Summer skiing on a glacier in France
For those who cannot wait until winter, skiing during the summer remains a possibility. In France, there are 3 glaciers open during the summer months for alpine skiing.
On the Grande Motte Glacier, the Tignes summer ski area stretches between 3000 and 3456m above sea level, with 20 kilometers of slopes, 11 lifts, slalom stadiums, a snowpark with a half-pipe, Mogul ski stadiums and a dozen tracks open to the public. The small glacier of Pissaillas, the highest point of the Val d’Isère ski area, offers the possibility of skiing from between 2700 and 3200m above sea level. Finally, Les 2 Alpes is home to the largest skiable glacier in Europe …
Summer skiing in Les 2 Alpes
At Les 2 Alpes, you can ski on the Mont-de-Lans glacier from between 2825 and 3566m altitude (Dome of the Lauze), which is more than 700 meters of descent. The ski area in summer appeals to many; from beginners to experts and freestylers. Les 2 Alpes has an internationally renowned snow park with a half-pipe. The summer ski area includes:
- 17 lifts: 2 gondola lifts, 1 cable car, 2 chairlifts, 8 ski lifts, 2 snow wires, 1 funicular and 1 inclined lift.
- 90 ha of groomed trails (120 ha on the glacier): 9 blue runs, 1 green run and 1 red run, open daily from 7:15 to 12:30 from late June to late August.
In my opinion, beyond the technical features of the ski area, there are two points make this glacier an essential destination for summer skiing in Europe. First of all, the magnificent landscape that stretches out from the top of the dome, with a view of the Massif des Ecrins.
And then, for skiing enthusiasts, there is the possibility to descend the Signal track, usually open until the end of July. Starting from the summit of the Dome of Puy Salié, at an altitude of 3421m, the descent stretches down more than 2.5km and leads to the red sector of the Signal trail (Signal 3) and then to the lowest point of the domain, at 2825m. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful summer trails in Europe!
Snow management on Les 2 Alpes Glacier
Many techniques are employed to keep as much snow as possible on Les 2 Alpes glacier, all to guarantee the quality and skiability. Glacier leader Arnaud Guerrand and his teams assess the condition of the glacier daily and use this information to optimize the management of the snow and find a way to cope with the effects of global warming. Due to a decrease in snowfall and higher temperatures, the snow no longer has time to turn into ice and so the number of glaciers has also decreased. Les 2 Alpes glacier is no exception this accelerated melting, losing 1 to 2m of ice a year in places where it is no longer covered with snow. “Given that its current thickness is about 60m, if we take no action, in thirty years, it will be gone,” said Arnaud. What solutions are put in place to counter this seemingly inevitable phenomenon?
Firstly, the condition of the glacier and its melting speed needs to be monitored regularly because the conditions can vary year to year. Summer 2017 was particularly difficult, with low snow depth and a very fast melting snow as early as June. The current summer has much more favorable snow conditions. For example, the current height of snow groomed above 3200m is 215cm, compared to a height of 85cm at the same time in 2017. A new tool for measuring snow thicknesses was recently set up: systems embedded in the groomers which measure the thicknesses using differential GPS (Snowsat system). This allows for fairly detailed maps of snow cover and accurate estimates of the melting rate over the entire glacier surface.
Equipment used on the glacier include linear barriers and snow traps. From this is it possible to capture the snow transported by wind and to maximize the snow volumes stored on the tracks. Grooming machines are another crucial tool used for snow conservation; it is indeed important to reinforce the most delicate areas by increasing the snow depth with the help of snow groomers (bubbling work). The densification of the snow also makes it possible to increase the penetration of the cold in the deepest layers of the snowpack (night refreezing). Finally, smooth and clean snow can limit solar radiation and therefore limit the melting speed.
Snow production on Les 2 Alpes Glacier
In 2017 it was decided to install six snow guns along the ski lift Puy-Salié, between 3200 and 3400m, to complete this set of strategies to preserve the state of the ice cap. These snow guns draw in a 35,000m3 of melting lake that has been forming for about ten years at the bottom of the glacial domain and lined with about 4 ha of artificial snow and about 4 ha of ski slopes located on the glacier. This closed circuit therefore replicates the cycle of nature and returns the glacier to its natural form with snow crystals acting as a blanket protecting the ice from radiation. This investment cost the resort about €800,000 and represents a world first, because snow guns have never been stowed on living ice and at such an altitude.
Thanks to the combination of all these elements to collect and keep maximum snow coverage on the ice cap, Les 2 Alpes Glacier now guarantees very good conditions for summer skiing. It remains to be seen how many more seasons these techniques will cope with the gradual disappearance of the icy surface.
A good ski season to all,
PhD, researcher in snow physics at Météo-France – CNRS, CNRM, Center for Snow Studies, Grenoble
Ski instructor ESF
Scientific consultant for Dianeige
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