It’s been a wet summer in Chamonix. Exclamations of “27 days of rain in a month” and “the wettest summer in 55 years” have been made but really it’s not been as bad as some people are making out. There’s only been one week of non-stop heavy rain and it has been warm enough for the mid-mountain to dry out enough between storms. I’m sure the alpine climbers aren’t too happy with things but it’s still been fine for biking even for someone with as low a mud-tolerance as me.
Work for Boax Clothing is always slow outside of the ski season so I’ve been doing some transfer driving again on a casual contract which has kept things nice and flexible for working around the weather and I’ve built a few websites for local groups which lets me work when I like. Some friends have been more locked into work schedules or just generally demotivated for whatever reasons, so there haven’t been as many roadtrips as usual and often no-one to ride with when a good window of weather has hit. Luckily good biking can be done on your own much more safely than skiing can so solo rides have still been some of my best days of the summer, making my own plan for route variations all day long and riding until my legs give up.
High season sees a lot of hillwalkers flock to the Chamonix valley so a lot of the rideable terrain around Brevent and Flegere is off-limits to bikes in July and August, and so a lot of June was spent on those natural technical trails. Once into the busy period Les Houches and Le Tour offer lift-accessed purpose-built bike tracks but with Les Houches drying out much slower than Le Tour’s alpine terrain I spent most days at Le Tour, often getting a few bike park laps before riding over the back on classic alpine singletrack routes to Vallorcine and/or Trient then returning to Chamonix on any combination of the Planet, Grands Montets, Petit Balcon Nord/Sud and riverside trails.
Early August saw a group of 18 of Dave’s friends take an all-day memorial hike up Mont Buet. An early start up the Tré Les Eaux route saw us tackle a long approach and technical finish to reach the summit along the north ridge after 8 hours. Before the summit we stopped at the point where Dave fell to look down the path he took and which I then skied that day, then had a break on the summit for a good feed including the last remaining Davey Sausages plus some tribute scotch eggs. Excellent.
The ascent was long but interesting, and I got my usual summit feeling from skiing or biking, ready for the fun part of the day. Unfortunately I discovered that hillwalking is not the same, and the 3 hour descent was no fun whatsoever but I got down, exhausted. I’ll stick to hauling my skis or bike up hills from now on!
We’re just finishing the busiest weekend of the whole year in town, with holiday crowds still abundant plus 7000 runners for the UTMB ultra marathon weekend plus their supporters. In the next few days the valley’s population will drop by around 15,000 and I’m really looking forward to what September has to bring. The valley’s lifts are closing weekly so I’ll be getting some good final rides in all areas, and with Les Houches’s Bellevue cablecar the last to close some serious days are in the pipeline right to the end of the month to repeat a couple of big vertical-descent days up there, maybe even linking them up for a real classic, and plans are in place for a trip to Finale (Italy) at the start of October.
A few friends have mentioned plans of a visit to Chamonix during winter 14/15 to me already so I’ve been looking up some school holiday dates to figure out the best weeks to visit and avoid. So here are some calendars that will no doubt be useful to you too whether you’re a Chamonix resident figuring out when you want to work and play, or are planning a trip from the UK.
French schools are split into three groups. The UK mostly shares the same holidays across the country and so bring more crowds to town than a single French school group does. The calendars should be pretty clear anyway – more coloured lines mean a busier time in town, easy.
So it looks like we have a nice 5 week window of no holidays for most of January and the start of February, 3.5 clear weeks in March, and intermittent holidays in between.
January is my favourite time to ski, with the most consistent fresh snow and no crowds before the madness of the February holidays, but the gap in March can be excellent too – either hope for some good late-season snow or make the most of quiet spring conditions. In between, get out on your touring skis to avoid the crowds!
It’s official; summertime is here in the Chamonix valley. The shorts are on, my hair is cut, BBQs have begun and the biking is already in full swing.
It’s my third summer of biking now and I’m loving it more and more each year as I progress and get to know the valley’s trails. And I generally like the summer atmosphere in Chamonix more than in winter (especially early summer); heading out in mid-morning for a few fun sunny laps with not many others around definitely beats battling 8.30am lift queues! If we could have the summer vibe combined with good skiing conditions we’d be sorted, but for now I’m happy to switch between the two every 6 months.
