Zermatt Mountaineering

Autumn & Early Winter 2020 Chamonix & Alpine Ski & Climb Reports & Snow Conditions

30 December 2020 – Great Snow For Ski Touring In The Aravis & Mont Blanc Massifs – Happy New Year!

Plenty of recent snow down to below 500m at times has left the middle and high mountains well snowy and looking stunning as we head in to 2021.  Despite, or in some cases, because of, the lifts being shut, there is some great skiing to be had and numerous teams were out enjoying the superb light deep powder on and around the unopened “pistes” of St. Gervais, Megeve, Combloux and Chamonix.  With plenty more snow forecast for Thursday, New Years Eve, the new snow accumulations for this week should be nearly 1m at around 2000m.

Cruising the Christmas powder above Megeve with some great touring around the resort.

There was great snow on the pistes of Megeve, Combloux, St. Gervais etc and some fun powder turns on the pistes including some good steep fresh tracks on the classic black runs and powder meadows at all these resorts.

Meadow country leading to fine fresh tracks in the deep powder on the ‘Aigle’ piste, Megeve Jaillet

In the absence of open lifts, many folk have hired ski touring gear and we would be happy to do some guided touring / introductory training if you are keen to get out in to the winter hills and ski despite the closed lifts.  There are some great conditions for pleasant and scenic skiing and then a variety of options to descend from cruisey piste like runs to steeper powder.

Fresh tracks in the meadow country from the Christomet, Megeve.

Ice climbing conditions are also improving with the sustained freezing temperatures and cascades are building in the Chamonix Valley and the Aravis.  Get in touch if you would like to get out climbing or even do some warm up dry tooling to make good use of a poorer weather day.   After more snow on Thursday night it looks like some high pressure weather is arriving with sunnier spells but remaining cool, which should give some good winter mountain conditions for both ski touring and climbing.

Let us know if we can help with some mountain adventures or training & best wishes for a very happy new year in 2021, Rob

Mountain ice climbing high above the Chamonix Valley

14 December 2020 – Aravis & Chamonix Ski Touring & Ice Climbing

Megeve Ski Touring Guide
Light early winter powder ski touring in Megeve.

The big snow storms at the end of last week and into the weekend have left the Massifs des Mont Blanc and Aravis looking picture postcard plastered white and with some great skiing to be had.  The powder turns in the photo above were in lovely light snow cruising around the meadow country of Megeve.

Fine snow cover across the Massif des Aravis in mid December 2020

Teams have also been out ice climbing above Megeve with some reasonable ice forming but also plenty of running water and unfortunately a bit more of a thaw on the way at times during this week.

Ski approach to cascade ice climbing above Megeve, Mid December 2020

With the ski lifts closed in France until January the 7th there is a strange early season period with plenty of snow and good conditions and no lifts open, but still plenty of folk skiing with an explosion in popularity of ski touring and snow shoeing.

Whilst the lifts remain closed, the resort is still buzzing with skiers…touring!

There have been some very good early season conditions too with decent snow volume from the parking at both Combloux, Megeve and Le Tour at around 1300m and powder skiing pretty much all the way back to the car.  The base is lean for early season as normal and it would obviously be preferable to have a grassy rather than a rocky base although plenty of teams were also out touring at the notoriously bouldery Grands Montets where there were reports of numerous natural and skier triggered avalanches.

Powder touring above Megeve early winter 2020

There have been avalanches also in some other closed resorts, like both Courchevel and Courmayeur which have not seen their normal early season skier compaction although at least from tomorrow, 15th December, the deconfinement in France means teams will be able to go further afield than the current 20km radius / 3hr duration.

Magical early winter powder touring day at Combloux, Aravis.

This means day touring is possible and we are happy to help with guiding for ski touring, ice climbing, snow shoeing and mountain training.  Please get in touch via the Contact form below for more details.

We also have spaces available on our classic Chamonix Off Piste & Ski Touring Skills course running on Jan 11-15th and combining quality input from both a ski instructor and mountain guide.

Combloux Ski Guide
Deep powder in the ‘Portes de Mont Blanc’ Megeve – Combloux domain skiable.

30 November 2020 – Aravis & Chamonix Mountain Walking, Rock Climbing & Mountaineering

For those lucky enough to be in the hills, and not down in the heavy & cold valley fog, there was a lovely pink alpenglow of late afternoon light as the sun set on the Mont Blanc Massif for the last time this autumn.   The punctual start of winter arrives tomorrow, the 1st December, with plenty of snow inbound down to a rain snow limit of 500m, in the morning at least.

Sunset over the Mont Blanc Massif from above the Refuge Varan in the Fizz / Arve Valley, on the last day of November 2020.

After our late October forays to the fine Swiss Alps 4000m peaks above Zermatt and Saas Fee, see below, it has been a quiet November, which is seasonally normal but the confinement in France has meant for very limited access to the hills, even for those lucky enough to live in them!

