Worries about lack of snow after the summer heat wave turned to concerns about safety as a weather system crossed France dumping over a meter of fresh at altitude. On Thursday the lifts finally opened at 1pm giving the few skiers and boarders present for the “pro” day excellent conditions to ski and test the latest gear.
Nestling amongst the big names were a number of “micro-marques” with output ranging from 30! to 2000 pairs of skis per season. This is an exclusive but growing part of the ski market firmly oriented towards backcountry telemark and AT use.
The weather closed in on Friday and with winds gusting to 140 km/h at altitude the glacier remained closed with only a couple of drags open in resort for the keenest skiers. Two avalanche deaths on Thursday at nearby Orcières-Merlettes and Avoriaz plus a major incident across the valley at Vaujany meant the piste security were taking no chances.
The morning snow turned to rain below 2000 meters and it was a day for catching up with friends and colleagues not seen since the Chamonix Freeride Dayz in mid-May.
Six months? Had it really gone so quickly?
Friday night was Halloween, not a traditional festival in Catholic France but the bars and clubs of les Deux Alpes still saw an assortment of ghouls, werewolves and vampires. Or were these just the normal collection of pasty-faced ski bums suffering from the week’s partying? Hard to tell.
Overnight the temperatures dropped and the snow descended to around 1200 meters. The road up to the resort became an ice rink as badly equipped Italians tried to make their way up to town for the weekend. Highlights were a jet black Porche Boxter with two pairs of skis on the boot and a Peugeot 106 towing a van with the thinnest rope ever. The van and Peugeot were doing a crazy waltz like ice dancers on Crack as they slid up the hill.
The French weather service promised little for Saturday and we went to bed under ominous skies but a good deal more snug than the two German climbers stuck near the summit of Mont Blanc.
Quel Surprise, we woke at 7am with dawn light filtering into the apartment. Looking out of the window the sky was deep blue with twinkling stars dotted here and there. On the horizon a lazy autumn sun was starting to prepare for its days climb. The resort, not known as the jewel of the Alps, had been transformed into a winter wonderland. 30 cm of snow on the roads, roofs and trees. The village was already a hive of activity. Snow ploughs, ploughed and the pisteurs had been on the glacier since 6am stripping rime ice from the lifts and cables and preparing to open.
The work took longer than expected. At 9am a crowd of nearly 1000 expectant skiers had gathered to buy their ski passes. The lift company was offering a special price of 15 Euros to make up for yesterday’s disappointments.
In order to give the workers high on the 3600-meter glacier time to get everything up and running the lower slopes opened first. A few glitches as lifts were coaxed back to life after their summer hibernation.
We were greeted by what will no doubt be some of the best skiing of the season. 30cm of super-light powder between the marked runs that left huge bow waves as we floated across it. At midday we headed for the glacier, clouds hovered around the nearby peaks, les Grandes Rousses, la Meije and the Dents d’Aravis but never threatened to disturb the perfect autumnal stillness.
The ski competitions had been postponed a day which gave pros and amateurs alike a chance to show off their skills in the snow park. There were even a few boarders chancing it with the skiers.
The somewhat erratic lift system meant that queues built up, especially around the ski test zone, but given the previous day’s conditions it was difficult to reproach the lift company. The excellent snow had certainly brought out local skiers in their thousands. At the end of the day we were able to ski all the way back to the village without hitting a single stone or rock.
Sunday was more of the same pleasures. Granted the between pistes powder was largely skied out and the real off-piste too dangerous for serious exploration, at least by anyone with plans to enjoy the rest of the season. The morning cloud and mist was soon burned away by the sun and despite lashings of SP35 we would be returning home with good tans.
All in all a fantastic few days that gave us a chance to rediscover an excellent ski area. Normally the lifts are closed until the 29th of November but lets hope they can open at weekends to let other skiers share our enjoyment. Finally a big thank you to Helena, Cyril and Virginie from the les Deux Alpes press office for their warm welcome and help during our visit.