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Snow in Chamonix

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
A friend told me he heard that the snow quality stinks there. He said out of several trips that he only had two days of soft snow, let alone powder.

This must be an extreme case of bad timing, but it gets me wondering. Is the snow in Cham like the Pacific Northwest? How much snow do they get in a season? Are there only a couple of good months to go, Feb/March? Any info would be appreciated.

post #2 of 14
Snow conditions in Chamonix, as in the US can vary from year to year. Your best bet in Chamonix is to hire a guide. They will SAVE you money by making your experience in Cham the best possible. I have found snow conditions in February/March usually range from excellent to very good. The caveat, however, is hiring a certified guide who knows the snow, weather, present conditions, and history of the Mont-Blanc region and will make the difference between a confusing, aggravating vacation and a wonderful ski experience. I ski Chamonix February thru March.In Chamonix, Ski Fun Tours is the best. Private mail me if you have any questions that I may be able to help with answers. Good luck.

post #3 of 14
I'll probably get annihilated by my fellow Euros for this but...IMHO snow in Europe is generally nowhere near as good as in N America.

My experience is pretty limited - Vail, Beaver Creek, Fernie & Whistler - but there just doesn't seem to be any comparison. I'm not sure about quantity (I assume most N American resorts get more), but the quality of the stuff just seemed much better. If we're talking piste skiing then an aptitude for ice (or at least very hard-packed conditions) is pretty essential for much of a European season. Presumably more like an East Coast experience.

Chamonix is a good example. I'm not a big fan of the area, but I think this is because I've never really experienced it at its best. As KBP says, you really need to hire a guide (which I've done a couple of times). Without one, most people tend to limit themselves to some fairly average piste skiing. I can imagine many, many people being disappointed with a trip to Chamonix - I can't imagine the same of the N American resorts I've visited.

Maybe I've just been unlucky
post #4 of 14
Yes, your experience is very limited! Comparing snow in N. America with Europe is a futile exercise. N. America has all
the climatic zones; rain forests in the NW, Deserts mid-continent, and deciduous forests in the East. So we get all
types of snow. Europe compares more with the NW part of N. America, with nothern latitudes, glaciers, and a coastal snowpack. Snow quality is over-rated, but snow quantity is
most important. With the new fat skis crowds of crappy skiers
can now ski all kinds of powder snow where in the past they stayed indoors. As far as Chamonix goes, it's like any ski
area, it can be terrible or wonderful, depending on when you
go. Karma works here.
post #5 of 14
I guess I'm one of the lucky ones. My couple trips to Chamonix had quite a variety of snow conditions. Everything from total hardpack to white-out blizzards to an absolutely incredible bluebird day of chest deep powder when we went up the Aguille d'Midi. (It had stormed for 2 straight days and the tram was closed during the storm.) Not quite the same fluffy stuff we get here in Utah, but still absolutely wonderful. I'm looking forward to making a trip back there one of these days.
post #6 of 14
Don't get me wrong - Chamonix can be great. I've had 4 trips there and may well go again this season. Altagirl, 'chest-deep powder' - wow, I've probably only experienced that a few times in my life - very jealous!

Pyramid, obviously comparing snow is a pretty futile exercise, particularly with the variety in N American conditions I guess, but futile exercises are fun

So here I go again. Clearly snow anywhere 'can be terrible or can be wonderful' but in my experience it's less likely to be wonderful in Europe. I've probably skied about 400(?) days in Europe and only about 30 in N America (as pyramid says, very limited). However, most of the N American days have been great - far, far better than an average day in Europe.

Now I may just have been lucky (although I did pick Fernie's worst season in a century : ) and I certainly chose N American resorts which have very good snow records. But in my experience these resorts have better snow than their European conuterparts. Thousands of Europeans travel to North America each year (sorry). Why? It's a long way, expensive, our best resorts are larger, our terrain as challenging. Most of us do it because of snow reliability and snow quality. Apart from me. I do it for the burgers.

Obviously these are generalisations and aren't true of all N American resorts, but I think it's true of the best.
post #7 of 14
It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. It was bluebird at the top, but in the middle section we skied through a cloud and had to keep going following the sound of our guides voice - you couldn't even see your hand in front of your face. Talk about being glad you're with someone who's been skiing the same mountain for over 40 years...