Late afternoon, late autumn light on the Mont Blanc Massif from the Col Barmerousse above the Varan Hut above the Arve Valley

The recent lightening of Covid restrictions in France does allow for increased outdoor activity and thus, for those lucky enough to live near the hills, it’s possible to walk and climb again for less than 3 hour periods…

Aravis hill walking
Superb views of the Mont Blanc Massif from an easy walk above Cordon & Sallanches in the Arve Valley.

There are some great options for mountain walks and rock climbing around the Arve Valley and Chamonix areas and we have been out over the weekend enjoying the sunny late autumn conditions hill walking in the Aravis, Fizz and Mont Blanc Massif, often in the sun above the thick inversion cloud sitting in the valley.  There is snow down to below 2000m in places on the shady side but many fully sunny slopes are pretty much snow free up to several hundred metres above that.

Aravis hill walking guide
Late autumn ambiance for hill walking in the Aravis, here on the shady side above the Col de Cenise accessed via the Col du Rasoir, accessed from the Col de la Columbière above Cluses in the Arve Valley.

The rock climbing in the Chamonix Valley is still fine too…but it really has to be in the sun, for it to be enjoyable!  There was even a team enjoying the sun rock at 1700m+ above the Col du Columbière but on a very nice sun trap crag with no wind and no cloud.   The new crag on the Flegere side of the Chamonix valley above Les Praz is also worth checking out for some sustained 35m pitches from 5c-6a+ and gets the sun at the moment from about midday through to 1500 ish…ideal for your 3 hour sortie!  See photo below.

Rock Climbing in Chamonix guide
New sport climbing crag above Les Praz in the Chamonix Valley.

Thanks to Wu, who is joining us on a rapid Gran Paradiso and Mont Blanc ascent next summer, who sent over the fine photo below from an ascent of the classic route on the Monch from Jungfraujoch in mid November where he reported very good conditions.  The early autumn snowy stormy period has settled down and the result is a beautiful late autumn period with decent snow cover in the high mountains yet with a relatively stable snow pack and some solid tracks on the classic & accessible ascents.  This could change this week with some significant new snow storm events arriving in the Northern Alps from tomorrow, Tuesday 1st December.

Monch Guide
The stunning summit snow ridge of the Monch with the Finsteraarhorn, giant of the Bernese Oberland, beyond. Photo thanks to Wu.

We are now able to run rock climbing, hill walking, mountaineering, training and hopefully soon ski touring projects around Chamonix, for folk who happen to live in the area and can also run ski touring training and mountaineering days in the Swiss Alps for folk based in Switzerland.

Wonderful late autumn panorama of the Mont Blanc Massif – Beaufortain & Aravis from the Col Barmerousse above the Varan Hut.

Hopefully this situation will become more open from Mid December onwards as the confinement restrictions are lifted in France and we will be able to run climbing and ski touring trips as usual with the obvious exception that the ski lifts will most likely not be open until around Jan 20th….

Valais ski touring guide
Great snow in the Val d’Arpette with the Col des Encandies beyond and some great steep couloirs getting skied above the valley. Fine conditions in December 2019.

We have open group ski courses running from mid January onwards including intro touring, off piste coaching and ski mountaineering programmes which you can out dates, details, costs etc on our full list of mountain courses page here.

Have a great start to winter and please get in touch if we can help with any of the above mountain trips.

Early winter mountain walking in the Aiguilles Rouges, Chamonix

Late October – Good Autumn Mountaineering & Skiing Conditions In Zermatt & Saas Fee

The ski areas in both Zermatt and Saas Fee are open and have good snow and skiing conditions with good pistes on the upper slopes and even a few nice turns in very selected places off piste.  There are also plenty of teams enjoying the ski touring options from the high mountain lifts with rapid access to the Breithorn from the Kleinne Matterhorn lift and the Allalinhorn & Alphubel from the Saas Fee Metro Alpin lift.

Zermatt Ski Mountaineering Guide
Skiing off the summit of the Breithorn in snowy autumn conditions

The regular snowfalls from late summer and through much of the autumn have resulted in decent snow volume but obviously great care is required skiing anywhere on the glacier at this time of year and, for example, whilst many teams skied the Breithorn main summit none were heading further afield towards Pollux etc where the glacier becomes much more crevassed.

Zermatt Ski Touring
Ski mountaineering on the summit of the Breithorn, with the Matterhorn behind

Likewise for mountaineers, there are good conditions for the ascent of the Breithorn, including the traverse of the Western (main) summit via an ascent of the normal route and traverse of the elegant narrow South East Ridge, but no teams had gone further afield over towards the traverse of a very snowy looking central summit.  With plenty of snow covering the peaks, but not a big cover yet on the glaciers, conditions for other mountaineering objectives in the area are not easy!

The Matterhorn from Zermatt
Autumn colours on the Matterhorn from Zermatt – Late October 2020

Whilst the sunny steeper crags on the Riffelhorn South Face were dry and looked inviting the slippery slabby summit ridge looked plastered in fresh snow, which would make it pretty delicate!  The Matterhorn also looked pretty plastered and the photo above shows the snowy conditions on the Hornli Ridge (centre), North Face (right) and East Face (left).

