Chamonix snow report – December 2016

Let’s be honest – it’s been a bizarre start to the 2017 winter season. We had the first snow of the winter in September, and then moderate snowfalls to valley level in mid November. A great deal of very good skiing got done in late November, with some people saying it was the best early season for over 20 years. Since then, a strong anticyclone has been established over the entire alpine chain and things are decidedly scant in the run up to the holiday season. Chamonix is looking distinctly autumnal, and although the Compagnie du Mont Blanc have worked heroically making artificial snow for the main pistes, the off piste that Chamonix is famous for is a bit rocky and crevasses on the glaciers are either open and visible (which is fine if you don’t mind skiing bare ice) or hidden by very thin bridges (which isn’t fine at all).

Helliker Courmayeur view

Matt Helliker in Courmayeur 21/12/2016

Not to worry though: there has been excellent skiing, on and off piste, just 30 minutes from chez Perkins. Just take the magic tunnel to Italy and ski in Courmayeur. As of yesterday, the 20th December, the red and blue runs were in great shape. Black runs, which are generally unpisted in Courmayeur, were more variable.

Off piste, the strong föhn winds on the night of the 19th have distributed the snow very unevenly. Just look at the avalanche reports for Chamonix and Courmayeur to see the difference: in Chamonix it’s low up to 2800m, and moderate above that. In Val d’Aosta it’s considerable above 2300m. Yesterday in the trees in Courmayeur, we were seeing shooting cracks in drifts of snow at 2200m, indications of an unstable snow pack. There are rocks quite close to the surface even at these altitudes and, while cover at higher altitudes will be better, the strong winds will have stripped some areas and built up slabs in others.

VdA_Snow_and_avalanche_bulletin_n27_12-20-2016To summarise then – there’s skiing to be had, with the best turns on moderate piste runs in Italy. Off piste, do take care…

Happy Christmas to you all, and keep doing your snow dances!