Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

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Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Apr 16, 2018 1:51 pm

Round 3 of the storm added another 8 inches from about 5PM Thursday to midnight. We think the reports are from Bellevarde. With the vast acreage here and the weather coming from Italy, total snow from the 3 storms was about 2 feet over most sectors but possibly twice that at the far eastern sector of Le Fornet. This raised the avalanche rating to 4, and I have a separate report and pics from the incident we saw out there on our last guided run. viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12654 .

Image

I was again with Didier and Kiera of iSKI and their regular client Bernard, but Liz was along too. On Thursday she had a morning powder lesson with Wayne from Alpine Experience, and the results definitely showed on Friday. Our warmup run was to the side of the Fontaine Froid piste, mellow intermediate pitch and south facing, but it was immediately evident that powder quality was outstanding. It was mostly sunny, so there was definitely a priority in hitting the sunny exposures early before the powder quality declined.

Next we stepped up around the top Bellevarde gondola station and traversed skier’s left to Cairns. Here’s Bernard making the second track there after Didier.
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Liz and Kiera followed me.
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View into town from that same spot, a couple of tracks continuing lower:
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We traversed right and rode the Noyes lift back to Bellevarde.

From there we skied to the Grand Prix lift. I stopped to take this pic of some skiers who had climbed Rocher de Charvet.
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Arrow shows top of the couloir where they dropped in. There are two skiers spraying powder in the open midsection below and left of the upper couloir, and there are a couple of tracks coming out of a chute below that. Didier said, “Not that difficult, maybe 35-40 degrees at the top, only about a 20 minute hike to get up there.” It sounds like a piece of cake for Staley compared to Entre Rios.

We skied the Tour de Charvet around the backside of that mountain. Liz on upper wide section:
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This is also south facing but it’s before 10AM, which means before 8:30AM by sun time.

Scenic continuation:
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Here Bernard points across the valley at his favorite off piste sector of Val d’Isere.
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It takes about 45 minutes to climb up the backside of that.

Bottom of Tour de Charvet:
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The exit trail continues left to the Manchet chair.

Le Manchet is a wide open west facing sector of about 2,000 vertical. There was plenty of room for powder skiing there, but of course Didier knew better. We skied down the easy piste to Madeleine, which takes us maybe 100 vertical higher than the top of Manchet. After a short step up from there and a traverse far left, we have a vast area of pristine snow to ski. Liz on the top part:
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Didier often zigzagged to avoid rollover pitches that might be unstable.
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But then he set us up on the best powder of the trip, completely hidden by his spray as he sets the line here.
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I zoomed the camera so Didier’s head is barely visible.
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Liz and Kiera enjoying the goods:
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Close-up of Kiera:
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After another short traverse, Didier skis the final pitch.
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Liz on that, viewed from below:
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Here we are exiting the far end of the valley on the way back to Le Manchet lift.
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It’s no wonder I returned here late in the day.

We did not take an encore run, as the off-piste program lasts only until 1PM and Didier wanted to check out the powder off the Signal poma east of Le Fornet. On the way there we skied some powder on the hillside skier’s right of Piste L to Le Laisinant. We rode the Laisinant and Pyamides chairs and the Signal poma to Grand Vallon.

Here we are traversing high above Grand Vallon.
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The traverse track below us leads to a saddle entry into the next drainage, Vallonet.

But we also did a 5 minute step-up to get a higher entry to Vallonet.
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The high entry ensured that our first turns in Vallonet would be pristine.
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I skied next after Didier with Liz following.
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In the middle section there are few more tracks but plenty of room to set our own line.
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Notice the traverse track from the bottom of that pitch out the lower right of the picture above. Didier led us that way to avoid a steep rollover with that much new snow in the Fornet sector. You can see the track going off to the left, which led to a very unfortunate result viewtopic.php?f=5&t=12654 .

Here are Kiera and Liz on the lower part of Vallonet.
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It was past 1PM so our guided day was done. Needless to say with these conditions I was not done. Liz broke off a pole basket and took the bus into town with Didier and Kiera to replace it. She later went up Bellevarde and worked her way over to Laisinant.

Meanwhile I rode the tram out of Le Fornet and the Pyramides chair and Signal poma to Grand Vallon. I stuck with the more heavily skied first bowl, tracked but not that difficult to make my own.
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View back up after skiing about 1,500 vertical:
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There’s another 1,500 vertical below me.
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However, just beyond that small gully I heeded Didier’s advice to avoid sun affected snow and bailed out skier’s left to the piste for the lowest 1/3 of vertical. You can also bail out left at the halfway point and return to the Pyramides chair and not go to the Le Fornet base at all.

