Throughout January and February many of our Ski Weekender guests have arrived fearing the worst having read the headlines of “No Snow in the Alps”.
It’s been a pleasant surprise for all of our Karibuni Ski Team to reassure them that it’s going to be OK. We have been able to say that with some confidence (and a little smugness) as we have had the pistes of Grand Bornand to back us up!
Throughout our sunny and snow-free January the skiing conditions in
Le Grand Bornand have been absolutely top notch and the pistes in great condition. Of course we’re bound to say that I hear you cry – but its not just us. Our many guests have loved it and raved about how well the pistes were groomed and how pleasantly surprised they have been by the conditions given the lack of fresh snowfall for some 4 weeks.
Quite a number of people have asked us how they have achieved this despite such challenging conditions – so I thought I should share the reasons why Grand Bo’s pistes have been in top condition for weeks on end and what sets it apart from other resorts.
A good deal of the resort is north facing and so the sunshine does not have the warming effect that was clearly evident on the green south facing slopes where the power of the sun’s rays had been fully absorbed causing the snow to melt quicker. The whole of the Maroly valley and most of the Chinaillon sectors are north facing so have this lovely reflective effect which bounces away the suns rays. This is one of the reasons why a month of sunshine left the slopes still snowy.
Added to this is another physical reason which is all bizarrely linked in to your Tartiflette lunch!
The vast majority of the slopes in the Grand Bornand ski area are used during the summer months as pasture land for grazing cows. A lot of work goes into ensuring that these cows eat the best grass possible as the best grass makes the best milk, which makes the best cheese. And the cheese that everyone makes around here is the highly regarded “Reblochon Fermier”. This cheese is what’s melted over your cooked potatoes and bacon bits to make the classic skiing lunch of tartiflette!
The large extent of grass pasture land means that we don’t need as much snow depth as many resorts to make a good coverage fit for skiing. If your hills are covered in 50cm rocky and lumpy bits then you are going to need at least 80cm of snow depth to make sure you can ski on it – but if the snow is covering a nice smooth grassy slope then a simple 30cms of snow pack will do nicely! In Grand Bornand we are glad to report that there are very few stones, rocks or gravelly bits to come through the pistes and scratch your skis.
Who would have thought the cows would be quite so important?
Of course you could have these conditions and still not make great skiing pistes – so a huge amount of credit goes to the whole team of piste-bashers and slope technicians who ensured that the facilities worked well to provide us with snow when nature refused. The network of snow cannons is extensive and covers all the main areas, including the high areas and the tops of the runs. Consequently they have made snow wherever they needed it the most – managing the supply of artificial snow around the resort to fill in any patches and make sure the important linking runs all stayed white and very skiable.
2 years ago they increased the reservoir capacity for Grand Bornand with the construction of a huge reservoir cleverly hidden in the Maroly valley. This meant that for 3 weeks of cold weather they were able to churn out snow right across the network of 146 snow cannons and never run out… (not the case in many other resorts!)
The modern piste-bashing machines (‘dameuse’ in French) were also used to great effect. Their ultra-manoeuvrable scoops and shovels on the front allowed the skilled workers to scrape snow onto the piste from the surrounding areas (all those nice grassy areas again making a difference). As you skied down you could see their handiwork where the top layer of snow had been scraped off to top up the pistes. The true art is to steal the top snow layers and yet leave a white snowy cover to reflect the sun’s rays and prevent any further melting. Many times we pointed out to guests the care and attention that had been used to achieve this all across the resort. No mean feat when you think that most pistes are a kilometre or so long and you start to appreciate that one guy has put a lot of time and attention into the small hours of the night to make your day more enjoyable.
We have already explained that due to the cows Grand Bo can cope with a thinner snow base than some other areas – but you have to protect this from the damaging blades and tracks of the piste basher machines. In Grand Bornand they do that by using a lot of self-winching piste bashers which attach themselves on to secured anchors hidden around the hillsides. Using these they can pull themselves up and down the slopes using their large roof based winches. This means the tracks and blades don’t need to dig so deep to grip and so don’t churn up the snow underneath, keeping it in much better condition and preventing any stones from coming to the surface.
Another important factor to mention quickly is that on the whole it’s a quiet and undiscovered resort so there are less people scraping that snow around and causing it to deteriorate. During January that ensured that the conditions remained superb for weeks on end… just right for us and our guests who knew that Grand Bornand was a good place to be!
In summary – the resort of Grand Bornand is blessed with a few factors making good snow conditions a possibility but it’s the clever use of technology and some wise investments that have really paid off. It’s not a massive resort with big budgets, but it has been very clever and strategic in its planning on what’s really important and how to make the best of the conditions you have… a lesson that perhaps some of the bigger resort could learn a thing or two from!
Written by Paul