La Chamoniarde mountain conditions report for 01 March 2023

Almost six weeks without significant precipitation, but it’s looking....well, lets not jinx it...

As a result, conditions aren't changing much.


Off-piste, it's not good: poor snow cover, often hard snow. You have to be a very good skier. Be careful not to take on routes with too little snow, in poor nick or not suited to your level given the current conditions. Let's hope that March will give us some nice turns. The conditions are still good on piste, but here again you have to ski carefully.

When ski touring, you can find a bit of everything, but rarely very good: hard refrozen snow, smooth snow, windblown snow. In short, you must adapt your choice of outings to these particular conditions and not be too ambitious!

A good technical knowledge is necessary to practice at this time, whether it is for the ascent or the descent. Couteaux (ski crampons) and even boot crampons are often necessary even for classic runs. Beware of falls and slides with this often hard snow. In spite of everything, the skiability is sometimes good thanks to the two or three small (very small) falls of snow. Snow cover at the bottom of the valley has taken a serious hit. It is sometimes green up to 2,000m on the south side. You have to plan a little portage from Notre Dame de la Gorge (20-25 minutes on the descent), from Le Buet/Couteray, from Finhaut and probably also from Plaine-Joux or the Col de la Forclaz. It's not really worth taking the skis in the Aiguillette des Houches sector. The classic routes of the Aiguilles Rouges are frequented in variable conditions. Very hard snow at the bottom of the Bérard valley, some even put on crampons.

Conditions are also technical on the glaciers. Some information in summary:

- Col du Midi des Grands even drier. (See photo below).
- Couloir de la Table: Good conditions to go up. (Narrows with mixed climbing low down).
- Forbes Arête done there and back.
- Col des Rachasses: Use crampons on the traverse at the end (bullet hard).
- Col du Passon: Descent towards Le Tour in bad condition (hard snow, unpleasant exit).
- Col du Chardonnet: Dry access from the Argentière side, beware of rock fall. Descent on Saleina side: 2 new belays on the col. The rimaye has collapsed. It is necessary to make a rappel on a dead man (bring one because nothing is in place for the moment and there's no real possibility to make a snow mushroom because the snow is unconsolidated) or otherwise on the last belay (need to check this) with an “escaper" + 50m rope (or 2x50m). It is overhanging and is unlikely to be climbable on the way up: go via the secondary couloir on the left.

- The Argentière refuge opens this Saturday 4 March.
- Glacier du Milieu (now also called Couloir du Milieu) on the Aiguille d'Argentière: 15m abseil to pass the narrows on the way down. Rimaye ok, two short mixed pitches above - bring protection - top a bit dry.
- NE face of Les Courtes tracked on the way up (no info on skiability - no doubt it will be better with new snow) with a traverse and descent by the normal route on the Talèfre side.
- Still some activity on the Couturier. Bad conditions for skiing (it's dry) in the Whymper (but ok on the way up). So plan to abseil/downclimb. It's long and it heats up fast = be early at the top.
- No info yet on Pointe Isabelle.
- A bit of activity on the Brèche Puiseux but a decent snowfall would be good. The Mont Mallet glacier is not in very good condition.
- Vallée Blanche: Arete and ‘Z' equipped. The classic or the Rognons routes are best. Smooth snow and bumps mainly. Traces of serac falls on the traverse to reach the Requin, dont hang around here. "The bottom track at the exit of the salle à manger is very dangerous (a crevasse that's opening up and risk of falling), it is better to take the top track...". An unusual crevasse also at the exit of the salle à manger. The Vallée Blanche is therefore reserved for good skiers! Its a 5 minute walk to reach the grotto. The descent via the Mottets is no longer relevant unless you have no choice!
- The last cabin for Montenvers is at 4PM until 17 March, 4:30PM from the 18. "Every evening we have latecomers that we try to wait for, but sometimes we are obliged to close down in order to make the last train of 4:30PM leave on time.
- Vallée Noire reserved for very good skiers (hard snow, steep and exposed at the bottom).
- Still no activity on the Grands Mulets, it will have to snow because it doesn't look inviting (glacier filled in but a lot of wind-affected snow).
- Dômes de Miage has been done: "Departure from Cugnon, we put on skis at 1,700m. The Mauvais Pas is ok on foot without crampons but not on skis. Glacier hard snow and well-tracked ridge in good snow. We put our skis on at the top, sastrugi, alternating hard snow - light crust until about half way down, then hard snow with more or less good grip. Good skiing needed! Then it's hard snow transforming around 12-13h. Skis off above the Armancette lake and then back on but not for long."
- The start of activity on Chamonix-Zermatt with very dry conditions. The descent to Zermatt from the Col Valpelline is said to be complex. More info to come when the activity is more consistent.
- Bad conditions (little snow, bare glaciers) on the Grand Paradis. The refuges (Chabod and Vittorio Emmanuelle) have postponed their opening until 30 March.


A few changes concerning the goulotte activity. Some information in summary (if no information please refer to our last update): 

- Complicated access to the Ravanel-Frendo and Claire Chazal (steep traverse above the rimaye).
- Pépite: One step to cross the rimaye - “couic” (hard) snow at the bottom -3rd pitch: left corner dry, the right one is just OK - unconsolidated snow at the top.
- Mini-Blast always very busy (approach exposed to seracs/avalanches). As elsewhere, the numerous passages make it easier to progress but that's no reason by itself to go there without having the necessary skills.
- Fil à Plomb (1 thin plate after the crux) and Mallory retracked after the snowfall. A few ropes on the Eugster Diagonal (first technical pitch difficult to protect - rest OK).
- Chéré (dry); Modica-Noury; Gabarrou-Albinoni; Pellissier, N face of Tour Ronde still frequented. Some ropes also in M6 Solar, Pas d'Agonie, Laratoune (quite dry conditions). A few ropes on the Supercouloir (mixed start, abseiling at the end of the ice pitches). The season is progressing and some routes (depending on their orientation) are no longer possible to consider sensibly off the first lift.
- The Cosmiques and Torino huts are closed. Overnights are possible in the abri Simond or in the winter room of the Torino.
- Fairly good general conditions for the moment on Ice is Nice and Sorenson-Eastman above the Requin.

Ice climbing is still possible at the Bérard site (booking needed), at the Crèmerie, on the left bank of the Argentière glacier (Déferlante/Mini-couloir sector) and probably at Cogne.


It's game set and match! (“La raquette” is French for snow shoe).

At least for as long as it doesn't snow! The classic routes (+ Floria, buvette du Chapeau...) are possible with crampons. Be careful not to get into too exposed positions, turn back when there is still time! "The atypical snow conditions can sometimes give the feeling that spring is just around the corner when winter is not yet over”.  


As a reminder, except for a few exceptions (Chalets de Chailloux, Loriaz by the 4x4 track – snow slides before the bridge on the forest path make the passage tricky, several accidents), the classic hikes in the valley (lakes, grands balcons paths...) are not practicable in winter! 



Translated with permission from an original report by La Chamoniarde.

Readers are reminded that conditions in mountain environments are prone to (sometimes rapid) change and that they should use their own best judgement when visiting them.