Chamonix’s lifts are due to open between the 14th and 28th of June, when we can mix things up between full-on downhill laps or use the lifts to get up to 2000m before exploring further on the bike. Until then, it’s pedal and foot power all the way; not as good of an effort/reward ratio, but it’s our only choice and at least we’re getting fit in the process. So we’ve been hitting all of our usual easy-access spots around the valley so far and also exploring a few new ones.
I’m also just back from a quick trip to Scotland for Angus & Kirsten’s wedding, plus a good opportunity to catch up with friends and family in Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Like me, Angus & Kirsten are now Chamonix residents but are originally from Glasgow’s southside, so the wedding was held in Errol Park between Perth and Dundee. What a venue, and what a day! The bride and groom are my oldest friends in Chamonix so it was a special wedding ceremony to witness, and many Chamonix friends made the trip over to share in the day and get stuck into some Scottish ceilidh dancing after dinner, plus share in a few beverages. Excellent work by everyone involved in organising the day!
After a brutal drive home through Glasgow, Whitely Bay, Lincoln, Walthamstow, Dover and Dunkirk, I arrived back in Chamonix to find daily temperatures in the mid-twenties. Just time to put the finishing touches to my bike and I’m ready for the lifts to start rolling and see how many roadtrips we tick off this summer’s list!
As always, stay tuned to Graham’s bike blog for more regular updates through summer.
That’s my skiing finished for the winter. The Midi remains open through summer but I’m not fancying anything up there and am now fully in summer mode with my shorts on, hair cut and my first bike ride of the year already in the bag.
Overall it’s been another good winter here. December was a slow start with not much snow and low motivation but January and February’s excellent powder and quiet crowds sorted that out for some amazing days on the mountain with a solid group of ski partners and lots of new areas explored. I was feeling fitter than I have done in a long time so have enjoyed my touring a bit more but there’s still nothing like quiet lift-accessed powder when it’s available!
It’s at this point that I would normally say that the most important thing is that all of my friends stayed safe through winter. Sadly this was not the case this year and we lost Dave Tapsfield to the mountain on 25th February 2014. Experiencing the death of a friend first hand will never leave me but I have come to terms with the the accident itself and dwelling on the details of the aftermath will never make them any easier to deal with so I’m carrying on in my own way. The incident serves as a stark reminder of how quickly and easily things can go very bad in the mountains and I’m very thankful for the support from our community in Chamonix, the UK and worldwide, most of all to Graham, Colin and Alex for sharing some of the best days of the winter with me on the Midi Plan in the week following Dave’s death. Skiing is what I love and I will continue to enjoy everything that it gives to me, now even more certain of my approach to how and where I ski in order to get the most fun from it as possible while weighing up risks and effort involved.
So thanks once again to everyone I skied with this winter, especially those who have helped with photos, and to everyone reading and commenting on the blog posts. It’s now time to relax and enjoy the summer – stay tuned to Graham’s bike blog for regular updates on this summer’s adventures.
Until next winter!
Location: Grands Montets
Closing Day for the final resort lifts of the winter today, so we got up to Grands Montets early just for a few runs from 9 to 10.30am. Queues for the Lognan cablecar were massive as predicted but not bad for the chairlift so we were up to midstation pretty quickly. The top of the mountain would surely have the best snow but queues were already huge there too so just a few laps of Bochard instead.
Pistes were solid and very scraped but the upper off piste was still pretty soft and skiing well, while the lower sections in Lavancher bowl were very firm and rutted so not so good. Still, it was good to get a few powdery turns on closing day; certainly better than last year!
By 10.30am the crowds were growing on the slopes and in the queues so we took the chairlift back down, passing fancy-dressed skiers already on the booze so it seemed like the right decision!
So that’s probably my skiing finished for the winter as I don’t fancy anything more off the Midi which is the only lift still open. Time to cut my hair, fix up my bike and enjoy the summer ahead!
