Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes…
…is definitely one of my favourite things. But, there sadly appears to be a distinct lack of them around.
Ski school training took place regardless last week, continues this week and even some lessons have started. Last week all the ski schools in the area descended on to the 1.5 runs open in Veysonnaz or drove round to Verbier to battle it out on the slopes. Thankfully it has been cold, and cold enough to have the snow canons working so it does feel like winter compared to the warm start to the season we had last year (which, when it snowed, resulted in a dangerous period of several fatal avalanches). I do feel like we are skiing in a big open-air snow dome, though, and it does make me feel a little uncomfortable that so much water has been used and the effect the canons have on the environment. However, a friend did point out “well if the environment would help us out with a bit of snow, then maybe we wouldn’t need the canons!”
Skiing has been challenging this last week (and my group of new instructors have yet to see the slopes of Nendaz…!) not only by the lack of pistes open but also by the need to rock-hop around the mountain, wincing every time a stone grinds into the base of a ski. Anyone cruising round the mountain on new skis is very brave. Or stupid. As are those wearing backpacks and powder skis. Or they are just very optimistic.
This summer, the weather in the Alps was particularly dire. (Thankfully I was in the UK where the sun shone and the weather (albeit August bank holiday) was rather pleasant). However, my father (an International Mountain Leader aka a mountain goat) still managed to see some stunning views as he walked around the Alps, whilst my mother and the lovely Marmite (our dog) were often left soggy back home. The rain meant that high up on the glaciers there was some decent snowfall and combined with the early predictions, commonly forecasted to be a fantastic snowy winter, it all looked promising.
Those training for their Eurotest/Test Technique started skiing in the autumn and were blessed with some more snowfall and, I believe (sadly only believe) that the conditions are still pretty awesome high up. (You can follow Amy Wardman to see what race training to become a ski instructor is all about).
And then it stopped.
My parents are the first to not panic. In fact, my mum prefers it to snow just a couple of days before the first guests arrive to avoid the exhausting job of clearing the drive. Furthermore, my dad never forgets to remind me how back in the day he can remember Christmases spent walking rather than skiing.
My parents (who met in Avoriaz) are entering their 32nd season. Talking to my dad he claims that ‘during that time I would say that what we see now is only very slightly worse than average: there have been many similar starts to the season, assuming that it doesn’t snow until Christmas/New Year. In fact, if it does snow in the ‘nick of time’, that would be about average’.
As a result of snow canons, things have improved but he recalls that since about 1998/9 most winters and early seasons have seen plenty of snow. There were a few exceptions such as in 2006/7 when the snow was never exceptional, but we still skied most of the winter. However, I also remember seasons when I came home for half term in February and dad had been shoveling snow off the roof.
Prior to 1998/9 things were much more variable. 1988/9 and 1990/1 were particularly bad – all winter. Even our two seasons in Avoriaz, 1983/4 and 1984/5 were not great early on, but then both turned into fairly epic seasons from mid-January onwards.
The year I was born was apparently not a great winter, nor the season previous to it.
Sadly, climate change is real and maybe this really does affect the snowfall. There are online documents such as the following, which you can read that have proof with data and hard evidence of the amounts of snowfall over the last century.
In recent years, snow has fallen in November then stopped. It then arrives in January for the winter but is melted all too swiftly by spring arriving in March. Winter then re-presents itself in May in time for ski instructor exams in Hintertux. This is the pattern I have noticed, anyway. On occasion, an early snowfall, or a later big snowfall, creates such excitement amongst people that they feel inclined to get up a mountain as fast as possible and shred the living day lights out of it – sometimes ending with fateful consequences. Moreover, those straying from the piste, desperate to go off piste because it is so rad, can end up really not enjoying themselves, much to the amusement of chairlift onlookers.
With less than a week until the Christmas tourists arrive, it is slightly disconcerting that there is such a lack of snow. Will holidaymakers cancel last minute leaving instructors out of work? Will we all be fighting for a square inch of snow to teach a snowplough?
Will my ex-boss at Fitness First be rubbing it in my face “I told you so! You should have stayed…”?
I’d rather just hope the forecast is right and that the quelques flocons predicted to fall this week do fall or, preferably, turn into a massive chute de neige.
Ultimately, I can’t complain. Being back in the mountains is incredible. The views are stunning, the air is fresh, there is some snow, I have been skiing, and I still am doing what I love to do to earn a living. I am really happy to be home.
No lack of Swiss cheese here.