Bluebird day off-piste on Grands Montets

We are SO lucky to live here in Chamonix valley.
Every now and again, we get to experience conditions that are simply PERFECT for great ski days.

Take yesterday, for instance.
It was one of those bluebird days with not a cloud in the sky.  We headed up to Les Grands Montets, one of the five ski stations in Chamonix valley which is world-renowned for its acres and acres of off-piste terrain, and found it virtually empty.

It would have been simply rude not to have taken advantage of this by heading up to the very top.

Normally there is a long queue for the top station, but yesterday, we were lucky and scarcely waited.

Here’s a little local’s tip: The buvette at the top of the lift station at the very top of Grands Montets serves potentially the best Croûte Forestière in Chamonix valley.  Perhaps it is the altitude. Perhaps it is the method.  I don’t know.  But over the past few years, we have consistently enjoyed this simple Savoyard meal here.  Fresh bread, a heaping of creamy mushrooms, topped with a slice of ham and a handful of grated cheese, add a swig of white wine and a pouring of fresh cream and bake for a few minutes to melt the cheese and wine down to a gorgeous, creamy, sticky consistency.  Absolutely delicious at 3230 metres above sea level.

Sustainance applied, Helen, Tim (Helen’s nephew) and myself stumbled down the 30-odd metres of metal steps (ski boots and steps are rarely a gainly combination) to the snow, where leaving the pistes behind, we headed out onto the untracked Glacier d’Argentière for our descent.

Please note that we would not recommend this route to our guests or people who do not know the area without a guide. This is glaciated terrain, and just a few metres past the rope marking the piste, you ski on snow bridges over hidden crevasses. Last year, a guide died here when the snow bridge he was on collapsed, so it can be deadly terrain.

Helen and Tim on the Glacier d'Argentière

Okay. Warning aside, the Glacier d’Argentière is staggeringly beautiful.  We were virtually the sole people skiing the top half, skiing open patches of perfect powdery snow, carefully finding the route, avoiding those place we know there are crevasses, before dropping down amongst the towering seracs and icefalls.

Once we’d dropped onto the main body of the glacier, we were joined by a few other skiers taking the same route out.

Helen skiing the crowded glaciated terrain

Sadly, we only had time of one top bin, but we quickly skirted over to the Bochard lift to grab a last descent down the Lavancher bowl.  Again, awesome conditions with lovely soft snow….

View from Lavancher towards Brévent

View towards the Aiguilles Rouges

We arrived back down at the Pendant lift just before it closed.  Just as the liftie was pushing the seats up on chairlift.

All in all, one spectacular memorable day!

Helen and Tim


Christmas Dinner 2011

As we had guests from Singapore and the United States this year, we celebrated our main Christmas Dinner on the 24th – Christmas Eve – like the French do. As usual, it was a seven course gala affair and a lot of fun…


The Lees' and Bretts' at Christmas


  • Pan-fried Foie Gras on toasted brioche, with miniature Amaretto jellies and a selection of homemade chutneys
  • Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Cucumber Brunoise and Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
  • Tiger Prawns flambéed in Pastis with its herbed butter sauce
  • Homemade Rosé and Raspberry Sorbet refresher
  • Freerange Roast Turkey – served with Chestnut stuffing, Goose-fat roasted potatoes, Parmasan parsnips, Carrots sautéed in Honey and Ginger, Green beans wrapped in bacon, with Bread and Cranberry sauces and Gravy…
  • Cognac-laced Christmas Pudding served with homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream
  • Blue Stilon cheese served with Port
  • Coffee and homemade chocolate truffles

I personally love the look we get when people realise we are serving Mustard Ice Cream.  It is classic.

The idea of Mustard Ice Cream sounds very bizarre I know, but the flavour combination of the Red Cabbage soup with the ice cream is simply delicious.  Also, as it uses wholegrain mustard, the ice cream is not as strongly flavoured as you might imagine, but has a more subtle kick to it…  As savoury ice creams go, I think it is a winner!

I also love the richness of colour of the Rosé and Raspberry sorbet… which just coincidentally matched the red Christmas underplates brilliantly! No planning there… No, really! 😉

Homemade Rosé and Raspberry Sorbet

Everything was spot on.  Timings were good.  The free-range turkey was lovely – wonderfully flavoursome and moist.  I hate dried Turkey breast meat that many places serve, instead, this was simply gorgeous.  We actually cook the Turkey upside down to help maintain the moisture in the breast, and then turn it near the end to brown the meat.

