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Mixed conditions off-piste in the Espace Killy

Possibility of more snow over the weekend

Featured in:

Wayne Watson | Val d'Isere Reporter | Published: 31 Mar 2017


Mixed conditions off-piste in the Espace Killy

Monday was a stunning day with clear blue skies and after the huge snowfall over the weekend everyone was expecting a big powder day. Unfortunately there was a heat-crust that rendered most of the snow un-skiable, even at the top of the Pisaillas Glacier at the Fornet. 

My main concern at breakfast was skiing somewhere that would be steep enough to ski properly because of the depth of snow and I was a little surprised to find a nasty heat-crust so high up the mountain. 


I started at the Fornet but doubled back and headed to the highest place in the Espace Killy, which is the Grande Motte glacier. Here we were hoping to get above the crust and to have the option of skiing some sunny slopes at altitude, that would have warmed up enough to melt the crust enough to ski through it.

We did find some winter snow and did manage some warm powder, but it was without a doubt the toughest morning of the season off-piste! Meanwhile the piste skiers were in seventh-heaven with immaculate pistes and clear blue skies.


There was a horrific accident on Sunday afternoon when a young 18-year-old skier fell off the cliffs that guard the entrance to the Couloir du Moniteur. It’s a nasty entrance and if you fall you’ve a 25 metre fall through the rocks and that’s exactly what happened to this poor young lad, while his Dad was watching from below. Six Pisteurs came to his aide before he was taken by helicopter to the hospital where he remains in critical condition. We’ve had a few terrible incidents of skiers falling off cliffs this season and one fatality.


I haven’t seen the mountain this ‘clean’ after a snowfall for about 30-years or more. On Sunday very little was skied as the snow was so deep you needed to ski extremely steep slopes to be able to move in it, and with the avalanche risk at 4/5 that eliminated a lot of slopes, and on Monday with the heat-crust, most people were staying on-piste.

What we need now is some serious heat to transform the snow into spring snow and with the current depth of snow, that transformation will take a few days. In the meantime it’s important for skiers and snowboarders to stay off the spring slopes, so that when they do transform, they’ll be ‘clean’ and we’ll have the chance of some fantastic spring conditions with perfectly smooth slopes that haven’t been ruined by tracks. 


After a tough day on Monday we weren’t really expecting too much on Tuesday, as most people agreed that it would take another day of heat followed by a cold night to properly transform the snow into spring snow, and that we were in for another potentially tricky morning off-piste. But after testing the snow above the Santons my colleague Henry (from HAT) and I were decided the spring snow was ready and we had a stunning morning skiing big classic spring slopes such as the Super Santons, the Tour du Charvet and the Cugnai.

Because no-one was expecting spring snow so early after such a big snowfall, we didn’t see any other skiers and enjoyed these impressive slopes while they were totally ‘clean’.  Like when skiing powder there is something special about arriving to a trackless mountain that hasn’t yet been skied by anyone else and our clients were purring by the end of the morning.


Tuesday’s skiing was so good and after another day/night of the melt/freeze cycle the spring snow had set up to perfection my I returned to ski spring ‘classics’ on Wednesday around the Charvet and Manchet sectors and then I returned again on Thursday to ski variations of the same theme. These slopes are seriously impressive and when you get the chance to ski them in such pristine condition it’s hard to go anywhere else!

Unfortunately some of the big slopes in the Tour du Charvet are almost finished as they are running out of snow rapidly. These slopes were grassy three weeks ago before the two big snowfalls covered them back up but it won’t be too many more days before they look like pastures again.


On Thursday afternoon I had the pleasure of skiing with an old friend and her 13-year-old son who had never skied off-piste before and we had a fabulous afternoon. I skipped lunch and we met at 1 instead of 2 o’clock so that we could get to the spring slopes before the freeze disappeared. We skied the huge slopes off the Col de la Madeleine followed by three runs in the Marmottons.

As we arrived at the bottom of our third Marmottons, the signs suggested that the support in the snowpack was about finished so we skied home via the piste. Once the support layer melts the snow becomes ‘quick-snow’ and instead of staying and skiing on the surface you’d drop through. ‘Quick-snow’ is totally un-skiable and starts to become dangerous and when guiding we must make the right decisions to avoid it. Higher up the mountain the support layer lasts longer and you must judge if you can safely get to the bottom of the mountain where the support layer will be more fragile. Getting it wrong can put clients in danger and it’s not good for your reputation to be seen wallowing about in ‘quick-snow’!


I’m off to the airport in Lyon tomorrow night as my wife and two daughters arrive for a 17-day holiday and I’m sure they’ll feature in some of the photos! Stay tuned for another update on Monday.

PS Friday’s forecast looks like another stunning day but Saturday and Sunday look a bit iffy. Hopefully we’ll get some snow but whatever the weather have a great weekend!

Follow more from Wayne in his Daily Diary.

NB. Some of the areas Wayne has been skiing this week are off piste and not suitable to all skiers. Wayne has 35 years experience in these mountains. If you're considering going off piste you should always take a guide with you.