This last week saw the start of April, and Spring skiing is with us! A joy for boarders, if slightly harder on the legs for skiers than cold January powder. What’s more, we’re still seeing plenty of sunshine across the Three Valleys so this weeks guests should still enjoy a great week of skiing in Meribel and La Tania.
As you would expect at this time of year, as the freezing level creeps up the mountain, coverage at the lower altitudes in and around resort has thinned out, but all the key runs back into Meribel, Meribel Village and La Tania remain open. At the higher altitudes, the thick snowbase and mild temperatures are making for some great late season conditions.
Thick cloud cover over Saturday and Sunday may bring some drizzle at lower altitudes but is expected to fall as snow higher up. Skies are expected to clear as the week goes on however, meaning the best conditions are likely to come through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The lifts remain open from 9am to 5pm – as is typically the case this time of year the snow will be at its best between about 10am and 3 30pm. Have a great week skiing in the three valleys!
I’ve said before and it is as true now as at the start of the season: one of the best parts of my job is being able to share my own knowledge of the ski resort, passing on tips and suggestions of which pistes to try, where to find the best conditions and how to get the most out of a week skiing in the Three Valleys.
As befits the largest ski area in the world, there are hundreds of kilometres of pistes to enjoy for skiers and boarders of every level. However, for experienced skiers, there is a world of fun to be had beyond the marked and bashed runs.
The rules of off piste
Before saying any more, we need to be totally clear that skiing off-piste can be extremely dangerous. It should only be considered by experienced and confident skiers. As minimum safety precautions you should always look to go in small groups – 3 or 4 is ideal – and never alone. Be aware of the published avalanche risk, but be aware that snow conditions can change rapidly. An hour in the sun can turn safe routes into an unacceptable risk in less than an hour.
Before setting off, you should ensure your insurance covers you for going off-piste and carry and know how to use the relevant safety equipment of a transceiver, shovel and probe. We would strongly recommend engaging an instructor or a guide, and it is always worth checking with the pisteurs for their views on where is safe to go. Always remember that skiing off-piste poses a risk not just to yourself, but also to those who on the mountain around you, such as other skiers on the same slopes, or the secouristes who would conduct a rescue operation if anything went wrong. If you are at all unsure, you should not go.
With the proper precautions however, off- piste skiing can be one of the great highlights of a skiing holiday in the Alps, so where are some of the best routes in Meribel?
My advice would be to head to the Vallon and Cote Brune sectors. On the Vallon gondola you will most likely see plenty of tracks underneath the lift, which can be accessed from the corner at the top of the Combe de Vallon piste. While this is one of the more recognised and accessible off-piste routes, beware of partially covered rocks.
For those looking to go further into the backcountry, head through the gap in the rock on your left as you come out of the Vallon bubble. There is another reasonably established route straight down hereto the side of the piste, but if you keep left, a small 10 minute walk and a short traverse lead you out to some powder field coming down from the ridge. Check with the pisteurs before attempting this route as the snowpack can be unstable above you, but in the right conditions the fluffy powder, comfortable gradient and spectacular views can make this route a showstopping highlight.
A final route to try is accessed from the top of the Becca lift. In the snowbank opposite the lift you will most likely see tracks leading diagonally up to the ridge line. The top offers a spectacular view both down to Les Menuires one way and across to the Mont Vallon summit the other. Be careful of the entry point here. Traverse across the slope to the centre of the chute to avoid the treacherous rocky drops immediately below where the track up reaches the ridgeline.
The descent down from here looks clear enough but boarders in particular will want to avoid keeping too far left as they will risk being caught out by a flat section right at the bottom before regaining the piste. Equally however, head too far right and you risk being blocked by another few rocky drops, or finding yourself underneath a particularly steep section of the slope where the risk of avalanche is higher. Keep to a conservative line though and you should have a fabulous descent, with the added bonus of being able to admire your track as you head back up the Cote Brune lift.
They say all good things must come to an end and so it proved at the start of this week in Meribel. After two weeks of gloriously warm temperatures and stunning sunshine, last Saturday saw the skies cloud over and the temperature plummet back to lows of around minus 10.
But to follow one cliché with another, every cloud has a silver lining. In this case the clouds were not just lined, but were in fact packed full of lovely fresh snow.
In total, the first days of this week just gone saw 10-12 cm of snow fall in resort, with much more than that at the top of the lifts, giving a great boost to the on-piste conditions, while also exciting the powder junkies is resort with the prospect of some great off-piste skiing in the three valleys.
