Spring avalanches are slow but destructive. Check out these videos of a recent climax avalanche in France (notice that the entire snowpack slid down to dirt). This is the kind of avalanche cycle we saw last year at Crystal, when the snowpack reacted to warming rather than new storm deposits. These types of avalanches can be deceptive, and deserve our attention as we move towards warm spring days this month.
The first video shows the bottom of the lift. You can hear the towers breaking like toothpicks. The second video was taken by someone riding the lift. You can hear him cheering, which isn’t as strange as you might think. He must have been thrilled by the sheer, grinding force of the slow-moving beast and also heartened that he was above it and not in it.
France is beautiful in the summer. This is especially true in Chamonix, where John and I just spent a few days searching for the perfect chalet to rent for a few weeks next winter. Chamonix Mont-Blanc contains more quaintness and charm in this deep “commune” of the Haute-Savoie than all the ski towns in North America. No joke.
A Mont-Blanc Unlimited season’s pass with access to the entire Chamonix Valley, Courmayeur, Italy plus 6 days in Verbier, Switzerland costs € 780 (about $1100) pre-season. That’s 139 lifts, and over 500 km of skiing. Compare that to Whistler/Blackcomb’s pre-season price of $1,199 with 37 lifts and 3,307 hectares (or less than 1 kilometer). Do the math. That’s more skiing for less money than anywhere on this side of the pond. In spite of the great deal, locals complain about the price. Go figure.
With spectacular mountains and unparalleled access, it’s a wonder more people don’t live here. Perhaps it’s the crowds, which whittle away one’s personal space until it’s a sharp little nub of jaded localism. At the height of summer, a.k.a. last week when John and I were there, the line for the Aiguille du Midi tram can be hours long. The walking-only streets of the town are jammed with strollers stopping at every souvenir shop brimming with postcards depicting glaciers that poke their icy fingers into the center of the deep valley. It’s jaw dropping. But, it’s crowded.
We can see ourselves spending our winters there someday; perhaps not in the busy tourist-soaked center of town, but perhaps up-valley in Les Praz or Argentiere, where the pace is slower.
Still, traveling makes me appreciate Crystal, with our terrain and lift system and reasonable crowds. I love the familiar peaks and the knowable backcountry. I enjoy the familiar unpredictability, the secret places where I can escape the crowds, the little open gash between the trees that stays fresh days after a storm, the distant couloirs that with a little effort and a little local knowledge offer a smooth respite even on the busiest days.
I’ve had my summer fix now—my summer vacation. I’m ready for winter to start again. I long for that first healing layer of snow that covers over all the rough places with its uniform whiteness. Bring it on.