We do not normally get to photograph our food as we are typically too busy concentrating on cooking and serving it – so we are very grateful to Yih San for all the photos that he took.  I feel they really capture the mood, vibrancy and colours!


Christmas Turkey dinner

I also love Helen’s table decorations.  It is all the multitude of little things that go to make up a truly wonderful experience…


The day the mountain skied our garden

No longer content to be simply ski in, ski out…  Maison Jaune is setting a new standard – ski through!!

Yes, dear readers…  The lovely skiing folk in Les Houches decided en-masse to ski our back garden.

Take a look at this little video…

Basically, the pisteurs have not bashed any snow into the tunnel by the house – consequently, rather than taking skis off and walking it, everyone has been skiing across the road and down through our garden.

It is the first day open in Les Houches – and just about every other ski station in the valley was closed due to TOO MUCH snow falling overnight!!

Anyway, what a fantastic first day !!  Especially if you like off-piste, as there was an abundance of thigh-deep fresh powder…

The forecast is for more snow in the coming days… What a brilliant start to the ski season!


The Truth about Chamonix

A lot of people have a number of misconceptions about Chamonix as a ski resort. They perceive that it is only for expert skiers.

Chamonix valley comprises of six amazing ski areas: Les Houches, Grands Montets, Brévent, Flégère, La Tour, and the Vallée Blanche.  Only Brévent and Flégère are inter-linked.  However, what this means is that each ski station has its own individual character and attributes.   Each ski station is most suitable for different levels of skier and as they have different aspects, it means there is a wide variety of snow conditions prevalent in the Chamonix valley, and if there is extreme weather, it is highly unlikely the whole resort will be closed – which means you are unlikely to miss a days skiing.

From the top of Index lift at La Flégère, looking directly across at the Vallée Blanche, with Grands Montets on the left in the background

It is indeed true that Chamonix has some of the best off-piste skiing in Europe.  Grands Montets has wide open bowls that provide an amazing opportunity of off-piste skiers.  Flégère also provides acres of possibility, and even La Tour has amazing potential for both people learning off-piste as it has lovely off-piste routes that never take you too far from the ski pistes, as well as some incredible bowls that are amazing in powder conditions.

Only La Grave near Grenoble (where there are no ski pistes at all and just one ski lift!) rivals Chamonix for a similar level of opportunity for the off-piste skier.

This is not to mention the world famous Vallée Blanche – 24 kilometres of off-piste descent on the glacier past giant seracs towering above, over snow bridges that span crevasses up to eighty metres deep.  The scenery is outstanding, and the experience will surely be one of your most memorable ski descents ever!  Ski guide obligatory for safety!

Then there is Les Houches.  This is the family end of Chamonix valley with lots of rolling blues and reds.  It has lots of tree-lined skiing,  and so it is the best place in the valley to ski in case of poor visibility or strong winds.  Having two nursery areas, it is perfect for beginners just learning, and because of the variety of runs, it provides the most opportunity for mixed ability groups.   Les Houches is also home to the World Championship ski run, the Kandahar.  This black run is not technically that difficult and most intermediate skiers can ski at least part of it – there are also opportunities to avoid the most difficult sections, which means you too can get to experience part of what skiing a World cup downhill is like.

The Kandahar World Cup Downhill

The Kandahar World Cup Downhill

Les Houches is also one of the quieter ski stations in France and never has the same queues that I have experienced in the Trois Vallées, Tignes or La Plagne.  Because these are the most popular resorts, they are also the most crowded – especially during peak periods.   Les Houches also boasts some of the best mountain restaurants:  The delightful “Vielles Luges” is a 300 year old converted farmhouse with superb food and wonderful hosts.  “La Tanière” is also an authentic farmhouse run by an Argentinian overlooking the Saint Gervais valley with a superb reputation for mountain food.

Normally quiet - not normally THIS quiet

Normally quiet - not normally THIS quiet

The more we ski Les Houches, the more off-piste we find.  They tend to be short sections, but hold some interesting technical challenges for advanced off-piste skiers – never too far from the pistes, but some really fun descents through trees, down some steep slopes cutting into the forest and back out to join the pistes.