Climb The Allalinhorn
Sophie on the autumn ascent of the Allalinhorn, with the Matterhorn beyond.

Over in Saas Fee, there were plenty of teams ski touring on the Allalinhorn and a few on the Alphubel, but none evidently going further afield.   There is plenty of soft snow about although mountaineering teams carrying snow shoes generally did just that – and did not need to put them on their feet.  Whilst there were more teams on skis than on foot, the upper part of the ascent above the Feejoch is mixed snowy / icy terrain and not good for either skinning or skiing but fine with crampons.

Autumn mountaineering on the Allalinhorn with the Rimpfischorn (north ridge) and Strahlhorn beyond.

Whilst the Midi and Skyway lifts in the Mont Blanc Massif are closed during November, the Saas Fee and Zermatt high alpine lifts stay open and we can arrange autumn mountaineering & ski touring trips and training there during this late autumn / early winter phase.  A great time to enjoy the quiet and cool mountains and do some early winter mountaineering & ski touring training.

Descending the normal route on the Allalinhorn with the Lagginhorn (centre) & Weissmies (right) across Saastal beyond.

Mid October – Early Ski Touring & Improving Climb Conditions In The Mont Blanc Massif

There was no soft and light powder skiing in the upper Vallée Blanche today, but there was plenty of snow and it’s great to be out ski touring again…before mid October!  So it was an early finish to the 19-20 ski touring season, but it has also now been a relatively early start to the 20-21 season.

Ski touring from the Torino Hut accessed from the Skyway lift above Courmayeur. Good snow volume – for mid October!

The high glaciers were in a relatively reasonable state at the end of this summer season, and it feels like there has now been regular rain in the valleys and snow in the high mountains of the Mont Blanc Massif for much of the last month.  The results up high are impressive with nice looking coverage across the upper Vallée Blanche although clearly the snow bridges won’t be formed properly yet like they will be later in the winter / spring seasons.

Tom, Olga and Neil heading out for the first day of the ski season 2020-21. A high altitude start from Skyway Monte Bianco above Courmayeur.

Today was just about getting out on the skis and enjoying a nice journey across the glacier rather than doing any major skiing.   Although some Chamonix teams have been skiing well down the Vallée Blanche already, this is worth waiting for until there is much more snow.  But for now, it’s great to be out on the skis, touring on the high glaciers in selected areas and using the skis to access some easy mountaineering routes like the Aiguilles Marbrees.

Ski Glacier de Toule
The ladders / old staircase below Col de Toule for approaching the Glacier de Toule, currently shut!

One team over the weekend were avalanched near the staircase, which we used to be used to access the Glacier de Toule, when a windslab was triggered in the steep Couloir des Allemends, which the team of 5 were climbing together.  See location map & more details about that incident on the Data Avalanche site here.

Early season skiing on the Glacier de Toule, 2017 season

Snow conditions across much of the northern Alps, at high altitude at least, are better than normal for the early autumn season and there is a little bit more snow on the way in the forecast too with relatively cool temperatures hopefully meaning the snow does not disappear.  Some nice weather would be good for the mixed climbers out there keeping an eye on what happens to this fresh snow in the mountains and whether it’s going to stick, melt & re-freeze in the gullies and on the crags to give some good autumn alpine climbing

Quality autumn mixed climbing conditions on the north faces…for later in 2020??

For the skiers, some resorts in the Swiss Valais are already open including Glacier 3000, Saas Fee and Zermatt, with the resort on the other side of the Matterhorn, Cervinia, due to open later this month and we look forward to our normal early season piste, side country, cappuccino and pasta warm up over there…

Off Piste Skiing Under The Matterhorn
Great snow on the piste and some powder in the side country at Cervinia November 2019

This is a great time of year to be preparing for the ski season with some pre-season ski fit, from our friends at BeFitApps.

Prepare well for this coming ski season with both pre-season strength work and some quality off piste, avalanche and touring training in Chamonix

We can also offer pre-season glacier travel and avalanche awareness training days in Chamonix, with or without the snow.  Yes, these cover emergency procedure training for crevasse rescue and avalanche burial response…but more importantly they focus on the skills required to plan good safe routes and try to avoid accidents in the first place.

Tough early winter conditions with deep wind blown snow and extensive crevassing. What are conditions like in the Vallee Blanche? Know before you go & prepare well or hire a mountain guide if you’re not sure!

We will have a December pre-season weekend in Chamonix covering many of these skills, so please let us know if you are interested in joining this group and also check out our early season Chamonix ski touring weekends which progress through the season to include different venues for a series of progressive weekends in France, Italy & Switzerland.

Off Piste Ski Guide
Lovely velvet snow in the shady forests of Pila above the Aosta Valley. Grand Combin beyond. Great conditions in late December 2019