Saturday, 29 March 2008

Mixed weather gives amazing conditions for Easter

Okay so the weather forecast was hardly very promising over Easter but in fact the periods of bad weather were interspersed with sunshine and we were able to have a great week of snowshoeing, culminating with an ascent of Mont Rogneux 3084m in perfect fresh snow conditions.

On Friday we left the Caband Brunet as the sun came up in a cloudless sky, the air was crisp and cold and the snow was deep and light.

From the summit we had a full 360° panorama, which stretched from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn and everything in between. The run back down was a dream, with vast swathes of untouched powder leaving us spoilt for choice - plenty of room for snowshoers and ski tourers alike, leaving loads left for the weekenders.

This is what it's all about in the mountains - those perfect blue sky days - made all the more perfect because they cannot be ordered up and sometimes we have to put up with cloud and precipitation to get these fantastic winter wonderland conditions. But it sure is worth it!!

Let's hope the next week is equally good.

Friday, 21 March 2008

From spring to winter in the Alps!

Until yesterday we thought spring had arrived early in the Alps. The sun was shining, the crocus were poking out in the lower meadows, whilst the mountains remained well snow-covered - life was good!!

Today, the first day of spring, life remains good but considerably snowier - winter has returned with a vengeance. Heavy snowfall all day today today is forecast to continue overnight and intermittently all weekend. Easter 2008 is to be a snowy one.
The road from Vallorcine to Chamonix is closed for avalanche risk and there is a muffled silence as everyone huddles indoors waiting for the storm to pass through.

Nevertheless we had a great day out today in the forest where the snow-laden trees and wind drifts reminded us more of deep dark December days than late March.

Once this latest snow has settled we can be sure to have excellent late season conditions. So all those people who since January have been wondering if the snow will last out - have faith, this is one of the best winter seasons we've known. We just need to take care now for a few days as the avalanche risk is going to be very high.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Gret wildlife viewings whilst snowshoeing

The Gran Paradiso area is renowned for its wildlife, largely because it is a designated National Park and hence no hunting is allowed at any time.

Known especially for its large population of ibex, the Gran Paradiso is also a paradise for chamois, hares, foxes, deer and, as we saw last week, the rare lammergeier vulture. Recognisable by its huge wing span (2.8m) and its orange underbelly (the result of contact with iron oxide in water and mud), the lammergeier, or bearded vulture is still relatively rare in the Alps, despite an on-going programme of reintroduction. So we were very excited to get this sighting during a snowshoe walk near the Cogne Valley. (Photo: Alistair Wylie).

The usual suspects were also present - lots of chamois in the forests and ibex on the sunnier denuded south-facing slopes. Seeing the wildlife in the winter is a real privilege and whilst last week the snow conditions meant they were having a fairly easy time of it, that's probably about to change now with forecasts of heavy snow for the next few days, so we will be careful to watch any animals with binoculars from a distance so we don't scare them into running away in deep snow and hence using up all their precious energy.


February has been a superb month of sunshine, but cold temperatures at night kept the snow conditions excellent. We have been snowshoeing in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps and have been continually surprised by the amount of untracked powder snow, even several weeks after the last snowfall.

These conditions have made the snowpack very stable and so we have been able to snowshoe summits up to 3000m with little worry at all.

The Aosta Snowshoe week went particularly well, with a full group and wide age range, but everyone being very fit and keen to get high up into the mountains. By the end of the week everyone was running down the slopes of powder. This group was quickly followed by a private booking, again in the Aosta Valley. This region offers excellent possibilities for snowshoeing, but any visit there should also include the opportunity to sample the region's specialities - notably the superb red wine, cheese and ham. We made sure we gave our full attention to this aspect of the trip too.

March seems set not to herald spring but the return of winter: two days of rain have not been kind to the snowpack at lower altitudes, but the forecast is for lower temperatures from next week and we expect considerable snowfall at all altitudes. So it's out with the woollies again and we can look forward to several more weeks of fun in the snow.