Chatel Snow Report - Chatel Snow Report Season Review 2016/2017





A Review Of The Chatel 2016/17 Snow Season...


It is time to take look back on the winter 2016/17 season as a whole. Below is our take on the season, based on what we saw, measured and experienced, however, although the season will be remembered as a generally disappointing one in terms of amounts of snowfall, the number of powder days and periods of "classic" conditions, the season did see plenty of sunshine and provided decent skiing conditons at times when other resorts were struggling.


With one or two notable exceptions, the 2017/17 season in Chatel can be described as being a mostly dry and mild winter, with high pressure often to be found in locations unfavourable for both snowfall and cold temperatures for the Chatel area. Another incredibly dry December resulted in the 3rd poor start to the season, with the significant snowfalls of the season often followed by mild and sunny weather, which meant that those pistes without snow cannon cover, never had a chance to build a resilient base of snow, which caused issues in areas such as Morclan and Barbossine. However, despite the third very poor start to the season in succession, Chatel continues to show its rather remarkable ability to provide season long skiing and boarding down to low elevations, which is due to a combination of some extremely helpful and in some ways remarkable topography in the Pre La Joux area, along with the excellent piste management capabilities of the resort. Not only did the area provide limited Christmas and New Year skiing when many other resorts were closed, the area also provided skiing down to 1300m until the last week of the season!


Were We Expecting What Was To Come... Not Really!

Back on the 22nd September, we wrote about the indicators for the 2016/17 snow season, in an article titled “Looking Ahead To Winter 2016/17: Early Indicators”, which concluded, “In comparison to this time last year, there are (so far) more indicators suggesting that we might see something different to the rather mild, Atlantic dominated winters of the past 3 winter seasons”. The indicators for the season proved to be correct in terms of a relative lack of Atlantic activity, which brought the danger of drier than average conditions, however, the general mildness of the winter was perhaps something that was not envisaged.

Recorded Snowfalls
These are for the period from 1st November to the 23rd April, ie for the period leading up to and during the Chatel ski season and not including the snowfalls of April that fell after the lifts had closed.

1200m: Snow was seen to be falling on 41 days of the period, with 257.5cm of measured snowfall. Note that 68cm of that figure fell during November, which almost completely thawed in the village by the time the season began in December.

1800m: The figure of 579cm was recorded at this elevation.

These figures represent the poorest returns in terms of snowfall since the 2010/11 season and are well below average. An article on historic snowfall patterns in the area will be online during the summer.

Month By Month Summaries: November / December 2016: Early Promise, Ruined By Foehn.

After some promising snowfalls in the first half of the month of November, a remarkably mild foehn wind event on the 23rd/24th November brought temperatures of 16C during the day time and 14C/15C overnight, resulting in a huge thaw of what had been an impressive early season snowpack across the area. Any talk of the season opening early, or even being able to open on time, was soon put to bed by this dramatic turn of events and the first half of December was characterised by dry, anticyclonic, temperature inversion type weather, that was mostly unsuitable for snow making. The second half of December also saw drought conditions continuing, with the only snowflakes to fall during the month being on the 19th December, with nothing more than a dusting, however, some limited snowmaking did take place during the second half of the month.


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Snow on Pierre Longue chairs in Nov.

Still looking like a ski resort on 12/11.

The effects of Foehn nr Plaine Dranse.


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Pierre Longue 25th Nov.

Looking down the Suoer Chatel area.

Bottom Rochassons 25th Nov.

Our trail running excursions in the area during December found some impressive amounts of snow (mostly man made) on parts of the Combes piste, however, this was the exception and the fact that the top half of Linga could not retain enough snow for any potential opening, shows how dire the situation was becoming, with many slopes effectively snowless. Despite this very obvious lack of natural snow below 2000m, which was mostly correctly reported by the mainstream media, some of the slopes at Pre La Joux were able to open from the middle of December onwards, due to a combination of man made snow (much of which was made in November), and the remains of November’s snowfalls, along with some re-distribution of snow using heavy machinery and lorries. The lack of natural snow meant that the resort had to undertake a significant amount of work to get part of the area operational, for example, they had to create the linking path between Queyset and Plaine Dranse, which was a bare road before this, and to patch up the many bare patches on the Rochassons run down from Plaine Dranse and to create the access and linking piste track to the 2 bottom chairs at Pre la Joux.


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Pistes being patched up mid-December

Big snow moving operation...

To link Queyset to Plaine Dranse.


This tremendous effort resulted in a limited area opening on the 17th December and also created some remarkably good piste conditions at times on this very limited area during the run up to Christmas. However, piste conditions deteriorated markedly during the busier holiday period as the traffic on the pistes increased. With many people crammed into a very restricted, small area, the best of the conditions were usually to be found in the first hour of each morning, especially if there had been a bit of snow making overnight.


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Opening day 17th Dec.

Tour de Don (2000m) on 29th Dec!

Limited nursery area 26th Dec.

Over the New Year period, only 27% of the ski area was operational, which meant that some key pistes were unable to open, including the really important Belette green path to Pre La Joux, meaning beginners had only a partial slope cobbled together at the magic carpet. The alternative was to take them up the PLJ chairlift and get them to bum slide, walk, snow plough down a steep and icy piste to the Queyset drag - so it was a really difficult period for beginners and their instructors. The Belette piste is so important and yet has been so vulnerable over the last 3 Decembers, that is it time for the resort to think of ways to resolve this?
As well as the normally snow secure top half of Linga being unable to open, as there was not enough snow between the top of the telecabine and L’Echo Alpin chairlift, the Super Chatel / Barbossine and Morclan areas also remained closed throughout the holiday period, with the dire situation repeated in Torgon, La Chapelle and Abondance.
Morclan was effectively snow-less up to 2000m on its sunnier side, with snow patches in the shaded areas and the lack of natural snow below 2000m was again highlighted by the fact that we were able to trail run in this area and traverse the Ombrieux ridge on the 29th December.

