18/4/13 – The snow’s coming down in Val d’Isere

avalanche Val d'Isere

One of the many avalanches in Val d’Isere this week. Note the single point of release at the top

Never have I seen so many enormous avalanches all over the place as this week in Val d’Isere.

On slopes of every aspect, they have been tumbling down in giant proportions, engulfing acres of mountainside with tons of wet snow. Some have begun as slabs; others have a single release point no bigger than a handspan.

Many have widened to more than a hundred yards and travelled half a mile. Many must be at least 100 feet deep.

Sadly, a few days ago not far from the resort, three members of a ski touring group died in an avalanche soon after setting out from a mountain hut one morning (read a report about it here).

Lanches avalanche Tignes

This avalanche crossed the Lanches piste near Tignes Val Claret – after skiing hours

Several runs within the ski area are closed due either to avalanche danger or simply being crammed with avalanche debris – for instance, the blue Santons run and Piste L, from Solaise to Le Laisinant.

Above Val Claret, a giant wet-snow slide, with a single release point, spilled onto the Lanches piste on Monday evening.

Avalanche Val d'Isere

This is where Mattis (open) meets Piste L (closed, and filled with debris)

A couple of days ago a massive wet-snow slide blocked the road somewhere between Val d’Isere and Bourg St Maurice. The road was closed again for ‘Pida’ (blasting) yesterday. There are good bulletins on the Radio Val d’Isere website.

Where we’re staying, at Le Chardon Mountain Lodges, which has a sensational view towards Le Manchet and the Rocher du Charvet, we’ve been watching them from the hot tub each afternoon.

Usually they’re tumbling down the west side of the valley, and two days ago there was a spectacular display, way up the valley, far from lifts or any sane off-pisters.

Avalanche Val d'Isere

Here’s one on a west-facing slope

At 4.30m today, a slab broke off on the east side, showing that the time of day/aspect is not always predictable. It was just up the valley from the open Epaule du Charvet mogul run and ground to a halt by the summer sports pitches.

I was surprised by its speed – wet-snow avalanches certainly don’t always amble down, leaving time for people to get out of the way.

Despite the visible carnage, and the fact that the danger level has been at four since we arrived (and sometimes four/five), we have been on two fantastic day tours, led by a super-experienced French mountain guide in his fifties, Jean-Marc. The crucial thing in such conditions, is timing and route choice.

Cornices near Col d'Iseran

Cornices, facing east, near the Col d’Iseran

Yesterday, we rode the Le Fornet lifts and skied into the Col d’Iseran, where several groups were taking similar routes.

Our highest point was almost within touching distance of some horrific-looking cornices, but our route was safe. We started skinning at 10am, arrived at the top at 11.15, descended past the Refuge du Fond des Fours and arrived at the Manchet lift by midday.

Ski touring at Val d'Isere

Our happy group, this morning. After an hour and a half’s ascent, we skied down on perfect spring snow

Today, we took the lifts to the top of Cugnai, skied over the back on rattly, west-facing frozen slush, ascended past the same Refuge as yesterday, and continued climbing gentle, mostly east-facing slopes – with no other groups in sight – in the blazing sun to reach the top, drenched in sweat, by 11.30am.

Ski touring Val d'Isere

Exiting the valley we had plenty of debris to negotiate

Our descent, on beautiful, west-facing, untracked spring snow, culminated, near the valley floor, in traverses of the giant avalanches we had watched from the hot tub, now set into a mass of frozen boulders of snow. We were at Manchet just after midday.

Rain is forecast tomorrow – though it seems inconceivable it will arrive, looking at the deep blue sky this afternoon.

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Filed under France, Off-piste, Ski touring, Transport

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