Powder. Lots of it. It was the news everybody in Val d’Isère had been waiting for after ten days of near-continuous sunshine and mild temperatures. Overnight, snow clouds drifting over from the Italian side of the mountain – known locally as the ‘retour d’Est’ – has deposited 15 cm of fresh stuff on the hill and 50cm on the Pisaillas glacier. But as snow hounds were reaching for their fat planks, further news came through: residual high winds meant the lifts on the upper parts of the resort would not open today and the glacier would remain shut. Perfect day, then, to rediscover nearby off-piste areas that had become tracked out and icy beyond skiable – and where else to go other than the magnificent Laisinant forest.
The north-facing Fornet and Laisinant forests have become popular off-piste ski areas, especially on low-visibility days. And when the pistes all around get too icy, the snow under the trees often remains reasonably powdery.
But the terrain can be unpredictable. There are steep slopes with tall, densely growing conifers, cliffs, narrow gulleys, and inviting snow pillows that conceal rocks and treacherous tree stumps.
Today, the wind and poor light kept fair-weather mountaineers away. There was the odd snowboarder or skier; the snow was soft. Occasionally the wind dropped and the sun made an appearance.
For a whole morning and until early afternoon, looping around on the one Laisinant chairlift, it was a matter of cutting sweet curves on the treeless upper runs, finding some nice lines through the forest, and remembering where the cliffs were.