The La Chapelle D’Abondance areas remained closed apart from some limited nursery areas at Cret Beni, as did the slopes of Torgon and Abondance.


The only section of piste that we saw open in December with natural cover was the top of the red pistes at the very top of Cornebois, which is above 2000m and was used for training by the local ski clubs and Chablais Ski Academy.

January To March – Much Better At Times With Some Notable Snowfalls

January started colder, but with the same situation on the ski area, with only a quarter of the area able to open, however, the colder temperatures allowed some snowmaking to take place with the top half of the Linga finally able to open for the first time on January 3rd, as well as the important poma served nursery slopes next to the magic carpet at PLJ, meaning the beginners had something to progress to. Some light snowfalls towards the end of the first week of January improved conditions on the open pistes at PLJ, but the falls were not sufficient to help the other snow starved areas. Further light snowfall and snowmaking allowed bits and pieces in other areas to open, however, we noted on the 11th January that the situation was still, “not normal and officially there are only 20 runs out of a possible 73 open in the Chatel area!!!! This breaks down as 11/14 greens, 3/29 blues (incredible!), 6/23 reds and 0/7 blacks!)”.


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Still not enough on Barbossine early Jan.

That's better - mid Jan.

Mid Jan near Fantaski.

Strong winds and rain in the village on the evening of the 12th January, with snowfall higher up, heralded the start of a change in fortunes. The village woke to just under 20cm of fresh snow on the morning of the 14th and the period from evening of the 12th to the afternoon of the 14th brought approximately 75cm of fresh snow to the 1800m elevation, with lifts in areas such as Barbossine finally able to open from the 16th and the snowfalls brought relief to the off piste skiers and boarders of the area. A period of bitterly cold weather then followed, which was in turn followed by some rather mild weather, and a general and unfortunate deterioration of snow conditions on the pistes which had not yet attained a good base, which were mostly those areas not served by snow cannon. However, the second half of January in general saw some decent and near normal piste conditions across the area.


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Barbossine under pressure late Jan.

Pistes at PLJ late Jan.

Snow returns - 9th Feb.



February To The End Of The Season - Good At Times

The mild spell in late January meant that the end of the month say the closure of the Morclan chair, followed by the Barbossine chair at the start of February, which was a period that felt more like spring! The situation was rescued again from the 3rd to the 8th of February which saw in excess of 1m of snow falling at 1800m, with useful quantities in the village too, enabling the ski area to return to near normality again. Spring conditions returned soon after, however, the snow on the vast majority of the area gave the February holidaymakers plenty to be cheerful about, with businesses in the area breathing a huge sigh of relief. One thing we noted during the busy European holiday period is what a bottleneck the Linga telecabine has become, due to the Vonnes / Linga link and we saw some astonishingly large queues on several mornings during this period.

February ended with gales and thunder on the 28th but also some useful snowfalls for the start of March followed by another foehn event and then significant snowfalls on the 6th and 7th with over 40cm for the village and 70cm at 1800m, with the morning of the 7th March providing one of the best powder mornings of the season. As has been the case all season, the snowfalls were followed by another warm and dry period, meaning although conditions remained good in areas such as PLJ and Linga, the pistes in the Morclan and Barbossine areas saw a rapid thaw with mid-month temperatures of 17C in the village, meaning several pistes were again forced to close and the Barbossine and Morclan chairlifts closed for the rest of the season soon after.


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Buried cars in Chatel 7th March...

... just 2 weeks later!!!

End of season PLJ.

The end of March and the early part of month of April was characterised by spring snow conditions and also some beautiful weather, with warm daytimes and mild temperatures overnight. Fortunately the clear skies allowed the pistes to re-freeze on many nights. The warm spring weather meant that Super Chatel closed slightly earlier than expected during the early part of April, with the annual Fete des Champions taking place at Plaine Dranse for the first time in years, rather than at Super Chatel.
The warmer temperatures brought a gradual deterioration of the pistes on the lower half of Linga. The final 2 weeks of the season again saw plenty of fine spring weather, with mostly warm daytime temperatures, although a notable cold spell brought a couple of very cold days and hard piste conditions in the run up to the final weekend. The final 3 days of the season saw a return of the daytime warmth and classic spring snow skiing and boarding on a near deserted ski area!

Pre La Joux – A Remarkable Area & One To Be Cherished!
As we mentioned in our introduction, this was a disappointing season in many ways, however, it should be stated again how remarkable the Pre La Joux area of Chatel is, especially when combined with the snow maintenance capabilities of the resort staff. PLJ just about survived the Foehn onslaught of late November and whilst many slopes in the area were completely devoid of natural (or man made) snow at all elevations, this area was able to provide some skiing and boarding for the Christmas and New Year period, right down to its modest elevation of 1300m and thus save the holidays for many. The bottom of Rochassons below Plaine Dranse, or “super-piste / home-piste” as it is also known, stayed open until the last week of the season, which was truly remarkable considering the low amount of snowfall during the season and the very warm spring. Although under normal snow conditions, the other areas of Chatel offer equally good and varied terrain, it has to be said that in terms of an area being snowsure - it is difficult to find one better than PLJ, which is why we have heard it called "the glacier"!

So – a big thank you and chapeau to the PLJ area and to all those in Chatel responsible for the snowmaking and piste mamnagement / safety / maintenance and also to our friends at the marvellous Ecole Ski Academy and Daniel Cruz Sports.

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More of this in 2017/18 please!

Thank you PLJ - April conditions.

Christmas Eve pistes at PLJ.







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