It’s snowed, it’s snowed, and it’s likely to continuing snowing – or even raining across much of the main Alpine ridge for days to come. And nowhere more so than in Val d’Isere where even the old timers can’t remember scenes likes this in the first days of the New Year. With two metres in the village – and counting – the snowplough drivers are running out of space to dump their hourly hoards. Temperatures have suddenly turned unseasonably high, with rain at times on the lower levels. And the wind is gusting at 100kph as Storm Eleanor joins the party.
All of this is fantastic news if you’re planning on visiting later in the month, or even over half-term…not so good if you happen to be visiting right now. For many, the outbound journey last weekend was a nightmare, with thousands forced to shelter overnight in schools and shelters. Few lifts have been running this week…none at all today, even the nursery slopes remain closed as pisteurs struggled to make slopes safe before they can even begin creating corduroy.
The skiers in this photo from Radio Val on Wednesday are not snowploughing to slow their descent – they’re stopping themselves being blown back up the mountain by the blizzard. And the other sort of snowplough driver is not clearing the road as he normally does – he’s building a barrier so vehicles don’t try to pass, because Val d’Isere is now cut off from the outside world. The danger of avalanche is the reason for that. A slip temporarily closed the road to the outlying hamlet of Le Fornet.
John Yates-Smith of chalet operator YSE Ski said: “We have 30 guests in different hotels around the village today, who couldn’t reach their chalets. We thought our arriving guests might not make it last night, and we’d be billeted in schools, village halls and even trains, as sometimes happens. But with no loo stops allowed we just got through in time.
“Were the guests grateful? Well, one of the rooms was a bit small, one hotel didn’t have a lift, a young lady was miffed at having to share her room with her brother, and one lady found the wine a little dry! Apart from that they were delirious. We’re doing fine in Val. Down in Bourg St Maurice there’s a massive thaw, heavy rain, and the threat of flooding. All we need now is a plague of locusts..”
Windslab and snow accumulations are forming, particularly on leeward facing slopes away from the prevailing winds above 2500m. Unusually warm weather is turning the snow to rain in lower resorts and at altitude the avalanche risk is the maximum 5/5.
Henry Schniewind of Henry’s Avalanche Talk said: “We will be getting lots of naturally occurring wet snow avalanches each time the rain/snow limit rises and we will see a lot more of this over the next few days. Not only will the avalanche danger rating be ‘Extreme 5’ to ‘High 4’ over the next few days, but off-piste snow conditions will also be lethal. With temperatures above seasonal norms, accompanied by rain below altitudes of 2200/1800m, the snowpack at these lower altitudes has become very heavy, deeply humid and difficult to ski. If it refreezes overnight, there is a nasty crust to contend with first thing in the morning.”
Our advice is stay safe – enjoy what will be some truly superb skiing when the skies clear and the sun comes out, but don’t contemplate leaving the piste until the snowpack has had time to stabilise. Even when the risk drops to 3/5, the danger remains significant.