The Ski Blog December 2017

It's snow time! Reports live from Serre Chevalier in the Hautes Alpes with an (almost) daily ski blog reporting conditions on and off piste...

Boom! Epic snow arrives throughout the Alps in December.



Woke up this morning to the boom of avalanche blasting, then the roar of a snow plough and, after that, silence. No cars. Which is odd considering it's one of the busiest transfer days of the season, the Saturday before New Year.

As the snow accumulates up the patio glass doors at Style Altitude HQ and the snow keeps coming down, we have the perfect storm for chaotic travel conditions. The Col du Lautaret is closed and the Tunnel du Cambon, cutting off La Grave. Getting to airports is going to be a challenge.

Meanwhile, most lifts in resorts are closed, this morning and it's avalanche Risk 4. 

Yesterday we walked up to the Refuge Napoleon below the Col d'Izoard, had lunch and tobogganed 7km down the road with the Rando Chiens. Today they took one look out onto the patio where the snow is well above their heads, turned tail and went back to bed. Not a bad idea...



There'll be more broken bones to fix in the hospital from slipping on the ice than sending down couloirs. But up the hill, the pistes are in excellent condition and the restaurants are, once again, getting the deckchairs out for Christmas.

With so much snow down in resort, there's also the option of cross country skiing. So on the shortest day of the year we put on the narrowest skis to do 10k cross country to Monetier and back with the Rando Chiens though, sssh, they're not supposed to be on the pisted cross country trails.

skiing with dogs

Gav has just bought skating cross country kit as the classic skiing is too slow and not challenging nor sweaty enough for him!

He and Ken took advantage of the recent opening of the Yret chairlift to do the off piste Montagnolle valley. They said it looked pristine and untracked but the snowpack was as varied as you can get from crust to heavy to windblown to a little powder. The run out, though, was surprisingly easy.

Meanwhile, the apres is warming up too. Last night, the Brit clans in Serre Che for Christmas gathered at the Vieille Ferme in Villeneuve for their opening night and dinner in the rotisserie where different meats are roasted on the open fire. Amazing food, great atmosphere and, er, thanks to all the Prosecco and wine, that's about all I can remember.

La Vieille ferme


It was another hard day at the office with Ken and the amazing La Grave freerider and action sports PR Josefine As (wife of legendary mountain guide Per As) attacking more slackcountry powder ie accessed via the lifts in Serre Che. And sometimes it seemed that we were the only people on the lifts!

In the morning it was up the Valons doing the off piste on the Cucumelle side down then up and off the ridge on the other side before hiking up to the old Balme chairlift and coming over the top.

The pow was not as perfect as Saturday after only around 10cms of fresh so harder on the legs... but now we're just getting picky.

Later first climb of the Cucumelle, this season, and a Vallon du Grand Pré descent which was in superb condition.

Tete des Grands Pres


Well I expected first lifts at 9am this morning in Serre Chevalier to be rammed. Between last weekend's pre-season opening and today's official first day of the season, we've had a least a metre of the amazing snow that's the Snow God's Christmas present to the Alps.

But we were at the Frejus gondolas just before 9am met Ken and walked straight onto the lift. We'd done around three laps of the Cretes drag doing perfect pow without seeing any other powder hound.

Then Gav made the first traversing tracks for us on the face to the right above the Barres drag where, with avy bags primed, we did around six laps - we only stopped for a minute to catch some turns on camera, see video, before going around again!

Heading down through the rather gnarly trees we jumped on to the Vallon lift. Again no queue. Either side of the Cucumelle piste there had been a fair amount of sidecountry action so we took the skis off and hiked the ridge to the left all the way to the top of the old La Balme chairlift.

It had been fairly sunny all morning but, suddenly, it was like being in a shaken snow globe with an icy wind howling up behind us blowing clouds of snow (yep, that's me you can just see, below). But it was worth the windy hike. More perfect powder and only a handful of other tracks. Happy days.

Serre Chevalier snow


ski touring with dogs

It had to be done. After more than a metre of snow over the past few days and the prospect of blue skies, it was beyond tempting to go and find some pow. But we'd had freeze / thaw, some rain in the valley and avalanche Risk 5 up the hill so the question was where to find powder and stay safe.