We also like to take our guests through the Mont Blanc tunnel so they can experience Courmayeur.  Only 25 minutes door to door from the chalet, Courmayeur is also included on the 6 day Chamonix ski pass.  This gives our guests the opportunity to
sample Italian skiing too.   Courmayeur can have different weather and snow conditions to Chamonix, so we use this to ensure our guests experience the best conditions.  Courmayeur tends to have wider runs which are extremely well groomed and are not as technically challenging as Chamonix.  It also boasts some wonderful Italian restaurants.

Chamonix provides a truly authentic skiing experience because it is not a purpose-build resort.  No concrete jungle like Flaine or Val Thorens or Courcheval here!  The town of Chamonix and village of Les Houches date back hundreds of years, and are full of life any time of year.  Chamonix’s reputation as the best ski area for off-piste was immortalised in the cult ski movie, the “Blizzard of Aahhhs”.  In fact, if you are lucky, today you can even get to bump into its star skier, Glen Plake still sporting his
infamous bad boy mohican, who now lives in Chamonix full time.

Other brilliant ski movies that feature Chamonix, include the “Edge of Never” – the story of 15 year old Kye Petersen skiing the same route that killed his father, and “Steep” – potentially the best ski documentary yet made examining the history of extreme skiing.

Anyway, in case you’ve never seen the Blizzard of Aahhh’s… well, you are missing a crucial part of your skiing education…  Here is a little clip….

Complimentary peak performance coaching for skiers…

As part of our ongoing mission to continually improve the value of staying at Maison Jaune, for this Winter we are proud to launch a new service: complimentary peak performance coaching for all our guests.

A HUGE part of skiing performance is your mental game.

It affects how you ski on a day to day basis.
It affects how you ski particular slopes.

Your inner game controls how you respond to falls, ice, moguls, steeps, carving, speed…
and that in turn affects how you enjoy skiing and the quality of the emotions you feel when you ski.

For most people this is haphazard.   You have good days and you have not so good days…

What if you were to discover how to make EVERY day a good day!
What if you were to discover how to ski your best every run!

Sounds pretty amazing, right?

As you may know, Leighton is both a life coach and author of the book, “Skiing without Fear” – which combines neurolinguistic programming techniques (NLP) and visualisation with skiing.  It’s aim is to enable you to step up your inner game and take control of your state whenever you ski.

This is key to being able to tap into your ability to perform at peak levels and truly ski at your best.

This Winter, we are offering a complimentary peak performance course to our guests.  Coupled to our ski orientation, Leighton will accompany you on the slopes and work on your inner game.   He will teach you some fantastic jedi-mind tricks to build your confidence ready for skiing, together with some powerful tools to enable you to control your current state of mind, so that you can perform at your peak whenever you wish.

Powerful stuff.

More details here: Peak performance NLP coaching for skiers


Powder off piste in Flégère.  Game on!

Powder off piste in Flégère. Game on!

New menu preparations going well…

One of the nicest things about running a Chamonix chalet is that in October and November, we get to try a whole load of new recipes when we design the menus for the coming Winter Ski season.  We are always after delicious, reliable recipes that are tasty, visually attractive and interesting.

Yesterday, we discovered a superb new starter.


Helen found a great recipe that just simply works…
I present “Pan-fried Scallops served with  Spicy Chorizo and Rocket”.

Pan-fried scallops with spicy chorizo and rocket

Pan-fried scallops with spicy chorizo and rocket

This is wunderbar!  Succulent, tender scallops lightly caramelised in the juices of the fried Spanish chorizo.  Perfectly matched by the pepperiness of the rocket and a sweet balsamic reduction to give it that extra dimension….  Yummy!

Snow is falling…. Winter’s calling…

First off….   We have some opening dates for the season….

Yes… Grands Montets will be opening from the 3rd December, this year…
We are getting really excited about the possibility of some early skiing – only FIVE weeks to go!!

Brévent, La Flégère and La Tour are all set to open on the Saturday 17th December….

….and we are still waiting to hear about Les Houches.  Traditionally, it likes to give Grands Montets a run for its money in the early opening stakes… All we need is the snow!!

