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Mont Blanc : December 24, 2013


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Despite the chilly -23°C this morning, I visited my home hill of Mont Blanc today for some skiing. Mont Blanc, located in Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré, Quebec, is about 15 minutes south of Tremblant and 75 minutes north of Montreal. Offering a theoretical 1000 vertical feet, they bill themselves as Quebec’s most family-friendly ski resort, and offer all the services one would expect of a ski center. They also offer a hotel, slopeside condominiums, a pool, a spa, bar, and a large jungle gym for children. Notably, Mont Blanc completely renovated their cafeteria, in both the food service area and the seating area. Replacing the outdated 1980s-style setup, the cafeteria now offers modern décor, improved seating and storage for belongings, and updated, more health-oriented menus.

Mont Blanc’s claim as a family-friendly center is well founded. They offer 41 trails spread out over 3 distinct mountain sides, as well as 7 modern lifts (3 quads, 2 triples, and 2 magic carpet surface lifts) to make ascensions quick, comfortable, and easy. Their runs range in difficulty from extremely easy to deathly difficult, and they offer something for absolutely everyone: beginners putting on skis for the first time, seasoned mogul skiers, glade lovers, and carving fanatics.

Today, being Christmas Eve and quite chilly, there were very few people out skiing. People must have been shopping, wrapping gifts, or cooking turkey, because they certainly weren’t here! Upon my arrival at 8:15, there were at most 15 cars in the parking lot, and upon my departure at 2:00, the parking lot was no more than half-full. Today, only 2 out of the 3 mountainsides were open. The Mont Blanc side and the Mont Faustin side were both 100% open, for 27 out of 41 runs. The third side, Mont Blanc Nord, which offers skiing for only intermediate and advanced skiers, is not yet open for the season and is currently undergoing intensive snowmaking. Access to the two chairlifts open was instantaneous.In the morning, the weather was quite foggy, but as the day went on, the fog cleared to yield partly sunny conditions. Despite the advent of the sun, the chilly temperature stayed throughout the day.

About 70% of the open trails were groomed, and offered a soft, powdery surface on a firm, manufactured base. There was absolutely no ice, even later in the day, and conditions were perfect for high-speed carving. The other trails were left in their natural state, and featured moguls and abundant natural powder. The glades, although well tracked, had a soft base with very few natural obstacles, which is impressive for this time of year.

One such glade is “Le Kid”. Oddly enough, this glade has an official sign indicating its presence, but is not on the trail map. The “Boulevard”, a intermediate trail normally groomed, was in moguls today. The “Geant”, a wide intermediate giant-slalom type trail, was perfect for high-speed, large radius carving. Normally, this trail is very popular and is full of people, but today, it was practically empty. This was also the case for the “Yodel”, which is normally a popular place for learning skiers old and young alike.

Overall, the abundant natural snow, amazing ski conditions, and very few people at the hill made for a very good ski day. As of now, this seems like it will continue for the rest of the Christmas holidays, since more small snowfalls are forecasted, and no warm or rainy days are foreseeable. If only it gets just a bit warmer!

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    • By Jake
      What a great start to the ski season we have had! Definitely one of the best in recent memory, especially comparing to two years ago, where we had no snow and warm temperatures until almost the end of December. Today was a fantastic ski day at Mont Blanc, and both the temperature and the snow made it feel more like January than a week before Christmas. 
      The morning dawned bright and sunny, with a bright blue sky free of any clouds. What does this mean, in December? Cold! The temperature when I started skiing around 9:00 was around -22, and it only warmed up to -15 by lunchtime. The air was dry, however, and there was no wind, so the cold was very bearable. With 4 layers under my coat and warmers in my hands and feet, I was able to ski for 3 hours without taking a break. 
      The cold weather at Mont Blanc over the past few weeks, in addition to a bunch of new high-performance snow guns this season, has made for great snowmaking opportunities. Although the hill hasn't had massive quantities of natural snowfall, numerous small amounts over the past week have made for beautiful scenery, and has made the base a lot softer than what we are used to at this time of year. While firm, the top layer was soft enough to carve into without slippage of any type, and the surface felt more "snowy" than "frozen" or "icy". On some of the trails that had just opened, there was lots of frozen granular, but I avoided this by simply skiing on the other trails. Some of the other trails had such good conditions that I didn't mind skiing them over and over again, and overall, conditions were fantastic for this time of year. 
      18 out of 43 trails were open, which seems like a record to me. In 12 years of being a season's passholder at Mont Blanc, I can't ever remember having so many options available this early in the season. The majority of the Mont Blanc side was open, apart from the Elephant and the natural snow trails. One of my favorites of the day was the Yodel, which was perfectly groomed with a soft base. Normally this beginner trail is crowded with learners, but in the morning it was pretty empty, so I was able to go fast and carve, without any worries. I also enjoyed the Robert, both for the good quality of snow, as well as the interesting terrain: the trails curves slightly and a varying slope, meaning you always have to pay attention and adjust yourself as the gradient changes. Rounding out my picks on this side were the Geant, Boulevard, and Foret de Mambo. New this year, the Foret de Mambo is a new trail through the trees at the top of the hill near the Yodel. Ranked as intermediate, it has stuffed animals tied to the trees, and is a path-type glade, as opposed to one where you can move anywhere. Despite being short and easy, it was nice to have a glade to ski so early in the season.