Gav's mobile, on Tuesday, was pinging all day as plans were made and scrapped and the decision was, as usual, to wait until the morning. But when it came to the morning it was just Gav and me so we put on our transceivers and avy bags, whistled to the Rando Chiens (Jacks)  to come with us and headed up the piste opposite Style Altitude HQ. As the resort doesn't open until this weekend the idea was to use the pistes to ascend and hope for powder on the return.

The snow outside our apartiment was 50cms and rock hard thanks to the rain and consolidation. Climbing up past Club Med we avoided the churned up icy piste basher tracks (ie ungroomed) and climbed up the side in what seemed like pretty good pow. The Randos followed in our tracks - or sometimes preferred to take the firmer icy plough trail when it ran alongside us.

It took around two hours to skin up the powder beside and on the pistes with some groomed stretches to the bottom of the Vallon chairlift, then to Frejus village and beyond up into the trees. The snow on the meadows (see above) was completely untouched as we climbed to around 2000m (total of 700m vertical) before taking the skins off in what seemed like rather deep bottomless powder. 

And it was. We had effortless cold pow down over the terraces (see Gav, main image) back to the Frejus chair, some cordoruy, then chopped up pow on the pistes and some side country powder all the way home. The Randos were on fire tearing after us, but were never even out of breath when we paused to give them a rest.

Today there's low cloud and more snow is due. So it's a good day to tackle our self-employed tax returns. Which is fine with the Randos who are snoring contentedly on their cushions.


Serre Chevalier December

Great thing about X-Country my cycling Lycra gear looks the part, but I unfortunately do not once  I'm on those feckin thin skis!

And, yesterday, what I was attempting to ski on was not really a cross country piste. As there were no grooves and the snow was really soft/melting (temps were +4), and along with some skis I'd never used before, that were meant to be able to ski classic as well as skating style, I was all over the place.

That said I made it up to Monetier and on the run back managed a superb face plant as ski sunk in the soft snow, but luckily only pride hurt.


Serre Chevalier December

So here's our Christmas card to all of you, a beautiful snowy scene, this morning, from Style Altitude HQ.

We do feel slightly smug to be sitting at our laptops, with mugs of tea, looking out at the perfect snow vista while others are struggling to get here! We had friends on the TGV from Paris which stopped at Chambery on the way to Oulx, last night, and had to return to Paris while others had to endure a seven hour halt on the motorway south of Calais and that's before even getting near the col-closed mountains.

The forecast is for more snow over the next few days which is good news for the resort before the official opening on the weekend. And, so far, looking clear for pre-Christmas week which is even better news for travellers!


col du Lautaret

Crazy weather. In the last 36 hours we've had well over 50cm, the majority of that falling from dusk yesterday.

However this morning we had a sharp thaw, or so we thought  as here at 1400m (as per forecast) temps were the wrong side of zero and snow pack was consolidating fast.

We drove down to Briancon 1250m with temps here +0.5C and raining which was surprising in itself, and in our small parking area puddles were 10cm deep.

As we drove towards Briancon I commented how they seemed to have more snow. By the time we were in the centre it was really snowing heavily and -2.00C.

Coming back out I witnessed a number of crazy happenings on the road with the snow puking down and a km from where we live it turned back to rain and the temperature started to rise!

The Col du Lautaret shut early yesterday evening and will probably be closed for a couple of days.

And elsewhere across France especially around Chamonix and Bourg there were horror stories of gridlocked roads.

And it seems it's not just the mountains. Today we've heard from friends driving out today who have been stuck south of Calais for two hours - and have their sandwiches and sleeping bags ready in the car just in case they're there for the night!


Serre Chevalier December

...When you're at the top of the Foret lift, yesterday (above) wearing a thermal top, one mid-layer, one fleece hoodie, Paramo jacket, Buff, bandana under helmet, goggles, two pairs of ski socks, two pairs of gloves, thermal leggings, Volcom ski pants and you're STILL freezing in a biting cold wind. Last night, the thermometer hit -12C outside our apartment at 1400m,

But, hey, we're in the mountains and it's December; it's the sort of weather you expect and better than unseasonal warm temperatures. AND it's now been snowing all day! How lucky we are to be in the mountains in the snow with the prospect of cold pow rather than sliding on the M25 during Snow Bomb Sunday in the UK.

