More snow, Les Houches and Ultra Trail MB

We must have had about 30cm of snow and a fair amount of rain in the last 3 days down here in Servoz, but on the mountains it was probably more like a metre of extra snow. The depth of snow at Lognan, which is the middle station of the Grands Montets ski area, is now reported to be 2m. And at the Col de Balme, the high point of the Le Tour/Domaine de Balme ski area, it is 3.9m. Although it has been much warmer today and yesterday, this amount of snow is causing disruption; trains are only running as far up the valley as Argentiere, bus services were limited yesterday and some roads were closed in Chamonix. However, I think that by tomorrow everything will be running again as per normal.

Yesterday, all the ski areas in the Chamonix valley were closed except Les Houches. Mrs D and I took the train and decided to give it a try. The train was delayed by just about an hour, waiting for a snow plough engine to arrive. This inconvenienced us not a jot because we were aiming to catch the train that should have left at 10.20. Because of the delay, we caught what should have been the 9.20. When we arrived at our destination (Viaduc St Marie), the platform was nearly a metre deep in snow and the two children who got off the train ahead of us nearly disappeared as they stepped off the train. The first one fell over because his first foot kept going down and down. The second was so amused by this, she just leapt out of the train and into it! Oh to be young! Their father thought it funny and carefully brought up the rear with their skis. We followed the three of them the 300 metres or so up to the Prarion lift, through the woods. This was less like walking and much more like wading.

At the Prarion lift there was a massive queue for lift tickets and a larger queue for the lift. Actually “queue” is not an adequate word to describe the amorphous mass of people waiting to get on the lift. It was more like a scrum, or melee. I am surprised that injuries did not result from the pressure of people pushing and shoving to gain a minuscule advantage over their neighbour. The Compagnie du Mont Blanc really should introduce some kind of crowd control to cope with the predictable mass of people that arrive at the lifts. Exactly the same happens on almost a daily basis at Argentiere waiting for the cable car. It took us about 45 minutes to get onto the lift. I dread to think what it would have taken if we had had to buy a lift pass first; probably around 2 hours.

Strangely, at the top there were no crowds, it was quiet. This is one of life’s mysteries and has happened to us often previously. The snow was deep, deep and much of the resort had not been pisted. It was so deep it needed a really steep slope otherwise you could not ski it and you ground to a halt and had to wade out of the deep snow; painfully difficult, very laboured, and makes you look like a pr@t. Visibility was not great so although the snow was fantastic, overall it was not great.

Today, Sunday, I went back to Les Houches with JE. Most of the other ski areas were still closed or only partially open. It had warmed up and rained during the evening and night so the snow was wet and heavy and visibility was mostly poor (see below).

The off piste was very difficult, for me anyway, and we did not stay very long!

I have watched, in previous years the runners on the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Many of them looked to be far from happy. Having walked virtually the same route on two separate occasions, taking around 8 days, the idea of running it through the night in around one day sounds pretty crazy and quite painful to me. However, the closing date for entry has just passed for the 2012 race and it was oversubscribed by a factor of 2! The race will start in Chamonix on August 31st 2012 at 18.30. There will be 2300 competitors who will cover a distance of 166km (103 miles) with a total of 9,500 metres of positive height gain. The first competitor is expected to finish about 20 hours later and the race will be stopped after 46 hours. Running through the night over rock strewn paths is not my idea of fun but obviously plenty of other people it is.

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