The overhead conditions did clear up through the middle of the week, but temperatures stayed nice and cold helping to keep all that fresh snow in great shape. The week ended on a high with the best day of the week on Friday, when there was barely a cloud in the sky and temperatures eased just a little.
Looking ahead, conditions for the coming week on the Three Valleys look set fair. Clouds should stay away and temperatures are expected to stay very mild, without quite climbing to the unseasonable highs we saw in previous weeks. The long range forecast suggests that there is a chance of more light snow on Thursday or Friday.
For most people the summer is a ski free time. Unless you head to one of Europe’s glaciers such as the Grand Mott in Tignes or the Glacier Paradise in Zermatt. Some of us may head down under and take on the slopes of New Zealand and Australia. The rest of us may try and head to the nearest snow dome but unless it is next door you are unlikely to go regularly. As we all know, unless you do something frequently you lose your edge a bit and as we just pointed out, regularly skiing out of season is a bit tough. What we can do is keep fit for skiing, ready for the winter.
The joy of skiing comes from the outdoor environment and the perceived interaction with nature at its most extreme. There are obviously other joys to the sport and the activities that make up your ski holiday, but being outside and being active are the most attractive. So what are the best substitutes for an outdoors summer, getting out in nature as well as keeping fit and strengthening the muscles that you will use when back out skiing on the slopes next winter?
There are two sports that fill all the above requirements; cycling and walking. The great thing about these two activities is that they are good cardiovascular workouts and help to work your core and leg strength. When you go skiing you use these muscles all the time. If you lack these strengths then you will get tired quickly and along with the draining effect that the altitude can have on your body, injuries can easily happen. Whether you do or don’t exercise regularly you should consider adding these two pursuits to your summer schedule.
Cycling is growing in popularity ever since the Wiggins win of the Tour de France and the outstanding achievements of the Great British cycling team
at the London Olympics in the summer of 2012. So why not jump on the band wagon and improve your fitness for next winter. There are so many varieties of cycling so you will probably find one that suits you and like skiing there are also different levels of extremeness. The options for you will depend on where you live but you will probably have the options to take part in Mountain Biking, BMX, Road Riding or if you do fancy the indoors, you could head to the local Velodrome. If you don’t have the time to fit cycling into your busy life then you could try using your bike to commute to work.
So why is cycling such a good exercise companion for skiing? Cycling will use your quad muscles which are key for a long day on the mountain. Cycling, unlike skiing, has a low impact on your knees, by exercising this way your knees will not wear out so fast and you can enjoy many years of skiing. Cycling can also be tailored to feel like a day’s skiing. When we are on the piste we will use short burst of energy then periods of rest. This can easily be recreated on a bicycle and will be the perfect aerobic workout.
Walking is also a great workout and has many of the benefits that cycling has, when preparing yourself for your favourite winter activity. What we are not talking about is a stroll to the shops or the pub. We are talking about hiking, which by definition means walking a long distance. The UK is full of beautiful places to go walking and a beautiful view is a great reward. A long hike will work your core and leg muscles, you can also take walking poles to help with upper body strength, ski poles work just as well.
The best thing about walking is that it can be relatively inexpensive and can form part of a long weekend or mini break. If you really wanted to you could even head out to the Alps in the summer and try out the thousands of walking routes that are in the ski resorts. One important thing to remember when planning a walk if you want the best exercise, you need to add in some hilly routes. This is great as it will lead you to walking in some of the best places in the UK. Try the following places for some great hikes Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, Peak District, South Downs, South and North Wales, North Yorkshire Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Galloway, Northumberland and the Scottish Highlands.
Whichever way you plan on staying fit make sure you stay safe and always use the correct equipment. If you are planning to start cycling then there are clubs you can join. Make sure you always wear a helmet when out on your bike. Walking can be dangerous too, if you are planning a long walk then make sure you register your route and take enough provisions. Why not set yourself some goals. There are lots of walking events around the country of varying lengths that you could train for such as the Startreck Challenge in Devon. The same goes for cycling, one great event to be part of is the London to Brighton cycle ride that raises money for the British Heart Foundation.
Get fit in the summer and make your ski holiday even better.
DC Shred Days is three days of partying and riding. If you want to get up close and personal with some of the world top riders, without seeming like a stalker, then this is the event for you. For only €59 a day you will get to hang out at the DC AREA 43 Snowpark in Méribel-Mottaret with the pro and then attend apres-ski and evening parties. This event used to be a closed door for industry types only, but now it is open to all, so go hang out.