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 10-15cm semi-tracked powder on a bumpy base, some windblown
Weather: Sunny above 2500m, cloudy below
A little bit of new snow today and clear skies at the top of the mountain so I got a couple of early laps with Angus. We were on the third top bin of the day and headed straight down the front face on the first lap to find just one track before us though decent snow but still a little bumpy underneath, skiing OK but stiffer skis would have been a better call today rather than the Bent Chetlers. Linking up to Canadian bowl we were in the cloud and the snow was pretty choppy on the skier’s-right side.
Another lap on the front face next and we stayed further left, skirting around the crevasses then cutting hard left to find the best snow of the day; deeper and far smoother underneath with a few small drops good to go. The left side of Canadian bowl was skiing much better with smoother snow, some untouched, and better light than the previous lap.
Queues were growing by this time and the clouds coming in more so we headed down for some work. Another good late-season powder day though, and good to get a ski with Angus who I’ve skied too little with this winter. More snow is incoming tonight ahead of Grand Montet’s closing weekend which should make it a good one.
No skiing today while the clouds are back in, but a little promotion for local startup company Nivose Gear instead. Not something I’d normally do, but I’ve been somewhat involved with their launch by doing a quick website build for them to their own design and also supplying their branded beanies and t-shirts through my company Boax Clothing. Plus their final products themselves which I’ve had a sneak peak of are absolutely top notch.
Nivose Gear is launching with mitts as their main product, packed with features and very well made. Their Kickstarter campaign launched today so have a look for an opportunity to pre-order any combination of products at discounted prices and have a look at their website at nivosegear.com for more information about the products.
…and I might as well promote my own services while I’m at it. I’m working on a few websites at the moment but will be available for new projects from early June; see some of my recent work here. And if you’re looking for branded beanies for your company, get in touch via Boax Clothing.
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 20-25cm powder with mostly widely-spaced tracks
Weather: Cloud band around 2400-2800m; clear above, gloomy below
Some sun in the valley at last! I had some work do do this morning and most of my usual partners seemed to be occupied with more important things like work, summer sports, leaving the country before winter is over, or are just a bit unmotivated, so I headed up Grands Montets on my own about noon where I bumped into Joel, Sleigh and Tim at and got a couple of good laps off the top of the mountain.
There were more queues than the past two days, but well worth it for more good powder and good visibility at the top. We hit the front face on both runs, finding widely-spaced tracks most of the way down but still soft enough to cut through and a few bumps and drops to take air off safely. The snow was getting a bit heavy by 2pm but two good runs were plenty to keep us smiling.
Just a few days left this winter, and if this is the last sunny powder day I’ll happily finish with this.
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 20-25cm powder
Weather: Steady light snowfall, poor visibility
Rain continued to fall steadily in town all of yesterday, turning to snow by early this morning, so I was pretty sure there would be slightly better conditions than yesterday up high today. Things didn’t disappoint, and although the visbility was still pretty poor the snow was excellent; lighter and deeper than yesterday, with tracked snow easy to blast through and some untouched stashes still to find too.
The Rachasses gully seemed to trap the most new snow and gave enough visbility to hit with some good speed and take air off a few bumps and lips, while the front face required some slower speeds in near-whiteout conditions but with far less tracks to cross.
Returning to midstation each lap the snow was turning to sleet or rain so I called it a day once I was pretty soaked. Another short but good late-season powder day anyway, no complaints!
Location: Grands Montets
Snow: 15-20cm powder on a soft base
Weather: Steady light snowfall, poor visibility
Not much skiing this week with variable weather, lots of work on and not many motivated friends but I got a few laps today in the new snow which has been falling since last night above 2000m.
Graham and I got straight up Grand Montet’s top bin for one lap round to Rachasses, one hard skier’s-left of Rachasses and one on the front face finding nice boot-top powder, a little tracked but still skiing well. I had given my Bent Chetlers a full end-of-season tune this week and was waiting for a few inevitable rock strikes but didn’t hit anything all day; the snow under the new powder is very soft so it felt bottomless at all times. The visibility was pretty Scottish so Graham felt right at home but I wasn’t feeling too confident when I couldn’t see much. Sticking close to rocks gave better definition to the snow to get some speed up and make some nice turns. Pretty wet and not the greatest conditions of the winter but it was good to get out on the fat skis this late in the winter anyway.