Thursday, 23 January 2014

Staying safe on the slopes

We are currently enjoying great on-piste conditions in Meribel and the whole 3 Valleys area. Following a very (unusual) warm start to January it has started to get cold again and whilst we haven't had any major dumps of snow the falls that we have received have kept the pistes in great condition. Off-Piste the conditions are best described as "unstable" and are not advised unless you are with a Guide and properly equipped. Last week we were rewarded for our decision to go skiing in what looked like a white out from our windows in Les Allues. As we reached the summit of Saulire it was as if someone had opened the curtains - blue sky and sunshine greeted us as the pictures below show.

Although it is blissfully quiet on the Pistes in January accidents can still happen. A recent article in the UK Daily Telegraph quoted the number of injuries sustained in the French Alps last season as 1,400, 12% being the result of collision with other Piste users. Here are a couple of tips to minimise your risk:

  • Always look up the slope before entering a run and stay aware of where others may be going especially in those areas where several lifts depart from the same area.
  • Give other Piste users plenty of room, you have no idea what their next move may be
  • If you need to stop do so at the side of the Piste and never just over the brow of a rise where you cannot be seen clearly by Piste users coming down the slope.
  • Be mindful of the conditions - this includes weather, snow conditions, type of Piste and time of day. Major runs which take people to resort accommodation hubs at the end of the day are often best avoided. There is nothing wrong with experiencing a Gondola travelling downhill when conditions make it the more enjoyable option. You will receive a warm welcome from the lift operators, they know a wise decision maker when they see one.
  • Wear a Helmet. It won't save you in every circumstance but in a collision it can help to minimise your injuries.
  • Don't ski or ride under the influence of alcohol, in addition to the obvious dangers of slower reaction times it can invalidate your Insurance.
More snow is forecast over the next few days and much colder temperatures - a maximum of minus 16 is predicted for the summits on Friday. Time to wrap up well.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A Whale has visited and winter returns to Meribel

After a period of lovely warm weather winter has returned to Meribel. Following a night where over 20cm fell it has been snowing all day today even at Les Allues level and below. I can't give an eyewitness account of the conditions on piste as today has been one of admin, cooking and watching the tiny patches of blue sky struggle against the low cloud and mist. Temperatures have fallen and look set to remain at a wintery level for at least the next 5 days.

A friend recently told me of the shark alarm being sounded at Dee Why beach in the Northern Beaches area of  Sydney. We don't have such a dramatic warning system here of a change in the weather and as in many places even weather forecasts seem to vary. We do however have a peaceful, subtle warning of snow arriving in the form of a Whale which when sighted is much more welcome than a Shark on Dee Why Beach. The place to keep an eye on is Mt Blanc, when a cloud shaped like a Whale appears on the top of Mt Blanc but you can still see the top of the mountain above the cloud snow is on the way.

Baleine de Neige on Mt Blanc
The example above snapped earlier this season is not the most perfect Baleine de Neige but it did bring a decent snowfall the next day. At their very best these clouds really do look like a Whale sitting across the mountain peak, I will try and get a better example later in the season. 

As we are expecting more snow over the next 5 days I will report back later this week on the conditions underfoot particularly from the lower, tree lined runs which provide improved visibility if the cloud remains low.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

January in Meribel

One week into 2014 and we have been enjoying beautiful conditions under our skis with what feels like endless blue skies and sunshine above us. People often ask us which month is "best" to come skiing and to be honest each year is different. January is often though of as a cold snowy month yet in the past we have experienced more than one January where barely a snowflake fell. 

Whilst we can't predict the weather one thing we do know for sure is that once New Year week is over the slopes are very, very quiet. Coming from Australia where January is the main holiday period this is something that still takes a bit of getting used to. Even in busy periods it is easy to avoid queues across the Three Valleys by planning your day carefully but the joy of skiing wherever takes your fancy without having to think about bottlenecks or what time ski schools deposit their pupils is sheer joy. Today we skied the popular Choucas piste all by ourselves and this morning found plenty of corduroy, untouched runs in Courchevel as late as 10.00am, a time by which most pistes have usually been visited.

Not a soul on Choucas Piste

Following a fall of approx 20cm on Saturday we have had a sunny week with mild temperatures. Despite this the snow on Piste is in excellent condition with just some softening in late afternoon at the lower levels. Off Piste is currently not recommended due to the unstable nature of the snow pack. The weather forecast suggests a change is about to arrive and this morning we certainly felt it with a chilly wind blowing at the top of Mount Vallon. The chill was worth putting up with though as a couple of centimetres of fresh snow made the runs down Mt Vallon extremely enjoyable.

Sunny but clouds gathering
We will update the weather situation in the next post and explain the significance of seeing White Whales whilst skiing around the Three Valleys.