Off-Piste Snow and Weather 21-28 Feb 2019

For Savoie and Northern French Alps

Sunny and very mild for this time of season

High pressure stays in charge until the end of February. It will continue to be very sunny and even milder. We expect to see a change around 3rd 4th March, to cooler weather with some snow. Skiing conditions on piste are good, although very busy. French half term holidays continue until 9th March. By skiing the pistes between 12 and 2 o’clock, you can avoid the worst of the crowds.

Off-Piste Snow & Weather Report 21 Feb 2019
Continued blue skies and warm temperatures. Wayne Watson photo

Regarding the off-piste, we’re walking quite a long way to reach any untracked snow. It’s always an adventure venturing out to see what we may find. Options are getting more limited with lack of fresh snowfall, but by playing with different slope exposures some nice skiing can still be found, usually mixed in with some difficult bits too.

The best conditions are on shaded North facing slopes above 2400 m or so. Here, we’ve still sometimes been able to find patches of cold ‘winter’ snow. This will become more and more scarce as temperatures rise though.

Thanks to snowfall in January and the start of this month, snow depths are currently still pretty good for the time of season. There is a lot of melting going on though, and higher altitude resorts are faring better than lower ones.

The wind has often hardened and densified the snow, making it very tricky to ski. There are also areas of windslab that we need to avoid. At these higher altitudes there is often a thin surface crust first thing in the morning, which melts during the day and then refreezes overnight.

On sunny South’ish facing slopes, especially lower ones below 2400 m, the snowpack has become very humidified due to melting in the warm temperatures. These slopes are often rock-hard first thing in the morning, softening up as the day goes on. We’re not quite into ‘spring snow’ conditions yet, but we get the feeling that they’re not far away. Lower altitude resorts may be starting to experience these nice spring snow conditions already.

Tignes avalanche that crossed a road

There are very few cold dry slabs that could be triggered by a skier or group of skiers, but following a prolonged spate of mild temperatures and sunshine, and with higher temperatures ahead (0°C at 3500 m in the day on Saturday), we’ll continue to see a significant number of full-depth natural avalanches occurring. We’ve seen the aftermath of quite a few of these over the last few days, including some which have come down onto roads. They’re happening on all slope directions below 2000 m and the more South facing ones as you go further up the mountain. Most of these slides have occurred in the afternoon (even quite early in the afternoon) due to rapid warming.

Even though natural wet snow avalanches account for a very small amount of human injuries and deaths, we really do need to watch out for them. It looks like this is what happened in Crans Montana.

Off-piste weather forecast for 21 Feb to 1 March

In the mountains, clear sky on all the massifs. The north wind winds up in altitude (gusts 60 km / h from 3000/3500 m). The minimum temperatures are around -1 to -2 degrees around 1000 m and -2 to -6 degrees from 2000 to 3000 m.

Very sunny in a sky barely covered by some cloudy filaments. The north wind becomes strong and unpleasant at altitude (gusts 60 to 80 km / h beyond 3000/3500 m). After the morning frosts, the maximum temperatures keep a good level for the season with still 13 to 15 degrees to 1000 m and 5 to 8 degrees to 2000 m (isothermal 0 degree above 3000 m).

Very sunny with some banks of high clouds in the afternoon and early evening. The north wind weakens a bit but remains locally unpleasant (bursts 60 km / h from 3000 m). Temperatures change from -1 / -2 to 12/14 degrees to 1000 m and 0 / -4 to 5/8 degrees to 2000 m (isothermal 0 degree close to 3400 m).

Anticyclonic conditions with sun and almost blue sky in the mountains and inland valleys (banks of high clouds). The north wind is clearly weakening everywhere. Temperatures are stationary with 2/4 then 15 degrees in plain and 0 / -2 then 13/15 degrees to 1000 m (isothermal 0 degree above 3000 m).

The high pressures continues, maintaining a very sunny time on the massifs The wind becomes weak and temperatures take the opportunity to regain some degrees, moving from -1/2 to 16/18 degrees up to 1000 m.

The anticyclone weakens with a weak flow from north to northwest and more uncertain weather or moments of sun and cloudy periods alternate in the sky. Temperatures drop a bit, while staying well above average. To confirm.

Tip of the week

Don’t find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even though wet snow avalanches are predictable and only account for a very small number of avalanche accidents, we still need to watch out for them. Watch your timings, and be very cautious about venturing onto South-facing slopes on warm sunny afternoons. Similarly, never go on a closed piste. At this time of year it is usually closed because of avalanche danger.