There’s a lot to be said for spring skiing in the Trois Vallees. Not only do you get all the usual pleasure that comes from blasting round the slopes at Mach 3. You get long, sunny days too: when it feels as though summer is opening up like a flower right in front of your eyes. The relaxed and happy vibe this creates is infectious. When you’re spring skiing it’s almost like hanging out on the beach: but with snow on tap to make things interesting.
There is one big drawback though: the warmth. Yes, you do sometimes get powder days in March and April in the Alps – but the default setting at this time of year is mild, and the quality of the snow suffers as a result. Any slope that sees much of the sun goes through a daily freeze-thaw cycle, and if you ski it at the wrong moment in that cycle you can be skidding about on ice, or wallowing through slush.
But it needn’t be like that: hit the right slope at the right moment – when the snow has just started to soften but before it gets porridge-y – and you can have an absolute blast, made more intense by the fact that you know the spring conditions are so fleeting. Mix slopes like those with runs that are both high and north facing – and therefore still cold – and you’re all but guaranteed a day of great skiing. Here are five of my favourite slopes for spring skiing in the Trois Vallees:
Pistes M and Suisse – Courchevel 1850
Where: at the top of the Vizelle gondola and Suisse chair.
Why: not all pistes go through a freeze/thaw cycle. Piste M faces north and Suisses north-east, and as a result they are less affected by the freeze-thaw cycle. So when they’ve been groomed (they don’t get done every day) the snow can be about as perfect as groomed snow ever gets – with the sun shining and few other skiers around first thing they’re an absolute blast.
Cote Brune – Meribel
Where: Col de la Chambre between Meribel and Val Thorens.
When: all day.
Why: The north-facing slopes under the Cote Brune chair offer very easily accessible ‘off-piste’ that even after weeks without snow in the Trois Vallees isn’t too bumped out and retains nice, dry chalky snow for your edges to grip onto. The terrain varies (yes you can even hit those bumps if you want to) from steep to gentle and there’s the added challenge of being watched by everyone on the lifts so you have to get it right!
Portette chair, Val Thorens
Where: above Val Thorens.
When: all day.
Why: The slopes beneath the Portette chair face north-east and are relatively high so the snow stays in good condition. They’re also very easily and quickly accessible from VT. You can ski the red Portette early morning, then when that starts getting too packed down hit the stuff to the side of this – last time I was this was in great nick, dry and chalky like the conditions under Cote Brune.
Where: above Pierre St Martin.
When: from about 2pm (on a warm, sunny day).
Why: Jerusalem isn’t a challenging red, but I like it for its wide, open feel and equally wide open views; and since the slopes here face south I usually beetle off to the side of the piste at this time of year and often find some superb spring snow – you can scope out the off-piste options as you ride up on the St Martin 2 chair. Get there soon though – the lower slopes are melting fast and it may not be long before it reaches the point where the piste has to be closed.
Dou des Lanches
Where: Col de la Loze (can be accessed from La Tania, Courchevel 1850 or Meribel).
When: late afternoon.
Why: I like this descent because it offers me a great last run of the day since I usually park at La Tania. The black Dou des Lanches takes you down towards La Tania from Col de la Loze, and if it’s been groomed it can stay in good condition all day since it faces due north. You can also head off the piste to skiers left for some quite steep and challenging off-piste, although right now that really needs some more snow on it.
As you get lower down the mountain you hit the red Moretta Blanche where the conditions can often transform to butter-smooth spring snow. The lowest part of Moretta Blanche is usually a slushy mess but hey, you can’t have everything – come to think of it, what happened to that snow the weather forecasters said we could have?