The other aspect which may affect the opening date for Les Houches is that the Compagnie du Mont Blanc will become the majority share holider (73%)  in the ownership of the Les Houches ski area at a cost of 4 million euros, on the 25th October.  After many years of petty (and not so petty) arguments between the two families that controlled the ski area, it is finally sorted and we can relax knowing the future of the best kept secret of the Chamonix valley is safe.  I am hoping they continue the tradition of opening Les Houches as early as possible though.

Grands Montets earlier today

After yesterdays heavy rainfall in the lower altitudes, it is already looking great for an early start to the season for higher up the mountain…

This was the view from Grands Montets mid-station earlier today…

As you can see there is already a nice covering of snow on the tracks… with five weeks to go!!

What else is NEW this year?

There will be a new boarder cross park being created in La Tour which will be open to everyone.

At Grands Montet, in the freestyle park, they are installing HD cameras to record all the action…

At Brevent, they are installing a giant airbag so wanna-be hot-doggers can practise their aerial moves and land safely on an air mattress – under the supervision of park instructors.

For the gastronophiles, there are new restaurants at the La Tour area and La Flégère area…

The pisteurs have already erected the safety fence on the lower section of the Kandahar world championship run, and they’ve been around and inspected the snow cannons down the piste des Aillouds outside the chalet….

All very exciting….  we CAN’T WAIT!!!

One thing I DO love about right now though… is the colours of Autumn as we go into Winter….


The Amazing Colours of Autumn


Празднуйте Русское Рождество в Шамони в шале “Maison Jaune”

Прибыв в среду 4 января
Отправляясь в субботу 14 января 2012 (10 ночей)
Цена: 1297 евро на человека.

С Лез Уш является побратимом с Красной Поляне, он имеет тесные связи с Россией, и будет праздновать свой четвертый русском неделю с 2 по 8 января, чтобы отпраздновать Русской Православной Нового года. Примите участие в торжествах в котором примут участие спортивные, культурные мероприятия, музыка, и питание.

Этот период обычно характеризуется отличными условиями снега, хорошая погода, и меньше людей на горнолыжных склонах – обеспечение у Вас есть фантастическая лыжах время в Лез-Уш и долине Шамони.

Описание Лезуш
Расположенный в долине Шамони Монблан в регионе Верхней Савойи, в шести километрах от всемирной столицы горнолыжного спорта и альпинизма Шамони, курорт Лезуш (Les Houches) находиться у подножья горы Монблан. Лезуш предлагает множество развлечений летом и зимой как для семейного отдыха, так и тренировок спортсменов. К Вашим услугам: пешие прогулки, горные велосипеды, горные и беговые лыжи, снегоступы и собачьи упряжки. Сюда стремятся приехать горнолыжники всех уровней подготовки — от начинающих и до профессионалов по фрирайдингу, ски-экстриму и, конечно же, сноубордингу. Причина этому — невиданное разнообразие спусков, вершин, трасс и склонов. Расположенный в самом сердце массива Монблан, Лезуш откроет Вам завораживающие виды на пики в долине Шамони. У Вас будет исключительная возможность спуститься по легендарной чёрной трассе “La Verte des Houches”, на которой проходят соревнования Кубка Мира по горным лыжам или же спокойно скользить по трассам, которые проходят через живописный лес.

Это семейный курорт которому присвоена марка качества «СЕМЬЯ ПЛЮС», поскольку здесь всё предвидено и для детей тоже: развлечения, мероприятия, зоны катания для начинающих лыжников.

Курорт Лезуш сохраняет и поддерживает сложившиеся традиции о пребывании в горах. Время проведённое здесь будет незабываемым и вызовет у Вас желание приехать сюда ещё раз.

Лезуш предлагает различные виды спорта зимой: горные лыжи, беговые лыжи, скандинавская ходьба, прогулки на снегоступах, ski-джоринг (лыжи с буксировкой лошадью), катание на собачьих упряжках, санки, параплан, спидрайдинг (лыжи под парусом), природный каток, закрытый зал для скалолазания, полеты на вертолете и т.д.

По четвергам на трассе Летурше (Le Tourchet) во время французских каникул: спуск с факелами и вечернее катание.

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Winter 2011/12 Long range weather forecast for Europe, French Alps and Chamonix

In September 2010, I did a long-range weather forecast for the French Alps based on patterns of previous years, and predicted a cold spell early on and abundant snow based upon a strong La Nina and an NAO+ winter.   Although I was correct about a cold start, my prediction for the NAO+ winter did not really arrive when I expected it, and although the UK experienced more snow than average, there was far less snow here in Chamonix than I had anticipated/hoped for.

