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When to do Chamonix and Val d'Isère (special circumstances)

Tue Sep 22, 2009 6:30 pm

This is my first post here, but I have been reading the forum for about a year and I love how you carefully analyze where and when to ski.

I will be a student in France this coming semester, and I have two different vacation breaks. One is the third week of February and the other is the third week of March. I know February will be extremely crowded, but I cannot avoid it. I am planning on doing two different UCPA freeride ski weeks (by far the cheapest option where guides, meals, and avy gear are included). One of these is in Val d'Isère (and on the Le Fornet side, so mostly based in Val d'Isère and not as much Tignes). The other trip is in Argentière. The Argentière trip would be 4 days at Les Grands Montets, 1 day at Le Tour or Brévent/Flegère, and 1 day on the Vallée Blanche.

From what I have read so far, Les Grands Montets has excellent snow preservation due to high altitude and north-facing slopes. However, the rest of Chamonix does not have such good exposure and altitude. I don't really know much about the Vallée Blanche, but it seems like something that should be done in good weather (possibly favoring the April time slot). I also believe powder at Chamonix is tracked out faster than anywhere else in Europe, so I might not be able to take advantage of the higher probability of powder that the February week offers.

Val d'Isère (and Tignes) have a much higher base elevation than Chamonix, and are known for having pretty much everything open even at the end of April. Also, there is less tree skiing than at Chamonix, so during a storm (more likely to happen in February), would Chamonix be better. Then again, the Espace Killy is bigger, and would have powder for days after a storm, especially during cold conditions in April. I also saw that Val d'Isère does not have great exposures, however, and it is very prone to wet slides in the late season. Val has a more extensive lift system and may be less crowded than Grand Montets in the peak February week.

I'm currently leaning toward Val d'Isère in February and Chamonix in April, but all of my thinking is merely theoretical. Can any of you help advise me?

Thank you for responding, and sorry about the long post.

Re: When to do Chamonix and Val d'Isère (special circumstances)

Wed Sep 23, 2009 1:31 am

I have been to Chamonix in February and never to Val d'Isere. But I think you're making the right call. Val d'Isere/Tignes have a well integrated lift system while Chamonix is a bunch of separated areas, more vulnerable to jam-ups when it's crowded I suspect. I had only one really bad one on that trip, at Brevant-Flegere when wind closed some lifts and everyone had to download the Brevant tram a the end of the day. Actually there was another big line getting up Courmayeur the day we went over there.

Grand-Montets you'll be above 6,000 feet and north-facing most of the time; late March should be fine. Vallee Blanche you probably won't be skiing into town anyway; you only get down to 5,500 or so before taking a lift and train out.

I'm often quite opinionated on these preferences by time of season. This one is a modest preference; it wouldn't be that bad if you have other reasons to do it the other way.
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