7th April – Three Valleys – Enduro 2013
When you tell you mates that you are off skiing they many either know the truth, which is that you ski from restaurant to bar, sampling various combinations of hot a cold drinks, or they think you are some sort of winter Olympics type competitor. If you are going to be in the Three Valleys on the 7th you have a chance to be the latter. The Enduro is a day full of real competitions for amateurs, just like you and me. So if you fancy your chances in any of the following Big Air Bag, Freeride, Giant slalom, Skicross, Triplette des Belleville, Boardercross, Family Schuss, Adri’Naline, then get your team together and enter. Go to http://www.les3vallees.com/enduro/ for details.
The annual La Tania Charity Day was moved to Meribel Village last year and was a great success. It was also renamed the Three Valleys Charity Day. With over 13 bands and lots and lots of prizes to be won, it promises to be a great day out. Also when you are there you will get to donate to UK and French charity’s which will make you fell nice and warm inside, although that could be the Toffee vodka.
13th April – Meribel and La Tania – Our last guests leave
Every year it happens and every year we feel sad. When our last guests leave you probably think that we crack out the Champagne and celebrate. Well we do a bit. But mostly we are filed with a melancholy feeling. There is a lot of reminiscing about the last few months and then there is the sudden dawning of a reality that involves no skiing and getting what some term “a real job”. You know that feeling you get at the end of a week long holiday that is our feeling but multiplied by sixteen. I am now obliged to point out that at no point during the winter do we feel like we are on holiday and that we work very hard to make your holiday so brilliant. But you get the idea.
26th of April – Meribel and La Tania – Lifts close
Most of us will be at home thinking about next year’s ski adventure when this happens. For those people still in resort the feelings will be mixed. How the lift closure is greeted depends on what has happened over the last two weeks. Some years we see endless amounts of spring snow and it is a big disappointment that the lifts are shutting. Other years there are just streaks of brown snow and only the desperate are getting in their last few descents until next year.
Last Year it was fresh powder and blue sky for two weeks. It almost got to the point that we all wanted the perfect conditions to stop so we could have a rest from skiing and crack out the factor 50. If that doesn’t happen this year the resorts still work hard to keep snow on the slopes. It can be a bit wet, under ski, but if you get up early the runs are perfect and often empty.
My friend says that skiing in the spring is like skiing on a slush puppy, what flavour can I have?
It has always been recommended that you should never eat yellow snow, maybe you should try it in the spring when it is a bit slushy. Take a straw, it may taste of lemons.
Doesn’t everything in resort shut for in the spring?
Nope. Well it does when the lifts close for the summer, but that won’t be until the beginning of May. Although, the closing of resort can be a blessing in disguise, especially if you like to party. Many of the local watering holes throw epic ‘Drink the Bar Dry’ or ‘End of Season’ partys. Keep an eye out for closing parties at the ‘Ski Lodge‘ in La Tania and ‘Jacks‘ in Meribel, as they are always worth attending. Also the ‘Folie Douce’, Meribel, is already trying to convince people to head back to resort for its own end of season bash. If we base this on the piste side Après they have been throwing this winter then it could be worth putting something in your calendar.
Is it hot enough to ski naked?
It can be, and feel free to try it, and we doubt the French would mind. That said,here are 3 reasons not to:
1, The air may be warm air but the snow is cold, ice burns can hurt
2, The Three Valleys still have some button lifts, need we say more!
3, Due to the altitude and the thin air the sun is stronger than your normal sea level nudist beach, you may prefer to only have one set of burnt cheeks.
Are there special skis for spring skiing?
If it is fresh powder everyday, then you may want to pack your wideboys. However, there are no specific skis for the spring conditions. You will find that your normal gear will work just fine. The snowboarders among you will be pleased to find out that spring conditions are lots of fun on your board as you can carve some fun turns on the piste. For the fan of the Snow Blade you may find that the spring conditions are not ideal for you, length is best for gliding along the spring snow.
Can I go swimming in the Lake?
You can but it is not that hot just yet. You can take part in some water based challenges. Find yourself a large puddle or small pond that is near a slope. The challenge is to get a good run up and see if you can make it across without getting wet. Check out the video clip below for some inspiration.
Can the Easter Bunny find me out in the mountains?
Easter is pretty early this year so it is a worry that the snow won’t have thawed at that time of year. The good news is that the Easter Bunny has a network of heated tunnels that run across the alps, so it will take a lot of snow to stop your chocolate oeufs being delivered. The other bonus is that the late spring skiing won’t coincide with school holidays.
Can I get cheaper stuff, like ski hire, if I go late in the season?