So, now in October, I thought it would be good time to produce a new prediction for Winter 2011/2012.

We shall look at La Nina, North Atlantic Oscillation,  Sun spot activity, and the seasonal forecasts from the Climate Prediction Centre and the Met Office…

La Nina

The Climate Prediction Centre in North America put out an advisory on the 6th October predicting La Nina conditions to gradually strengthen and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2011/2012.

Here is what they say

 “Currently, La Niña is not as strong as it was in September 2010. Roughly one-half of the models predict La Niña to strengthen during the Northern Hemisphere fall and winter. Of these models, the majority predict a weak La Niña (3-month average in the Niño-3.4 region less than -0.9oC). In addition, a weaker second La Niña winter has occurred in three of the five multi-year La Niñas in the historical SST record since 1950. However, the NCEP Climate Forecast System (CFS.v1) predicts a moderate-strength La Niña this winter (between –1.0oC to –1.4oC) and CFS.v2 predicts a strong La Niña (less than –1.5oC), which rivals last year’s peak strength. For CFS forecasts made at this time of year, the average error for December-February is roughly ±0.5oC, so there is uncertainty as to whether this amplitude will be achieved. Thus, at this time, a weak or moderate strength La Niña is most likely during the Northern Hemisphere winter.” wrote last year:

“The effect of La Niña on European winters is different for November-December and January-March periods. In November-December, La Niña events are associated with positive sea-level pressure anomalies in the area between Greenland and Western Europe. This high-pressure center blocks the warm westerly flow from the North Atlantic and temperatures in Europe drop.  Later in the winter, however, the atmospheric circulation tends to become more zonal, bringing warm Atlantic air to Europe and reducing the frequency of cold air outbreaks from the north.  This coming winter (ed. note: 2010/11), however, even in January-February temperature anomalies may remain negative over much of Europe”.


This was is pretty much what we experienced last year as the UK experienced a very cold winter, and it was colder than normal here in the Alps until the end of mid-Winter (DJF) when the weather switched and become warmer than usual during early Spring (FMA).

The El Nino / La Nina event also appears to experience a sea surface temperature variation trend of an approximate 60-year cycle.

As you can see it is about to enter its negative phase.

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a pattern of Pacific climate variability off the West coast of America which operates on a 20-30 year cycle.  During a negative phase, the west Pacific warms and the east Pacific (ie off the West coast of America) cools.   From the mean line on the graph below it looks as though this oscillation will be heading into the negative phase of its cycle soon.

The PDO differs from the El Nino/La Nina cycles which persist for only 6-18 month.  As global temperatures are tied directly to sea surface temperatures when sea surface temperatures cool (as from 1945 to 1977), global climate cools.  This is sometime which may affect the underlying patterns for the next couple of decades.

Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation

It should be noted that the Atlantic also experiences multi-decadal warm and cool periods of about 30 years, much like the PDO.  During warm phases, the Atlantic is warm in the tropical North Atlantic and far North Atlantic and relatively cool in the central area.  During cool phases, the tropical and far North Atlantic are cool and the central ocean is warm.

The cycle length is approximately 62 years.

The North Atlantic Oscillation

“Strong positive phases of the NAO tend to be associated with above-average temperatures in the eastern United States and across northern Europe and below-average temperatures in Greenland and oftentimes across southern Europe and the Middle East. They are also associated with above-average precipitation over northern Europe and Scandinavia in winter, and below-average precipitation over southern and central Europe. Opposite patterns of temperature and precipitation anomalies are typically observed during strong negative phases of the NAO.”

If you look at the graph above, it might appear to show that we are experiencing a strong NAO- condition at the moment.  However, the graph below shows that this has in fact shifted into a weak NAO+ condition since mid-August, and is forecast to return to a predominantly NAO- pattern in the next couple of weeks.


However, something interesting appears if you look at the standardised seasonal mean for January/February/March……


This graph is very interesting as it shows the standardized seasonal mean NAO index during the cold season (blue line) which is constructed by averaging the daily NAO index for January, February and March for each year.   The black line denotes the standardized five-year running mean of the index. Both curves are standardized using 1950-2000 base period statistics.

