Last skiing outings and some history at Montenvers

We have had lots of rain over the last few days, with snow higher up. The snow has caused lift closures in much of the Chamonix valley, but excellent snow conditions, unfortunately, coupled with poor visibility. In addition to the lift closures caused by the snow, today, many lifts have also been closed because of high winds. As a result, lift and ticket queues have been exceptionally long. Yesterday I went to Les Houches, Prarion, by train. It was the only ski area open so the crowds had descended and the queue for tickets was enormous. even at just before 1pm when this picture was taken. People must have spent upwards of an hour to get a ticket.

Ticket office queue at Prarion

The lady in the yellow suit is at the end of the queue which extends fully 80 metres and has a pronounced bulge in the middle as people jostle for position and try and join mid way.

I arrived earlier and found the lift queues up the mountain to be quite modest. Especially over at the Bellevue side where there was lots of powder snow. The Grand Bois lift had no queue at all. I went up and down many times using different routes on my descent every time before skiing back to Prarion. After skiing, I took the train to Chamonix and watched the Six Nations rugby at La Terrasse bar. While sitting upstairs in one of the comfortable settees, a waiter appeared with a pint of beer which was refused by everyone. The waiter shrugged and offered it to me. I shrugged and accepted. My lucky afternoon, thank you, somebody. And, England won quite impressively, I thought.

Today I went to Brevent, where only 3 lifts were open and there were hundreds of people. The snow was good and the sun was out but the crowds were too much for me. I skied down the black Nants piste, which was closed, because, the sign said, it was “icy”; this was widely being ignored. It may have also been signed as closed because of a large rockfall which had crossed the piste!

Rock fall across Nants

The track was icy, very much so at the bottom and rocky in parts. One rock was fully 1m cube. I was pleased to leave the ice and the queues to others.

I have been browsing into the history of lifts in Chamonix and found quite a bit about Montenvers that surprised me. I thought I would share it. The railway at Montenvers was completed in 1909 and used steam trains until 1953, when electrified. At this time there were roughly 500,000 visitors per year using the railway. In 1946 the first ice cave was constructed in the Mer de Glace near the station at Montenvers and it rapidly became a prime visitor attraction. It interested me that there was originally an ice cave in the Bossons glacier from 1865 and that the entrance to this was directly outside the Chalet bar, now well above the glacier level. With the large number of visitors wanting to get up and down to the ice cave by using quite a narrow and steep track. It was soon decided to build a cable car. This was completed in 1961. The cable car looked rather like a funicular railway carriage and carried up to 45 people.

Original lift to ice cave, interesting how high the glacier level is.

Original lift to ice cave, interesting how high the glacier level is.

In 1972 the cable car was modified to increase the capacity to 70 people (700 per hour). In the 1980s the glacier was apparently increasing in height, bringing it closer to the bottom station of the cable car lift. Then in 1987 the wooden footbridge carrying people to the ice cave collapsed due to glacier movement and 30 people fell. Three people died as a result. The company responsible for the railway and lift at that time conducted a review and decided to change the access to the glacier. They abandoned the cable car and built a new lift; the one that is there now. It opened in July 1988 and has up to 8 cabins capable of carrying 13 people each. It can carry up to 1200 people per hour up and down to the ice cave.

The new and old lifts routes are shown below

Old and new lifts

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