For Savoie and the Northern French Alps

Spring skiing conditions, but could be more wintry next week!

Lovely smooth spring snow conditions are now in place, so follow our tips below on where to find them. Many slopes away from the first warming effects of the sun are hardened first thing, softening up as the day goes on. With warmer temperatures to come, the snow will be becoming pretty heavy and slushy in the afternoon.

There’s little cold powder snow (if any) to be found anymore, though we could possibly be getting some snowfall around Wednesday. The weather looks more unsettled from then on, with temperatures possibly dropping. It’s all very unclear at the moment, but we always enjoy a bit of fresh snow and the new options it brings!

Off-Piste Snow & Weather 28 March 2019
Off-Piste Snow Depths Haute Tarentaise, Savoie c/o Meteo France

Off-piste snow depths in the northern French Alps are right for the time of season, with higher altitude resorts faring better than lower ones. Most pistes are in great shape, thanks to the hard work of the piste services.

For the next few days, we’re looking at virtually identical snow and weather conditions to those we have now! It’s looking more unsettled from about Wednesday, with a possibility of fresh snow and temperatures dropping. However, for the next few days at least the high-pressure weather system will continue, bringing more blue sky days and (hopefully) cold nights to get a good refreeze. Powder hounds may be disappointed, but the lovely sunshine and smooth spring snow is a good substitute!

The snowpack’s now become really solid following warm days with plenty of snowmelt and then good overnight refreezes. The avalanche risk is currently very low, around 1 below 2500m, 2 in some places. It’s likely to remain that way unless we get significant warming or fresh snow.

It’s worth recapping on what we mean by ‘spring snow’. It’s the lovely smooth, soft snow that occurs in spring after a few melt-freeze cycles or snowfall, not the thick afternoon slush or rock hard morning snow that we also find in spring! Off-piste spring snow is one of the best things that the Northern French Alps has to offer. With lift access to all slope orientations: east, south, west and then north, you can find it and have fun with little effort.

Following a few proper ‘melt-freeze’ cycles, like we’ve had, the top snow layer starts forming a crust that deepens and strengthens after each melt, allowing free water to drip down and re-freeze during the night. (One melt-freeze cycle is where the snow melts during the day and then freezes at night). If untouched, the top of the frozen layer is smooth and solid first thing in the morning. It softens as the day goes on, melting in the warm sun and increased temperatures.

The softening process starts on east facing slopes which receive the sun first. It moves onto the south, then the west facing ones, following the sun’s movement. (North facing slopes at 2500+ metres don’t normally get a melt freeze layer until late April, due to lack of sun).

The trick for skiing spring snow is to ski the slope when the snow surface is smooth and solid with only 2 or 3 cm of soft melted snow on top. So follow the movement of the sun, starting on east facing slopes when the lifts open at 9 am. Then move to south facing slopes, then west. Do this right and get some of the best skiing of the season.

You need to get off those slopes when the snow surface begins to get too soft and mushy or you’ll start breaking through. It’s important not to ski these slopes when they become soft and mushy because :

  • It’s dangerous for your knees.
  • The slope may become unstable due to all the melting. Then avalanches can be a problem on these sunny slopes.
  • You will leave nasty ruts in the snow which will ruin its quality for everyone who wants to ski it the next day.

If we do receive any fresh snow around Wednesday or so, it would be best to stick to the colder north-facing slopes and enjoy the fresh powder. Leave the sunnier slopes alone, so that they can go through the cycle of returning to spring snow conditions.

Off-piste weather forecast for 28 March – 5 April

Grand Soleil in a blue sky, sometimes with some isolated Cumulus in the afternoon. The wind from Northeast to East at altitude continues to weaken (40 then 20 km / h). After general frosts, the atmosphere becomes more lenient and maximum temperatures reach, in the best exposures, 16 degrees to 1000 m, 3 to 5 degrees to 2000 m and -3 degrees to 3000 m.

isothermal 0 degree: 1500 then 2100 m.
isothermal -10 degrees: around 3900 m.
Wind at 2500 m: NORTHEAST 20 km / h then EAST at SOUTH 5 at 10 km / h.
Wind at 4000 m: NORTHEAST EAST 40 then 20 to 30 km / h.

The few clouds disappear for a starry sky.
The wind becomes weak almost everywhere. The minimum temperatures are 0 to 2 degrees to 1000 m, -3 to -7 degrees to 2000 m and -6 to -8 degrees to 3000 m.

Grand Soleil with always the possibility of small Cumulus in the afternoon, as in Vanoise or on the Italian border. The wind is weak from south to east (isolated bursts 40 km / h near Italy). After the frosts, the temperatures creep a few degrees with maximum, in the best exposures, from 16 to 18 degrees to 1000 m, 3 to 6 degrees to 2000 m and -3 degrees to 3000 m (isothermal 0 degree around 2200 m) .

Grand Beau Temps with sunshine all day long (rare Cumulus clouds). The wind is weak from South to East (20 km / h). Temperatures change from 0/2 to 16/18 degrees to 1000 m and from -3 / -6 to 4/7 degrees to 2000 m (isothermal 0 degree between 2200 and 2400 m).

Sunday, the sun is dominant some clouds. Weak wind and stationary temperatures, pleasant afternoon
Monday, weak disturbance of South to Southwest with still sun and cloudy passages. Temperatures drop a little with 2/4 and then 15/16 degrees at 1000 m.

Tuesday, the wind from South to South-west with disturbance for the end of the day. Probable precipitation in the night with snow falling towards 1400 then 600/800 m. Temperatures lose another one or two degrees.
Wednesday, cold, unstable with reliefs often covered and frequent showers, in the form of snow from 600 m. Temperatures drop well below average.

Clearly more uncertain with either a Retour d’Est or an unstable weather with showers. The cold continues with low temperatures for the season, moving from 1/3 to only 10/12 degrees in plain and -1 / -2 to 7/9 degrees to 1000 m. To be continued.

Tip of the week

Continue to follow our tips above to find the best spring snow skiing.