You can clearly see a 60 year cycle pattern.

From this alone, one might expect the weather for the next few winters to have a predominantly negative NAO and thus to have certain similarities to weather in the 1950’s when the winter temperatures were slightly colder than average, and experienced a number of extra cold events in 1950, 1953, 1954, 1957. Most notably early February 1956 when temperatures were between -8.6 and -10° colder than average for those same dates.

Unfortunately for skiers, there is no correlation between the amount of precipitation and the North Atlantic Oscillation, so we cannot use this to predict snow levels.

So what’s going on with all these 60 year cycles?

Influence of Solar Orbit on Global Weather Patterns ?

Nicola Scafetta has identified the change in the location of the centre of mass of the solar system (CMSS) as a possible mechanism driving the 60-year cycle.  Jupiter has the largest mass of any planet and is thus most influential with a solar orbital cycle of 11.9 Earth years.   Saturn, the second-largest planet, has a solar orbital cycle of 29.4 Earth years. This leads to Jupiter-Saturn conjunction every 19.9 years.  A fully cycle of Jupiter /Saturn around the sun is 59.6 years.  In other words, it takes approximately 60 years for the Earth / Jupiter / Saturn to reach the same relative alignment around the Sun – and this causes cyclical changes in the centre of mass of the solar system.


The following figure shows the speed of the Sun relative to the CMSS showing “20 and 60 year oscillations”. It shows a 60-year cycle with peaks similar to the global average temperatures peaks –  around 1880, 1940 and 2000

Scafetta postulates here that

The physical mechanisms that would explain this result are still unknown. Perhaps the four jovian planets modulate solar activity via gravitational and magnetic forces that cause tidal and angular momentum stresses on the Sun and its heliosphere. Then, a varying Sun modulates climate, which amplifies the effects of the solar input through several feedback mechanisms. This phenomenon is mostly regulated by Jupiter and Saturn, plus some important contribution from Neptune and Uranus.

Alternatively, the planets are directly influencing the Earth’s climate by modulating the orbital parameters of the Earth-Moon system and of the Earth. Orbital parameters can modulate the Earth’s angular momentum via gravitational tides and magnetic forces. Then, these orbital oscillations are amplified by the climate system through synchronization of its natural oscillators. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the temperature records contain a clear 9.1-year cycle, which is associated to some long-term lunar tidal cycles.


Now, let’s talk about sunspots which have an 11 year cycle.

Early records of sunspots indicate that the Sun went through a period of inactivity in the late 17th century. Very few sunspots were seen on the Sun from about 1645 to 1715. This period of solar inactivity, known as the Maunder Minimum, also corresponds to a climatic period called the “Little Ice Age” when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes.  There was also a period (Dalton minimum) lasting from about 1790 to 1830 which coincides with a period of lower-than-average global temperatures.

So, extremely low sunspot activity appears to correlate to cold climatic periods.

Sunspot info:

So what is going on currently?  Although the number of sunspots is rising from its minimum in 2009, it would appear from this prediction that we are entering a period of reduced sunspot activity for the next cycle.


 Some unusual solar readings, including fading sunspots and weakening magnetic activity near the poles, could be indications that our sun is preparing to be less active in the coming years.
The results of three separate studies seem to show that even as the current sunspot cycle swells toward the solar maximum, the sun could be heading into a more-dormant period, with activity during the next 11-year sunspot cycle greatly reduced or even eliminated.
The results of the new studies were announced today (June 14) at the annual meeting of the solar physics division of the American Astronomical Society, which is being held this week at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

This might result in weather with below-average temperature for the next few years or even decades.


Overall  Long Term

So, given that we are entering the periods of negative phase ENSO, negative phase NAO trend, with a low sunspot activity forecast, I think we could possibly experience a period of lower than average temperatures in the future.   A few climatologists seem to hold that view of a cooler future.  Look up Nils-Axel Morner, James Madden , (or Piers Corbyn if you fancy watching/reading something controversial…).

So, what about the French Alps, Chamonix and this coming Winter….

I want you to look at the following two seasonal chart predictions from the Climate Prediction Centre:

The chart above appears to show a normal temperature prediction throughout most of Europe for the entire winter (Scandinavia being slightly warmer than average late season).  Colder than average appears in blue.
The chart above would predict a drier than normal winter (except Scandinavia late season).

