Pictured is how La Balme looked yesterday at around midday. You can see untracked powder and just one guy – my visiting friend – on the entire slope. There are a couple of people on the chairlift, but it was a very quiet day. Had this been any other month, the chairlift would be packed and the powder would be completely tracked out. This is one of the pros of skiing in April! However, there are cons. I’ve made a list of both pros and cons, below.
Not many people bother skiing after Easter, so the rest of us get more fresh tracks when the powder inevitably falls, with no queues at any of the lifts increasing sliding time! La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand, like most resorts, ten to produce bottle necks of traffic early in the morning and later in the day during peak times. By April, the only traffic jams are caused by deer who always appear randomly at this time of year near the roads.
April is usually warm and sunny, and at altitude, the sun is strong. Stopping for lunch involves sunglasses and stripping down to a t-shirt, ensuring plenty of vitamin D after being starved of it all winter.
The sunlight streaming in by 7am makes it much easier to get up for first lifts, and getting home after last lifts is much more enjoyable when it’s not dark and cold. Things get more sociable at the end of the season as a result of all these pros, and by mid-April, seasonal workers’ farewell parties happen almost every night.
It’s not all sunshine, parties and powder though. The sun melts that fluffy white stuff much quicker in April, so unless you’re there soon after the snow has fallen, it will turn to mush. Hiking to areas that stay powdery for days in February tend to last just a few hours in the warm April air.
Another problem in La Clusaz is that the pistes close more regularly in April. Last year, the Fernuy télécabine, which connects one of the five peaks of La Clusaz to the rest of the resort, was closed for weeks due to the risk of avalanche taking out a pylon. Getting to any other part of the resort involved a flat green piste and then lots of lifts, or a bus back to town.
With fewer people around, I suspect the lift company is less motivated to open some of the lifts on bad weather days, which might be why I was stuck at l’Etale a few days ago. The fresh snow on the lower areas had turned to mush by midday, and the peaks were all closed due to strong wind. The usual access back to town — via the Transval télépherquie and the Combe du Juments chairlift — was impossible because of this ‘strong wind’. The alternative is a flat, green piste that crosses three roads. On a snowboard, this isn’t much fun, having to unbuckle and rebuckle, then push along with one foot most of the way on the slow, spring snow. Buses are an alternative, but at this time of year in La Clusaz, the bus service is reduced, and rather than wait for an hour and a half, I hitched back to town.
I haven’t talked about the biggest pro of all, which makes all the cons worth it: the Defi Foly. The final weekend here in La Clusaz is all about people throwing themselves into freezing cold water at Les Confins to see who can get the furthest. The event ensures a festival atmosphere and a distraction from the sadness (and denial) that the ski season is finally over. What better way than to end the season on a high?