Off-Piste Snow and Weather


Savoie and northern French Alps

The big news is that it is going to get colder and we are expecting significant snowfall over the weekend especially on Sunday. The drop in temperature starts on Friday night and next week we will see freezing levels down at 300 to 800m whereas during this last week the freezing level was much higher between 2000m and 3000m.

The weather looks brighter on Tuesday and Wednesday, after that we will enter a prolonged period of unsettled weather and generally cold to very cold. This will continue up to and beyond Christmas. There will be bright spells in between the snow and clouds. But we are expecting a northerly and northwesterly flow of air bringing regular snow and clouds and cold weather.

Off-Piste Snow & Weather

Loving the off-piste. Chris Souillac photo

While off-piste snow depths are currently quite sketchy below 2400 m, the new snowfalls will change all that.

We’ve had a very mixed bag of off-piste conditions this past week. The wind’s been playing a massive role, blowing the snow around the mountain. In exposed areas and mountain tops, the snow’s become dense and crusted, if not blown off altogether. Conditions have been a lot more consistent a little lower down at around 2800 m, where it’s a bit more sheltered, and we’ve sometimes even ended up with a surprise bonus 15 to 20 cm of fresh powder. We have found some great snow up around 3000 m though. It’s always worth going out there to see what you might find!

After mild conditions and rain at the beginning of this past week, it’s now getting colder and snow conditions are improving.

The rain-snow limit has recently been at around 2400-2500 m (give or take based on local microclimates). Below 2500 the snowpack conditions have become a lot more stable due to the snowpack ‘humidified’ by the rain – compacted down and refrozen.

Avalanche on Toviere

Dataavalanche.org report of avalanches triggered by the piste patrol under the Tommeuse lift in Val d’Isere

At higher altitudes above the rain/snow limit, it’s much less stable. There’s been significant natural avalanche activity over the last few days, with slabs popping out and releasing. Some big slopes have slid. Henry reports that most of this activity seems to be localised i.e. not entire slopes coming down, but slab releases big enough to be dangerous. He’s noticed recent avalanche activity above 2400 m on all slope orientations. The primary reason for all this diverse avalanche activity is a sensitive weak cohesionless layer of  ‘faceted grains’ on all aspects /all slope orientations above this 2400 m threshold – this also confirmed by reports from piste patrollers. This will make for a particularly unstable and dangerous snowpack during and after the snowfalls.

Off-Piste Snow & Weather

Slabs popping out. Chris Souillac photo

Once the snow comes, we’ll be staying mostly on slopes less steep than 30°. If we do decide to enter into areas that have slopes steeper than 30°, it will be after a lot of thought and discussion. We will then be sticking with the decision making and risk reduction HAT Framework: avoiding all terrain traps, keeping our distances between each other as we ski, stopping at islands of safety and generally looking out for each other.

The daily avalanche bulletins are now starting to appear, and are full of vital information. Always check them before you go off-piste, talk to the pisteurs, and look what’s happening for yourself….. Val d’Isère’s avalanche risk today is estimated at 2 on the European scale of 5, but this was a 3/5 yesterday and will rise with any significant fresh snowfall accompanied by wind. See our descriptions of what all the avalanche danger ratings mean.

 

 

Detailed off-piste snow and weather forecast for 7 – 15 Dec

FRIDAY DECEMBER 7
In the morning, some clouds around 3000-4000 meters cross the Tarentaise and Beaufortain then the sun prevails during the day. After 17-19h, the clouds cover the summits, the wind gets stronger (gusts 60-80 km / h) and snowfall starts above 2000-2200 meters then the snow/rain limit drops to 1300-1500 meters at night (quantities close to 5 to 20cm at 2000 meters Saturday morning).
0 ° C: up to 3100 meters.
-10 ° C: up to 5200 meters.
Wind at 2500 m: calm then west to northwest 10 to 20 then 20 to 40 km / h.
Wind at 4000 m: West to North West 40 to 50 then 60 to 70 km / h.

SATURDAY 8 DECEMBER
In the mountains, conditions remain windy (gusts 50 to 80 km / h from 2000-2500 meters). Cloud and snow with some clearings, Isotherm 0 to 1100-1300 meters. Some flurries fall at times up to 800 meters (a little less than 5-10cm around 2000 meters).

SUNDAY DECEMBER 9
In the mountains, the conditions remain unsettled. Expect a storm (gusts 100 to 150 km / h from 2500 meters) with snowfall on and off. Initially snow from 600-700 meters then from 1800 to 1900 meters then down to 1000 meters. Some places will have snow all day (about 30-50cm at 2000 meters).

MONDAY 10 AND TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER
Some snow and showers until Tuesday at midday; then expect the sun to come back The rain-snow limit is 900 to 1200 meters. Wind variable and light but some strong gusts.

WEDNESDAY 12 AND THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13
Mostly sunny, then chances of rain and snow. The rain-snow boundary is in the valleys
Weak wind, variable.

FRIDAY 14 AND SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15
Chance of snow and showers. The rain-snow limit is 300 to 700 meters.

Tip of the week

Read the avalanche bulletin. There’s a lot of new snow in the weather forecast for the next 7 days. And it will get much colder. The avalanche bulletin reports that there are faceted grains of snow in a weak layer under some slabs above 2500m. So read the avalanche bulletin to see how this develops as the new snow falls. In many places, it will fall on a weak layer. It is important to understand where the weak layer exists. This will determine the stability of the new snowpack during and after the new/recent snowfalls.

 

Enjoy the fresh snow. Safety is Freedom!