So the CFS predicts a winter with average temperatures that is drier than normal.

However, the Met Office put this out which would appear to predict an above-average chance of a cold Nov/Dec/Jan period across the French Alps.

The Met Office charts would also appear to show that we should expect near normal levels of precipitation during Dec/Jan/Feb…


Combining the two predictions from the Met, below average temperatures and normal precipitation would be good news for skiers in the French Alps! (of course, I am sure that all us skiers would prefer mildly below average temperatures and above average precipitation…. ).

Not every meteorologist agrees with either the CFS or Met Office forecasts:

James Madden from Exacta says

“Based on the natural factors that I have covered and in terms of how I calculate solar activity into my forecasts, it would be adequate to suggest prolonged periods of well below average temperatures and widespread heavy snowfall throughout this winter.  This will result in the fourth bad winter in succession for the UK, and will prove to be the worst of them all.”



Yves Durand et al write in their “Reanalysis of 44 yr of climate in the French Alps (1958-2002)” that

“Looking at snow precipitation trends in the light of temperature trends reveals that in the north, falling temperatures are associated with slightly rising snowfalls (early winter)”.

“The SAFRAN 2-m air temperature and precipitation climatology shows that the climate of the French Alps is temperate and is mainly determined by atmospheric westerly flow conditions. Vertical profiles of temperature and precipitation averaged over the whole period for altitudes up to 3000 m MSL show a relatively linear variation with altitude for different mountain areas with no constraint of that kind imposed by the analysis scheme itself. Over the observation period 1958–2002, the overall trend corresponds to an increase in the annual near-surface air temperature of about 1°C. However, variations are large at different altitudes and for different seasons and regions. This significantly positive trend is most obvious in the 1500–2000-m MSL altitude range, especially in the northwest regions, and exhibits a significant relationship with the North Atlantic Oscillation index over long periods. Precipitation data are diverse, making it hard to identify clear trends within the high year-to-year variability”.

So basically the NAO correlates better with temperature than precipitation, especially in the North West Alps.

From “Mountain climates and climatic change: An overview of processes focusing on the European Alps “, Martin Beniston writes

 “When computed for 1901-1999, 56% of the observed pressure variance in Switzerland can be explained by the behaviour of the NAO. From 1961-1999, this figure rises to 83%, which is considerable bearing in mind the numerous factors that can also determine regional pressure fields. As for pressure trends, the synchronous behaviour between temperature and the NAO is striking, particularly in the second half of the 20th Century.

A particular feature of the positive phase of the NAO index is that it is invariably coupled to anomalously low precipitation and milder than average temperatures, particularly from late fall to early spring, in southern and central Europe (including the Alps and the Carpathians), while the reverse is true for periods when the NAO index is negative.

Since the early 1970s, and until 1996, the wintertime NAO index has been increasingly positive, indicative of enhanced westerly flow over the North Atlantic. Over the Alpine region, positive NAO indices have resulted in surface pressure fields that have been higher than at any time this century”.

The study has confirmed other findings that snow in the Alps is highly variable from year to year, but that there are some long-term cycles which appear to be governed by shifts in large-scale forcings. These are represented by the North Atlantic Oscillation index, whose influence extends to the Alps when the index is positive and high; the pressure signal from the NAO index is amplified in the Alpine region. Over the last 15 years, which saw a number of cold winters accompanied by significant amounts of snow, followed since the second half of the 1980s by some very mild winters with little snow, the dominant feature has been the variations of the regional-scale pressure field

In “Variations of snow depth and duration in the Swiss Alps over the last 50 years: links to changes in large-scale climatic forcings”,  Martin Beniston writes,

“Periods with relative low snow amounts and duration are closely linked to the presence of persistent high surface pressure fields over the Alpine region during late Fall and in Winter. These high pressure episodes are accompanied by large positive temperature anomalies and low precipitation, both of which are unfavourable for snow accumulation during the Winter. The fluctuations of seasonal to annual pressure in the Alpine region is strongly correlated with anomalies of the North Atlantic Oscillation index, which is a measure of the strength of the westerly flow over the Atlantic.

