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March comes into Les Arcs like a (snow) lion

It has already snowed twice and there’s more on the horizon

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Sam Birch | Les Arcs Reporter | Published: 6 Mar 2019

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March comes into Les Arcs like a (snow) lion

It happens every year. In the middle of every season, we get a period of clear skies and sunshine, the snow down in the valley melts and people start talking like it’s the end of the winter. Despite the facts: there is over two and a half metres of snow on the top of the hill, approximately a third of the ski season is left, all but a small handful of Les Arcs’ pistes are situated above 1600 metres altitude (where the snow depth is around 70cm), or even that 70% of the slopes are above 2000 metres... otherwise logical people start lamenting that there will be no more new snow. Then, inevitably, the winter turns around and says “the report of my death was an exaggeration.” 

The first of March brought the pinch of colder temperatures and the punch of fresh snowfall. Following a couple of weeks of otherwise clear and unseasonably warm temperatures, this was a welcome change adding an (even more welcome) extra layer of snow to the existing base. Since then, the weather has been predictably unpredictable with intermittently gusty winds bringing cloud, clear skies, flat light, snowfall, sunshine and ideal conditions for skiing. Tuesday firmly fell into the last category.

A perfect start

Monday night brought the second influx of snow in three days. As morning broke on Tuesday, so did the clouds, revealing a bluebird, sunny, clear sky day throughout Les Arcs. Although the overnight snowfall was by no means a ‘massive dump’ and no-one was wading through on-piste powder, it was certainly sufficient to make the morning shred very playful indeed. The complementary impeccable weather and comfortable temperatures made it a very good day for skiing or ‘boarding, with the off-piste instantly inviting.

In some parts of France (and, I think, Belgium) it is still the half-term holidays. This week everyone seems to want to play in Arc 2000, which has made that sector surprisingly busy, especially considering that conditions were excellent in all resorts as soon as day began. Lifts in Peisey-Vallandry, Arc 1600 and even Arc 1800 appear much quieter than in the Arc 2000 bowl. The upside of having predominantly French and Belgian visitors is their amplifying effect on the ‘lunchtime lull.’ Hitting the slopes between 12:00 and 14:00, therefore, pays instant dividends.

How is it looking?

The pistes generally in very good order. There are only a couple of piste closures: the three runs that extend below Arc 1600 (Bois de Saule, Granges and Violette) are very patchy and not worth attempting, Combe above Peisey spends a lot of time in the sun and is regularly closed, and Droset (the big, bad, bumpy black run down to Pre St Esprit) which essentially crosses the main road to Arc 1950/2000 and, as such, is treated with caution by piste security. Otherwise, snow depths are average-to-high and coverage on-piste is difficult to fault. You might find the odd brown patch (especially where people have exclusively ridden the centre of a run) but they are pretty rare and easily avoidable. Today there was a fair amount of soft stuff both on the slopes and in ‘the margins’ between the on- and off-piste. This was playful for the majority of the day, although warmer temperatures below 2000 metres made it heavier-going towards the latter part of the afternoon. Similarly, early off-piste powder was soft and silky but turned stickier as time wore on. I expect that most of the accessible off-piste will be ‘tracked out’ by Wednesday morning.

On-piste conditions are mostly grippy, with some soft moguls forming where skiers have followed identical lines down steeper sections. A combination of wind and ski-traffic has made some areas a little harder but there these sectors are usually isolated, surrounded by more consistent snow and usually not worth worrying about. By late afternoon, snow-fronts in Arc 1600, 1800 and Peisey-Vallandry can feel a touch ‘sandy’ but it is certainly not spring-time slushiness.

Where do we go from here?

Starting with the bad news, after weeks of primarily clear skies, visibility is going decidedly downhill from Wednesday evening onwards. This is balanced by the eternally good news of more snow being forecast. There should be regular, manageable flurries until the weekend when stormy (windy and heavier snow) conditions might cause some disruption to lift opening. Regardless, there is going to be more powder across the mountain, which is never a bad thing. Be assured, the end is definitely not nigh.

Read more from our Les Arcs reporter Sam on his blog.