Unconventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom dictates that early season you should go high, probably somewhere with a glacier, what the tour operators would call “guaranteed snow”. Does this really stand up to facts? Once again two high altitude resorts: Val Thorens and Val d’Isère, have had to put back their openings. What greeted visitors to Valtho when it finally opened on the 24th of November was a vision dubbed as “skiing circa 2020”. A ribbon of artificial snow snaking down between brown slopes. Someone suggested that they consider a roof over the pistes to protect them from sunlight, a sort of Snowdome in the mountains. Fortunately salvation came a day later in the form of 10cm of fresh snow which at least made the mountains look all white.

sept laux
Les Sept Laux last week

Val d’Isère cranked into life on Saturday with just 3 pistes open, the OK, Savonnette and Village. Skiers and professionals alike were dissapointed The OK will close shortly to prepare it for the Criterium de la Première Neige.

snow levels
Comparison of current snow depths

The picture is very different lower down. Les Sept Laux in the Isère department opened its doors on the 26th as did les Angles and Cerdagne Puigmal in the Pyrénées and Montgénevre in the Southern Alps. Not resorts that would normally spring to mind for early birds. We checked out the Sept Laux on the 30th November and there was almost too much snow on some of the runs. It may come as a surprise but this mid-size resort with some 120 km of runs between 1350 and 2400 meters was open for 133 days in 2004/5, about the same as Méribel, les Arcs and les Menuires.

Deep snow at 1500m in the Belledonne today

The Pyrénées resorts are the rising stars of French skiing with a series of excellent season starting in 2000. The resorts have invested in better lift systems and that magic ingredient, snow making. Last season Piau and les Angles both opened for 156 days and Ax-les-Thermeswas not far behind at 150. Figures that would make many Savoie resorts envious.

No doubt the picture will improve at Val Thorens and Val d’Isère, both managed to open for more than 160 days last season and Tignes, with its summer glacier skiing managed 321 days. The message is don’t trust conventional wisdom and follow the snow.

Posted by davidof on Monday, 05 December, 2005 at 10:38 PM

My view exactly! See the recent article which I wrote on this topic:



Posted by SnowMonkey on  Tuesday, 06 December, 2005  at 11:41 AM

Good article SnowMonkey, the PdS has got off to a good start this season too. Pete Garwood at MySnowSports has written this about “Val Despair”


Posted by davidof on  Tuesday, 06 December, 2005  at 11:52 AM

Here are the top snow depths from around France:

Gourette (Pyrennes): 150 cm
Le Grand Bornand: 120 cm
Le Lioran (Massif Central): 120cm
Avoriaz: 110 cm
Ballon d’Alsace (Vosges): 85cm

Val Thorens: 60cm
Val d’Isère: 23cm

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 07 December, 2005  at 10:25 AM
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