Furthermore, since the mid-1980s, the length of the snow season and snow amount have substantially decreased, as a result of pressure fields over the Alps which have been far higher and more persistent than at any other time this century. A detailed analysis of a number of additional Alpine stations for the last 15 years shows that the sensitivity of the snow-pack to climatic fluctuations diminishes above 1750 m.

So basically the higher you go, the less climatic fluctuations play a part on the snow pack.
That makes sense as the higher you go, the more likely it is that any precipitation will fall as snow.

Also, higher pressure seems to link to reduced snowfall, and therefore low pressure means higher snowfall…

So, let’s take a look at the CFS pressure forecast….

If I am reading this correctly (I may very well NOT be…), it looks like the forecast is for low pressure over the French Alps for much of early-to-mid Winter period (N/D/J/F/M).

So let’s put it all together and take a gamble on what I think is going to happen…

This year, I predict that overall the pattern will be quite similar to last year with a colder than normal start to October/November.  We have just had snow down to 1000m in Chamonix this weekend which fits nicely.
I think we will experience a moderate to strong La Nina and weak NAO- conditions for November and December, changing to stronger NAO- conditions for January, February and March.

As it will not be a strong NAO+, it is harder to predict how the winter might be.

However, I am thinking we will have a cold November with average amounts of precipitation – which hopefully will mean the ground will freeze early and that any precipitation will come as snow here in the Alps.  This means the winter season may be earlier coming on, and would bode well for a good start to the ski season.

If there is low pressure as predicted by the CFS, then that could bode well for snow falls in Jan/Feb/Mar, and although the NAO- tends to mean higher precipitation further south, I think Chamonix will fair well and there will be a reasonable to good snow fall in Jan/Feb/March.   I think this will however be followed by a relatively early spring.  So if you are planning late season skiing at Easter, then choose somewhere nice and high like Tignes, Val d’Isere, or Chamonix where the skiing goes from 1000m to 3842m.


CFS Sources :

Interesting reads :

Variations of snow depth and duration in the Swiss Alps over the last 50 years: Links to changes in large-scale climatic forcings”    Martin Beniston, Institute of Geography, University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

Reanalysis of 47 Years of Climate in the French Alps (1958–2005): Climatology and Trends for Snow Cover Yves Durand, Gérald Giraud, Martin Laternser, Pierre Etchevers, Laurent Mérindol, Bernard Lesaffre. (2009) . Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology

Mountain climates and climatic change: An overview of processes focusing on the European Alps. BENISTON M.  Pure and Applied Geophysics, 2005, Vol. 162, p. 1587-1606.

The Sixty-Year Climate Cycle
Source :

Arctic Environment by the Middle of this Century.  Nils-Axel Morner (2011)  Energy & Environment, 2011, Vol 22, No 3.

James Madden

The solar Influence on the probability of relatively cold UK winters in the future” Lockwood, M. et al, “2011, Environmental Research Letters.
Source :


Lots going on in Chamonix in Summer 2011….

Busy summer here in Chamonix with lots of spectacular events going on in the area.

Firstly, in July there was the Climbing World Championships
Both the speed and the technical events were held in the place du Mont Blanc…

I love the speed events – I think it incredible how these athletes can climbing SO quickly up that vertical wall…. So, so impressive…

That coincides with the Bastille Day celebrations with spectacular fireworks in Les Houches and Chamonix.

Then, we enjoyed the free JAZZ of the 2nd Annual Cosmo Jazz festival.
There were some superb jazz musicians playing for free in the town centre and up the mountain. They would set up a short walk from some of the main lifts and play for everyones’ pleasure!

We sincerely hope they continue this event as it is one of the most enjoyable events of the Summer.
(shame I actually missed the above concert though – held at Lac Bleu above Plan d’Aiguille.)

There was the annual fête des Guides over last weekend – to raise money for the families of guides who have lost their lives or been seriously injured at work – finishing with its light show at Lac Gaillands on Monday.

Just starting today (Tuesday 16th August) is the Chamonix Adventure Film Festival showing films at the Majestic.

This culminates with a free film showing at the Lac du Chavants in Les Houches on Wednesday 24th August.

and finally at the end of the month, is the Ultratrail du Mont Blanc.

For those that have not heard of this, the UTMB is 2500 runners running 166km around the Tour du Mont Blanc – with the best winning time to beat of 20 hrs 5 mins set by Dawa Sherpa in 2003 (when of the 722 runners in the competition only 67 finished…).