In retrospect I probably should have lapped Grand Vallon the rest of the afternoon. But I was quite sure the far left of Le Manchet with the 2 chair sequence and short bootpack would still have quite a bit of untracked snow. To get there I rode the Vallon gondola to the Lessieres chair. Riding that chair I saw these tracks below.
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You have to jump off the chair to ski that as Lessieres is a transport lift that does not stop at the top. There were a couple of tracks on the other side too. Didier said you will get your pass pulled if you get caught.

My first run far left Manchet was indeed untracked but it was 2:30PM and the sun had turned the snow into heavy “Baldy powder.” I avoided rollovers but still set off a small wet sluff. So the second run I traversed higher and farther to bend the angle bit farther from the afternoon sun. From there I had a view of a few skiers coming into that drainage from a more direct north exposure.
IMG_4682.JPG

I’m guessing it took at least half an hour of hiking or skinning for those skiers to get out there.

I ended the day skiing down to Le Laisinant, arriving 4:10PM. The view below was the most direct north facing I could find.
IMG_4684.JPG

It was still winter snow but cut up more like at a North American resort late on a powder day.

Liz pronounced this “the best ski day of her life.” I have maintained a few records to evaluate my ski days. I skied 29,100 vertical, 17K of powder. By the crude measure of vertical + powder vertical that ranks 10th lifetime out of 1,470 ski days. Qualitatively it was better than 3 of the days where that stat was higher, but you can also say that a few snowcat ski days with blower powder but less vertical might rank ahead of this one. At any rate, it was clearly my best day lifetime in the Alps and probably best day anywhere in 2017-18. Feb. 25 in Fernie was close, quality of snow was better there, but most of the skiing was over buried moguls or in trees requiring lots of adjustments. As I told Liz, the first 4 hours here were like a good day in the cat or heli. 65 Euros for 4 hours of guiding in the Alps is quite an attractive deal on a day like this.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby Sbooker » Tue Apr 17, 2018 12:47 am

Wow. I've been reading your reports with envy.
Spectacular conditions and great photos too.
Out of interest how do the lift systems in the big Euro hills compare to the lift systems in the major resorts in the US and Canada as far as ability to shift crowds and speed of the average lift is concerned?
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Apr 17, 2018 3:04 am

Tony's charmed life in the Alps.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Apr 17, 2018 6:21 am

The lift systems at the big Austrian places are the most state of the art I have seen. At many big Euro areas detachable 6 and 8 packs with moving carpet loading ramps are common. This keeps liftlines manageable in size though sometimes at the expense of on piste skier density.

When there are liftlines there is of course minimal organization of them.

There are also more expensive lifts in Europe like aerial trams and funicular railways.

To me crowd issues would be mostly in terms of skier density. This would be worst in early season if not all pistes are open and it’s holiday season. That’s true in North America too, but since on piste density is overall higher in Europe I would expect the holiday congestion problem to be worse. The 2017-18 holiday season had abundant snow in the Alps but the prior 3 holiday seasons were bad.

For sbooker the back end of the Aussie summer break around Australia Day would be a good time. That’s the time frame James has been using for many years and which I have in 2013, 2017 and 2018.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Apr 17, 2018 8:33 am

Tony Crocker wrote:The lift systems at the big Austrian places are the most state of the art I have seen. At many big Euro areas detachable 6 and 8 packs with moving carpet loading ramps are common.

Euro skiers who frequent mainstream Alps resorts almost laugh at how comparably archaic most of the lift systems are at premier U.S. and Canadian mountains, as well as how few have the RFID ticket systems (the 90s hand scanners still used quite a bit in the States get particular derision). Relative to France, Austria, and Italy, Switzerland is the outlier in this regard as there are still a fair amount of drag lifts at otherwise premier resorts. For the record: I love drag lifts, especially the speedy detachable variant as well as ones that zig-zag up the mountain, so Switzerland has been getting a lot of attention from me over the last few seasons.
8)

As Tony mentions, avoid early season (unless there's been a lot of snow to open up more terrain/like this season) and peak season (holidays and February school break) for the high-profile resorts.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby ChrisC » Tue Apr 17, 2018 6:26 pm

Val d'Isere/ Tignes is simply the best! Glad you got a great powder day - or days! Great photos! So much terrain!

