whilst this has caused chaos on the roads, it’s meant that the skiing has suddenly become amazing, after a distinctly average January.

The big problem with the sudden snowfall is that the avalanche risk has gone through the roof. We needed the snow but unfortunately it’s been accompanied by high, swirling winds. The result is that all aspects and altitudes are of equal avalanche risk and predicting where the windslabs might be is virtually impossible, as proved by the fact that ski patrols, guides and avalanche forecasters are all basically recommending avoiding most terrain steeper than 30 degrees anywhere on the mountain. I’ve certainly never encountered a situation where nobody really knows where the danger is and it’s frankly pretty intimidating right now. I’ve always thought that patience was overrated as a virtue in life but it is absolutely vital in off piste skiing and never more so than now.

Unsurprisingly for Chamonix, not everyone is taking much notice of the risk and I was staggered to see a lot of tracks coming out of the Plan de L’Aiguille yesterday. Regular readers of this blog will probably have sussed that it is a favourite spot of mine but wild horses couldn’t drag me up there right now. There are some lines there that might just about be OK but given the unpredictability of the avalanche situation, I’m giving the 35 degree rolls and terrain traps up there a wide berth. The fact that 3 people were avalanched there at the weekend appears to have done little to dampen general enthusiasm for the “Plan” judging by the new tracks there today but I’m giving it a year off. The culture here is that everything gets skied sooner or later and it can be hard to resist when you see that someone else has had a great run down your favourite line but I’m planning on skiing for a few years yet so I’m happy having a season cruising mellow powder. Anyway, I digress.

The good news is that, despite the risk, there is still a huge amount of good skiing to go at. The key is to stick to safe, low angled ground and not to take any chances. With the weather still unsettled that basically means finding some mellow powder faces and skiing nice tree runs. Given that criteria, Sharon and I figured we couldn’t go too far wrong with St Gervais, and so it proved. We only had a half day but our thighs were done by early afternoon after a fantastic few hours of hooning around.

Sharon deep in the trees.

A pretty cool feeling! Photo Sharon Wray.

Sharon in some very deep, cold powder. And yes, that is a piste post - you don't have to venture too far to find fresh stuff in St Gervais!

One final "deep" shot. Photo Sharon Wray.

Looking at the long range forecast we may have now had our last major snowfall for a while and, despite me always wanting more powder, it will probably be a good thing for all this fresh stuff to settle. 

The sun is forecast to shine at the weekend and it could well be amazing. The pistes are in perfect condition and once the higher peaks have had a few days of good weather to calm things down, there will be plenty to go for. The classique route on the Vallée Blanche and most of the Argentiere Glacier could be amazing, as will anything mellow which has been kept quiet by the bad visibility recently. Basically, be conservative in your choices, don't blindly follow people and stick to the gentle stuff. Bring on the sun!