We’ve had another period of calm and settled conditions over the past week with a little snow (5cm) on Friday night which topped things up nicely. I’ve been out doing much less ski-touring over the week and much more lift served side country skiing as the off piste conditions from the lifts have been so great.
If you’re interested in the conditions of the famous Mickey’s Ears couloirs then read on as I’ve had two great runs down them in the past week and conditions on the North / North East facing slopes are still fantastic even after the recent mild temperatures.
On Friday 4th December (the day after my last report was written) I headed up Mickey’s Ears to see how early season conditions were faring after the recent mild temperatures. These are reached by skiing North from the summit of Toviere lift stations (down ‘Cretes’ piste) to then reach a very obvious ridge in front of you when the piste forces you to make a left or right turn.
The initial walk up the ridge to reach the first couloir is extremely easy with mild temperatures beginning to strip the snow off the S/SW side of Mickey’s ears. After you pass the first couloir, conditions can potentially become quite icy especially so early in the morning when the sun hasn’t had a chance to soften the snow of the S/SW face. I would recommend for snowboarders in soft boots and skiers with plastic alpine soles to purchase a pair of Cat Tracks to improve safety and security when traversing the ridge to reach the skiers left couloirs (beyond the large pinnacle where the radio antennas used to sit). Otherwise, there is currently large steps kicked out in the snow making a fairly straight forward traverse of the face.
Once the large pinnacle has been traversed, you can take a left or right boot-pack to reach the same couloir (both offer similar entrances to each other) with the left hand entrance being the more popular choice between riders and so this option is slightly more tracked out that the right hand entrance.
Both left and right entrances have an extremely easy slide in with a short steep section to negotiate which then leads to the excellent, wide and open bowl allowing you to open out your turns and let your skis/board rip back down to the bowl of the face – there’s some great wall to wall snow coverage in the wide couloir. Once you’re lower down and out of the couloir, be aware of rocks (as usual this early in the season) that are beginning to poke through the snowpack.
Getting back to the lifts is straightforward, I’ve been heading skiers right out of the bowl following the now tracked out traverse to join the pistes that head down to La Daille – just make sure you keep an eye out for a bridge that crosses a gorge on your right to cross over to access the piste. Alternatively, you can ignore the bridge and piste and keep the gorge on your right hand side to follow The Hidden Valley down through the trees which will then lead to the Daille bubble lift, this descent is now seeing an extremely low snowpack though so be aware for any dangers lurking under the snow if your choose this route.
Saturday 5th and Monday 7th December, saw me mainly skiing the pistes which have great coverage thanks to the snow cannons and even better grooming with more and more pistes and lifts opening each week. There’s also some great off-piste accessed minutes away from the pistes if you’re not looking to hike as far as the Mickey’s Ears descents and with such quiet slopes, many of these runs are not getting tracked out at all, all you have to do is hike 1-3 minutes off the piste to reach them.
A particular favourite of mine is the face on your right as you are heading up Borsat chair, ski down to the Col de Fresse and hike the ridge for 1 – 5 minutes to drop into any of the lines on your right hand side which all have great coverage on their North to Easterly aspect.
Tuesday 8th December saw me heading back up to Mickey’s Ears with some friends who hadn’t skied any of the couloirs this season. Conditions on the ridge were similar to the 4th December with a little more of the scree showing through the snowpack. We were keen to head down the first couloir that you reach after following the ridge, with a wide open entrance that quickly narrows and steepens into a nice wee chute. Please be aware that before you head down a couloir this early in the season that you have had a look up it or climbed up it prior to dropping in – we foolishly hadn’t done this prior to dropping in.
Thus, after I dropped into the couloir I soon realised that it wasn’t actually complete as I got around halfway down towards the steep and narrow chute – please make sure you know what you are skiing this early in the season as not all the lines are complete and require another big dump to bring them fully into condition. After I hiked back out of the couloir, we headed for the safe option of the couloir I skied on the 4th December to give a much more straightforward ski compared to the one I’d just attempted.
There looks to be another week of fine a dry conditions with a smattering of snow here and there, it’s currently very overcast in resort with a centimetre or two forecast to fall toady (Wednesday 9th December). Following this, the sun is set to return for the end of the week to give some more settled days. All this settled weather has continued to consolidate the snowpack, even on higher elevations – the current avalanche warning is Category 1 (low) both down in Le Lac and Le Grand Motte, but as ever please be aware that there are still localised patches of windslab particularly on N / NE facing slopes and with the shallow snowpack, hazards such as rocks are starting to poke through.