I really like how the Espace Killy complex is laid out - valley after valley - with just a minimal of high-speed lifts in a few key places. Lots of great open bowl low expert powder skiing - with a bunch of couloirs thrown in.

The connection to Tignes is seamless (it's less of a different resort - than just another valley), the lift tickets are relatively cheap (and include everything), most lodging is within walking distance to a slope, and there are some classic bars like Folie Douce.

I've been to almost all of the French super resorts (Courchevel, Meribel, Val Thorens / Les Arcs, Plagne / Chamonix (Megeve to Grands Montets to Courmayeur) / Alp d'huez, La Grave, Les Deux Alpes), and some Swiss (Verbier, Zermatt) ... but I really think the terrain, ease-of-use, north-facing terrrain, scale of Val d'Isere is the best.

*** I have not skied Austria -- St. Anton, Lech, Ishgl, Kitzbuhel ****
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby ChrisC » Tue Apr 17, 2018 6:31 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:
Tony Crocker wrote:The lift systems at the big Austrian places are the most state of the art I have seen. At many big Euro areas detachable 6 and 8 packs with moving carpet loading ramps are common.

Euro skiers who frequent mainstream Alps resorts almost laugh at how comparably archaic most of the lift systems are at premier U.S. and Canadian mountains, as well as how few have the RFID ticket systems (the 90s hand scanners still used quite a bit in the States get particular derision). Relative to France, Austria, and Italy, Switzerland is the outlier in this regard as there are still a fair amount of drag lifts at otherwise premier resorts.


The European ski areas often get municipal government financing - I was reading about Zermatt's lift upgrade program.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Apr 18, 2018 3:25 am

After ChrisC's January report:
Tony Crocker wrote:I'm convinced enough to be considering Val d'Isere this April.
Jamesdeluxe wrote: To get less of an industrial tourism vibe, to say nothing of what should be excellent conditions, that's when I would go there too.

James is incorrect on both counts above. Even though the lift system can handle it, it's definitely still industrial skiing in April as there are staggered French school holidays through the whole month. And it's even busier during British school holidays tied to Easter. The Tsanteleina's lodging cost from April 8 to closing is the same as during James' favored time slot of late January/early February. It's only 10% higher March 3 - April 7, and the time frame between the February and Easter school holidays is the local consensus for optimal average snow conditions.

As for the excellent conditions, I sort of expected Mammoth/Mt.Bachelor type good spring skiing I get nearly every year at home in April. But from an off-piste perspective Val d'Isere in April was more like LCC. You get powder days here and there, but for several days afterwards the off-piste is unconsolidated glop, needs a few clear days and night to settle into corn. This hasn't really happened yet in this banner season; the storms keep coming, sort of like LCC in an average year.

So on the non-powder days you are skiing mostly on piste. At that elevation the piste skiing is still quite pleasant in April, so I'm not surprised Val d'Isere is as popular with the typical British/French families as it is with us fanatics. Kiera of iSKI said Val d'Isere might be getting fewer French locals this year because the snow has been good everywhere.


Jamesdeluxe wrote:Tony's charmed life in the Alps.

The expectation was probably a foot of new snow and we got about 2 feet in total out of 3 moderate storms. The charmed life was the timing of the storms, with rounds 2 and 3 being overnight. The daytime break between the second and third storms allowed for an excellent powder day Thursday, while Friday was truly off the charts.

Both times I've skied Grands Montets (late January and mid-February) the lift accessible off-piste has had no new snow but very pleasant packed powder/chalk/windbuff. It's hard to believe Val d'Isere/Tignes off piste would not be just as good under the same weaker winter sun. And how much lift accessible off-piste is there at Val d'Isere/Tignes vs. Grands Montets? Probably 5x as much. West facing Le Manchet reminded me some of east facing Backside at Alta, except it's twice the vertical and 3-4x the width.

So the answer to James' question is that the best time frames at Val d'Isere are the the ones he's been using for quite awhile: immediately before or after the February/early March school holidays, with maybe a slight bias toward the latter for better visibility and coverage with the good snow preservation.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Apr 18, 2018 3:41 am

ChrisC wrote:Is Val d'Isere the best resort for off-piste/powder skiing in the world?