Cold but happy days.


ski in powder

Some good riding was had yesterday in the 10-15cms of fresh and we skied quite a few pistes that were closed but as ever at this time of year it is a lottery as to whether the depth of the snow is adequate, and for some unfortunately that was the case (see Ken and his Faction ski above).

Weather Gods have more snow in the pipeline next week but freezing level could well mean rain in the valley!


 serre chevalier snow

So we're no longer just dreaming of a white Christmas. This morning we awoke to the sound of snow ploughs and the resort has become Christmas card perfect. And there's more snow due over the next few days. Here and in the rest of the Alps.

May all your Christmases be white!


Serre Chevalier December

 This is 11am on the piste above the Bivouac Restaurant today. Empty. The pistes are in incredible condition thanks to the cold temperatures and snow cannons, freshly pisted, hard and fast, with no one yet here for the Crhistmas holidays. Yep with the sun shining it's the calm before the storm, both before the official opening with theholiday hordes next weekend and, literally, before the snow storms due to hit the Alps over the next few days!

Snow Gods willing...


ski touring Abries


If gazing at Christmas card pictures of snowy resorts in the Northern Alps is giving you comparanoIa (worrying if other ski resorts have more snow than you - or your holiday ski destination) then these images of our road trip, yesterday, to Abries mght just tip you over the edge and heading straight for the Queyras.

Yep the small commune of Abries has benefited once again from Retour d'Est, the low pressure sitting over Genoa that constantly returns with snow from the east. The resort isn't opening until the week before Christmas which is even better news for powder hounds.

dogs ski touring

Our powder hounds, the Rando Chiens, were super excited to be out on the snow. The sun was shining, the cold powder glistening as Gav, Ken and I arrived and parked up by the road. The piste basher had just groomed the piste down from the chair so we aimed for Manchester (the corduroy) at around 12 noon. Although the outside temperature in the mountain shadows as we drove there were saying -9C, it soon warmed up in the sun and climbing up the relatively steep gradient of the piste.

Half a dozen other tourers passed us skiing down the piste. Yes the piste. Don't ask me why they hiked all the way up to do the piste! We went passed the top of the chair and up another 100m or so for around 600m of vertical. Then back down through the trees and under the chairlift in untracked (see Ken below) with some combat skiing avoiding gorges, tree stumps, branches and sudden dips not yet covered by snow, then survival style down a very narrow steep little path.

skiing Abries

The snow was perfect cold pow at the top, transforming to grippier stuff half way that stuck to the bottoms of the skis and, finally, crust at the bottom. The Rando Chiens managed to stay in our tracks but Beanie, who is hairier needed a rub down with a towel back at the van.

ski touring with dogs

It was a good test for the kit early in the season and before going to Japan in January. Both Gav and I are very happy with our latest all mountain ski set ups - I have the new Nordica Santa Ana's (110 wide) and Gav has the Black Crow Atris (108 wide), both with the new Diamir Tecton bindings, which are absolute game changers with easy tech cliips in and the alpine- like heel bindings.

Only trouble is that I was using Gav's skins from his Scott Cascades, also 110s, as he now only has one ski, losing the other in an avalanche last winter. They seemed to fit perfectly, modifying the clips onto the tails rather than the holes as on the Cascades. Sadly, though, they slipped off the tails whenever the going got steep and I had to traverse, leaving me sliding backwards. So off today to buy new ones!


snow cannons

Back using those amazing mountains inventions, ski lifts! It's been a while since the lifts in resort were last open - and, meanwhile, in the late spring and early winter any skiing has meant hiking up on skis and skins.

Today,Saturday, part of Serre Chevalier opened earlier than scheduled just for this weekend so, even though the weather was pretty grim and grey, minus 5C at 8am, it seemed rude not to don thermals and inner gloves to go up and ski what's open.

It was worth it to ski the empty pistes and sidecountry cms of powder for a few laps joining the locals and keen Brits who live here for a social couple of hours. If we wanted to fuel the 'comparanoia' created by worrying that other ski resorts have more snow, we'd exclaim the 'snow was epic' and the 'pow was awesome'. Just look at the snow laden trees behind Ken and Gav in the image above!