It's all over now at Les Houches. What an amazing season we have had, with the best snow cover for fifteen years, an early opening, and a repeat of last year with powder snow to ski on the closing weekend. Saturday was awesome and, although Sunday suffered from bad visibility most of the time, a handful of loyal Les Houches enthusiasts enjoyed good piste conditions at the top. A few of the crazier souls skied back to the village in spite of the scant cover and water-ski conditions at the bottom of the (closed) home runs.
Overall, conditions could not have been better at Les Houches this season. Now only Flegere and Argentiere remain open. Flegere closes next weekend on the 28th of April, but Argentiere continues until the 12th of May. There will certainly be a few more powder mornings on Les Grands Montets before the Chamonix valley ski season ends.
Les Houches enjoyed an increase in skier numbers in spite of a general softening of the number of visitors to the Alps in general. Hopefully it will not become too popular and will remain the hidden gem of the Chamonix valley. The Compagnie Mont Blanc have big plans to improve the slopes and upgrade the lift system and, if the financial conditions allow it, may go ahead with the work this summer. See you next winter.
Remember that there are 9 mountain restaurants on the slopes of Les Houches, three of which are arguably the very best in the whole Chamonix valley. So, if your skiing involves eating, this is a good place to be. The Kitch Inn at the bottom of the Bellevue cable car is very lively for apres-ski (and you can have a full English breakfast here before riding the lift right up to my 'secret' powder area).
Eric Jacquier has opened a new branch of his patisseries just opposite the Prarion lift and you can stand inside at small tables and enjoy truly superb coffee and a wonderful breakfast pastry before crossing the road to ride the gondolas. Delicious and good value for money too!
To continue this resort report's bias towards the gastronomical, I have to mention one of the best restaurants in nearby Courmayeur is the Rifugio La Maison Vieille. This is Heston Blumenthal's favourite ski-restaurant so don't simply take my word for this endorsement. If you venture through the tunnel to Italy you will find a resort with even more eating possibilities than Les Houches.
Les Houches is a small area and yet perfectly formed. The reason that so much race-training and instructor-assessment happens here is that this is where you can find the best piste-skiing in the Chamonix valley, and the extensive snow-making is particularly effective in an area that remains very deeply shaded until late February. Off-piste opportunities can also be excellent especially when poor visibility or huge crowds adversely affect the higher resorts in the valley. Nearby Domaine de Balme is probably the best for powder days if visibility is good, while Les Grands Montets gives access to maximum-adventure off-piste, but does tend to attract huge crowds after any dump of powder.
Come and ski here soon. Bring your close friends, but don't tell everyone!