ChrisC wrote:I've been to almost all of the French super resorts (Courchevel, Meribel, Val Thorens / Les Arcs, Plagne / Chamonix (Megeve to Grands Montets to Courmayeur) / Alp d'huez, La Grave, Les Deux Alpes), and some Swiss (Verbier, Zermatt) ... but I really think the terrain, ease-of-use, north-facing terrrain, scale of Val d'Isere is the best.


It's hard to argue with the above. I was really impressed with the "ease of use" part. I could definitely find nearly every route I was shown in 4 days of guiding on my own now. There were times we did 10 minute step-ups or traverses for access, but the reward to grunt work ratio puts Alta to shame with the rewards typically having 2-4x the vertical. I would definitely still hire guides for the big powder days like Friday due to the demonstrated avalanche risk. The daily avalanche rating is posted at many lifts and we need to know each day what it is and why. It was at least 3 during our entire trip due to wet slide risk on steep sunny slopes like the one that closed the Tignes road in that video.

ChrisC wrote:*** I have not skied Austria -- St. Anton, Lech, Ischgl, Kitzbuhel ****

As far as the Arlberg is concerned, it gets more snow (Warth is the snowiest resort in the Alps, and Zurs is pobalby second) than Val d'Isere but is much lower and St. Anton in particular is heavily south facing: the Jackson Hole of the Alps IMHO. Ischgl is really the only place in Austria with extensive skiing above 7,000 feet (not counting a few small summer glaciers) with good exposure, but its terrain is much more intermediate than Espace Killy and it's not as big and tops out about 9,400 feet.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby socal » Wed Apr 18, 2018 11:14 am

Tony Crocker wrote: I would definitely still hire guides for the big powder days like Friday due to the demonstrated avalanche risk. The daily avalanche rating is posted at many lifts and we need to know each day what it is and why. It was at least 3 during our entire trip due to wet slide risk on steep unny slopes like the one that closed the Tignes road in that video.


That video and the avalanche you saw the aftermath of looked pretty terrifying. I was pretty surprised you were comfortable skiing those routes alone without your guides after seeing all that activity.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby Sbooker » Wed Apr 18, 2018 9:04 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:The lift systems at the big Austrian places are the most state of the art I have seen. At many big Euro areas detachable 6 and 8 packs with moving carpet loading ramps are common. This keeps liftlines manageable in size though sometimes at the expense of on piste skier density.

When there are liftlines there is of course minimal organization of them.

There are also more expensive lifts in Europe like aerial trams and funicular railways.

To me crowd issues would be mostly in terms of skier density. This would be worst in early season if not all pistes are open and it’s holiday season. That’s true in North America too, but since on piste density is overall higher in Europe I would expect the holiday congestion problem to be worse. The 2017-18 holiday season had abundant snow in the Alps but the prior 3 holiday seasons were bad.

For sbooker the back end of the Aussie summer break around Australia Day would be a good time. That’s the time frame James has been using for many years and which I have in 2013, 2017 and 2018.


Our main skiing will take place the middle two weeks of January 2019. We're not locked into a region let alone a resort yet and probably don't intend to be until we have a handle on conditions. We're going with very low expectations as far as snow conditions are concerned anyway. If we get to ski 'off piste' it will be a bonus.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby jamesdeluxe » Thu Apr 19, 2018 3:38 am

socal wrote:That video and the avalanche you saw the aftermath of looked pretty terrifying. I was pretty surprised you were comfortable skiing those routes alone without your guides after seeing all that activity.

No one tells Tony where he can ski!!
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Apr 20, 2018 3:57 am

I told Didier that I was planning to ski the direct bowl of Grand Vallon so he could express his opinion. He told me to bail out to the piste and not ski the lower third, so I did that. Other off-piste skiing after that was on exact routes we had skied with guides.
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Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby flyover » Sun Apr 22, 2018 3:02 pm

Wow! Beautiful pictures and a very nice report. Looks like a fantastic day. It also looks like Liz is continuing to ski with more and more confidence in powder.
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Re: Val d’Isere, France, April 13, 2018

Postby EMSC » Mon Apr 23, 2018 11:20 am

Tony Crocker wrote:I told Didier that I was planning to ski the direct bowl of Grand Vallon so he could express his opinion. He told me to bail out to the piste and not ski the lower third, so I did that. Other off-piste skiing after that was on exact routes we had skied with guides.


Of course that included full Avi gear for each of you along with discussion of each of the aspects and routes skied combined with the days avi bulletin, etc... Right??

jamesdeluxe wrote:Tony's charmed life in the Alps.


Relates to more than just basic weather, IMO.
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