      1 & 2: Yodel, 3 & 4: top of Mont Blanc, 5: going up the chairlift on Mont Blanc. 
      The options on Mont Faustin were much more limited, and basically consisted of the Panda, Suisse, and Lynx. Out of these options, the Suisse is normally my favorite, but this time I did most of my skiing on the Panda. I prefer the terrain of the Suisse, but since it was newly open for the season, conditions were a bit too frozen granular for my liking. I tried the Lynx once, but didn't go again because snowmaking on neighbouring trails made visibility poor, and conditions were also frozen granular. In terms of future terrain, snowmaking was in full swing on the Loup and Renard, as well as the North side. If all goes well, the North side should be open very soon, perhaps as soon as this coming weekend. Normally this side opens after Christmas or even in early January, so to have this option during the Christmas vacation will be great. 

      1, 2 & 6: Panda, 3: Suisse, 4: junction of the Suisse and Panda, 5: top of Mont Faustin.
      Predictably, the mountain was not very busy today. With two quad chairlifts in operation, wait times were non-existent, particularly on the Faustin side where sometimes there were only two people in front of me at the lift. There was a pre-season rate in effect for lift tickets, which remains valid until the end of the week. Overall, despite the chilly temperature, I greatly enjoyed my morning at Mont Blanc, due to the large amount of terrain open at this time of year, the good snow conditions, and the bright blue sky. Get your ski stuff out of the basement and dust it off, because this Christmas is shaping up to be one of the best for skiing in years!

    • By Jake
      A busy Fall meant that I started my ski season only this past Saturday. It was one of my latest starts ever, especially compared to last year when I was at Sommet Saint-Sauveur on October 19. The ski season has started off well this year, with plenty of cold temperatures for snowmaking and some natural snowfall. For my second day of the season, I headed to Mont Blanc, my home hill where I spend most of the winter.
      This year, Mont Blanc is celebrating their 60th year in business, having opened in 1957. To mark this milestone, there have been several changes since last year.  Two new grooming machines have been added to the fleet, and upgrades to the snowmaking system were made. The entire main building was repainted blue with wood accents, adding some brightness to the base area. Lastly, the old magic carpet was replaced with a much longer one, increasing the size of the learning area and extending it directly to the base of the mountain.

      I started skiing early on Christmas morning at Mont Blanc, and the ski hill was very quiet.  It was a perfect day, in terms of weather, snow, and available terrain. In stark contrast to last year, a total of 15 trails were open on the Blanc and Faustin sides. On the Mont Blanc side, the main trails available were, among others, the Yodel, Mambo, Robert, and Géant, and on Mont Faustin, the Raton Laveur, Suisse, Panda, and Lynx were open for skiing.

      All natural snow trails and glades were closed, but should be skiable after the next snowfall. The small unnamed glade at the top of Mont Faustin was skiable with good coverage, and I enjoyed going through many times. Snow guns were operating on other closed trails, which means these will open soon, but the big news is the opening of Mont Blanc Nord today, December 26. Normally this side of the mountain only opens sometime in January, and this opening is the earliest in a long time.

      The weather was perfect on Christmas day. The temperature was about -10 in the morning, which is not warm but certainly not enough to need tons of layers and hand warmers. By the afternoon, it had warmed up to -5, which made things very comfortable, and the perfectly blue sky and shining sun was appreciated.  Some snow guns were also operating on open trails, but never really disturbed skiers or created a safety hazard. 10 cm of snow fell on Saturday, which meant the base was soft and slightly powdery. This meant there was a smooth, gliding feeling under your skis, rather than a granular or icy base that is sometimes present in December due to the large amounts of artificial snow being made.
      The weather for today isn't the most promising, and might lead to unstable conditions for the next few days. It's currently freezing rain outside, with rain forecasted for overnight. Tomorrow looks to be above freezing, with a return to seasonal temperatures on Wednesday. If possible, wait until Thursday or Friday to ski, as the groomers will have had a chance to restore trail conditions, and we'll hopefully get some natural snowfall.

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