I would recommend finding a private guide or finding people of similar ability levels to go in a group together. We got started and had a couple of Brits in our assigned group that were so incopetent in the powder they were literally stuck. Luckily, the guide radioed for someone else to come and get them down and we left them on the first flat section. Evidently they thought their snowplowing abilities would get them down the mountain - they had all claimed to be advanced/expert skiers. I feel sorry for the poor guy who had to spend the day figuring out how to get them off the mountain.

I would compare the snow in Europe in general to be most similar to the Pacific Northwest. It can still be incredible snow, it's just not champagne powder (usually, anyway). The terrain there is so amazing though - I'd say you should definitely go if you can. You probably are safer booking a trip in Feb-March to get good conditions, but that's also when it's more likely to be crowded. I've NEVER had a bad ski trip in Europe, even when the snow was bad. The resorts and people were always so much fun that good snow was just a bonus. [img]smile.gif[/img]
post #8 of 14
Altagirl, I can certainly relate to the your story about the incompetent Brits. The only time I've skied the Aiguille du Midi, Sarah and I were placed with some advanced/expert fellow Brits. But...we had to ski a far easier route than intended after the guide saw that they were only intermediates.

It was frustrating because we missed the best snow etc. but also annoying because we were on holiday with a group of friends who were also intermediates. They'd booked a separate guide for the day so that we could ski the harder stuff. If I'm going to ski the easier routes I'd rather do it with a group of friends. Still, the scenery was the most spectacular I've ever seen. Highly recommended.

So TigerKatze69, if you go, go with a guide. Private if possible, otherwise be careful about the level of the rest of the group.
post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks so much for all the great feedback!
post #10 of 14
I was in Cham two years ago when it snowed two out of
three days with a final total of 7.5 feet at the top of the Midi
lift. Skied three runs of close to 10,000 vert. feet, some in chest deep powder!! No guide needed, we figured out where to go. Another time we got so much snow it was hard to ski, 14 feet in a week, but we skied lower tree lines that Chamonairds
said hadn't been skied in ten years, it was awesome. Guess I've
had good luck in the Alps!!!
post #11 of 14
Conditions and weather are very variable in the high alpine. Deaths in Chamonix are numerous, by any standard. Skiing without a knowledgable guide off-piste in Chamonix can be very dangerous. Unless you feel lucky, it is best to go with a certified guide. Crevasses, snow bridges, avalanches, cliffs, white-outs often don't give second chances.
post #12 of 14
Deaths are frequent in Cham, someone died every day we were
there a few years ago, mostly snowboarders. But that is the
chance you take skiing real mountains.
post #13 of 14
Go to Chamonix. --If you're in shape for it.

Weather comments are on the nose. The weather in the valley can very greatly from say Megeve (me-jev) /Les Houches (lay zoosh) at the Low end to the Grand Montet at the high... Go mid Feb throught the first week of March.

Do get a guide. They will save you the frustration of trying to navigate an area that is likely 10-20 times the size of any area you've ever skied. Not to mention the dangers of glaciers, not knowing the terrrain, et.

Stay behind your guide. I cant believe it, but I've seen people *in Front* of a very angry guide...

Make sure the group you go with is like ability. This is a place that seperates the wheat from the chaffe.

Wear your Pieps or Ortovox.

Do homework on the characteristics of the various areas so you get yur money's worth for your ability level.

If you're up for it, do the famed Vallee Blanc. it is aguided affair that takes experts 1/2 day and most folks most of the day with lots of stops for the breathtaking scenery & lunch on the glacier. ( If you're not sure you're up for it, ask your guide to take your "round the backside of Les Grand Montets from the top gondola. If he declines, that will tell you.)

post #14 of 14
Hey guys first post. I went to cham two febuary's ago and apparently it was the worst season they had in a long time. My freind and I are/were pretty athletic, good skiers/ and young so it made for an interesting trip. We got ourselves into some hairy situations. We also hired a guide for a day to take us places that are hardly skied and a bit tougher, but everywhere the guide took us it was like skiing on cement. It was pretty bad, the guide actually just gave our money back. We were supposed to go up to some mountain I forget the name but you pretty much HAD to have a guide to ski down but it was too windy up top and so they couldn't operate the gondola. Anyways it was an excellent time considering 95% of my skiing is done in the east. I think I just caught it at a bad time, especially since a poster a couple of posts above mine talks about the same time where it snowed a ton and areas opened up that hadn't been in 10 years, looks like i was a few weeks too early.
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