One of the most noticeable and amusing things about living in the French Alps is how quickly conversation turns to snow when winter approaches. Months before the resort is due to open, people start predicting what sort of season it will be based on everything from long-term weather forecasts to how abundant the berries are on the trees in the mountains. I’m as guilty as the next person.
This winter in France got off to a slow start with a very warm and dry autumn, causing the annual ski test at Le Grand Bornand, held before the official opening of the resort, to be cancelled. Nobody could talk about much else apart from when the snow was due to fall.
Finally, about ten days ago, the snow fell. Conversation went from ‘when’ to ‘how much’ and ‘how low’, with rain washing away the first dump of fresh snow on the lower pistes. Resorts all over the Alps opened on the weekend with eager skiers lining up. I was one of them, queuing at the La Balme area of La Clusaz, and at first tempted to stay on the piste to avoid the rocks hiding under what we all suspected to be the usual early-season flimsy layer of powder off-piste. All that changed yesterday when I hit some rock gardens on the piste. Even at an altitude of 2,600 metres, the rocks were poking through. Nicely hidden behind the steepness of the slope and on a narrow part of the piste, I heard my new skis crunch over the rocks like a train chugging along a track. I ventured off-piste instead. Result! Just one rock obscured my fresh tracks.
What a dire start the season eh? No, not really. The resort isn’t even due to open until 17th December! I’m happy that the snow is back (and indeed it’s dumping down right now, although rain is expected later in the week), but I wonder if the early opening was perhaps more for marketing or pressure to open prematurely. The pistes are patchy, and worryingly, the barrier at the top of La Balme that prevents people from sliding over the edge to their death has not been fully raised yet, leaving just the lower orange netting to waist height only. Falling over it would not be difficult. Pictured is how it normally looks. Those big zig-zag ropes attaching to the higher horizontal black rope to keep everything taut are not yet there and the orange netting is kind of hangy.
Anyway, enough about health and safety: I need to get back to talking about snow with my friends.