CR #202 (2016/2017)

It still hasn't snowed. We are now about five weeks from the last storm. Some people are wondering if it will ever snow again.
However, there is still some great snow around... but if you want to ski the good stuff, you have to be creative in your route choice, and enthusiastic enough to go and find it. And if that doesn't work out, you can always go mountain biking, as they are now letting bikes on the lifts again.


The snow line is still creeping up the sides of the valley. There isn't a drop of snow to be found below 2000m on the sunny side, and below 1800m on the shady side. They are doing their best to create artificial snow on the Pierre a Ric, the home run at the Grands Montets, but it is rarely cold enough for them to turn the snow machines on.
There is barely enough snow to cover the single piste open at Brevent, the black Charles Bozon from the summit. Instead of skiing there, people are trail running the infamous Vertical Kilometre before taking the lift back down to the bar.
There are still a few pistes open at La Flegere, but no-one likes to talk about it.
Le Tour, at the eastern end of the valley, receives the brunt of the afternoon sun. It looks like June. It looks sad. Incredibly enough, though, the Compagnie du Mont Blanc have started letting mountain bikes on the lifts at Le Tour again, as they do in the summer.
No-one but the most dedicated skimo enthusiasts are touring in the back of the Aiguilles Rouges and up by the Loriaz chalets, and most people have switched back to trail running in those areas. There is no snow at all below 2000m.


But although the snow is non-existent below the treeline and mediocre in the moyenne-montagne, up high there is still some impeccable snow to be found. A recent bout of the foehn wind has shifted the snow around up high into exciting new places, stripping it from some faces and dumping it onto others, and into some sheltered couloirs. If you follow the wind and the movement of the sun throughout the day, you can still ski a wide range of good snow. There are still rocks around, and there is still crust and boilerplate hidden where you least want it. But the good snow is there. Believe me.


The avalanche risk for the valley is currently set at 1/5 below 3000m, and 2/5 above. Conditions are stable and safe, for the most part, and as such, people are getting complacent. When winter finally arrives, it might take a little while for people to readjust to their usual, careful outlooks.

There are growing fields of facets on almost every aspect, some hidden under varying thicknesses of crust. This will, almost inevitably, be a problem in the future.


But it isn't all doom and gloom. I had an absolutely incredible day today, exploring a seldom-visited corner of the Argentiere glacier basin. After skinning almost to the border with Italy, we switched to crampons and booted up the south-facing side of the basin, on the Aiguilles Rouges du Dolent. We took a winding, sinuous line through rocky bottlenecks and sections of easy mixed climbing, which opened out every now and then into small couloirs and mini-faces, a little crispy in places, but we fully expected it to soften in the sun by the time we came back on the descent. Finally, we reach the top: an obvious steep-sided breche with views down into Switzerland.

The route, narrow and rocky at times, provided some nice and spicy dry skiing, but we got some pretty great snow skiing too. A little sun-softened, a few patches of compact pow, some recycled pow donated by the wind... and a little grippy chalk. Hardly any crust, and not a single square inch of boilerplate. I honestly cannot complain in the slightest.

So, with this all-consuming high pressure still lurking menacingly over our heads, there is still some good outings to be had, as long as you bring a sense of humour and a little creativity.



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