For Savoie and Northern French Alps

Great skiing, but watch out for significant avalanche danger over the next few days with significant snowfall expected

Low-pressure weather systems remain in charge over the Alps until Sunday delivering more snow, especially on Friday and Saturday. Fluctuating temperatures will make for unstable conditions below 2000m. A weak layer makes the snowpack unstable higher up. On Monday, the high pressure kicks in delivering more stable weather. So intermittent sunshine expected from Monday. Possible further snow the following weekend.

Instability is predicted for all aspects and altitudes. (Danger rating 4 in Savoie as we write this report). So read the bulletin everyday and make your own observations of avalanche activity.

Off Piste Snow & Weather Report 31 Jan to 7 Feb
Great snow cover Off-Piste Depths for the Haute Tarentaise c:o Meteo France

We’ve been enjoying some fantastic off-piste conditions over the last few days. With regular top-ups of fresh snow and continuing cold temperatures, the snow has been light and powdery. Visibility has been variable, but we’ve had some epic off-piste days!

Off-Piste Snow & Weather 31 Jan - 8 Feb 2019
Wind & Snow. Wayne Watson photo

Over the last few days, the avalanche risk has sometimes been pushed up to a 4, making a very strong statement. However, there have not been a lot of avalanche accidents involving humans, as we might have expected. Very sadly, a pisteur was killed by an avalanche on Wednesday whilst patrolling an off-piste sector in La Plagne. See a report on the PisteHors website. However, at the time of writing, we haven’t heard of any other serious avalanche accidents this week in the N French Alps.

Don’t let this lead you into assuming everything is safe, though. See Henry’s previous blog: NOTHING HAPPENS… most of the time. Henry warns us that the snowpack has developed a ‘psycho’ nature, and will potentially be very dangerous indeed when we get fresh snow landing on top of it.

He likens the current situation to that of the Tignes avalanche in February 2017, killing 4 snowboarders. At that time there wasn’t a lot of avalanche activity going on, and the risk that day was 3 out of 5. In interview, Dominique Létang, Director of ANENA, the French Association for the Study of Snow and Avalanches, referred to a persistent weak layer in the snowpack, which had developed following continued cold temperatures….. In other words, the snowpack and cold weather conditions were just like the situation we have now!

We’re due significant top-ups of fresh snow and wind-blown accumulations over the next few days. All areas of the N French Alps (i.e. Savoie, Haute-Savoie and Isère) are likely to receive 30 – 60 cm of new snow. All these areas have a problem with persistent weak layers of faceted grains (sugar snow) in their snowpacks. With fresh snow loading up on top of these persistently weak layers, things will really start to kick off. The video and comments that Henry made on Monday will probably be more relevant over the next few days than they were when he made them!

Off-piste weather forecast for 31 Jan to 8 Feb

Mountain conditions are deteriorating. They become dangerous with the mildness to 1500-2000 meters on some massive, risk of avalanche perhaps maximum with a large spontaneous avalanche in the night. The snow falls at low altitude, about 600-700 meters quantities close to 20 to 30cm to 2000 meters, 40-50cm in Maurienne. During the night around 04-05h, the wind switches south. Foehn-Lombard winds may take a few hours, drier weather. Gusts of wind are close to 60 to 100 km / h. Minimum temperatures 0 to -4 to 1000 meters, -1 to -8 to 2000 meters and -9 to -14 to 3000 meters.

Heavy snow (some rain on Maurienne, Beaufortain …) a fluctuating snow limit from one zone to another, often 600-700 meters inland and 1500-2000 massive masses meters elsewhere. The quantities are close to 50-70cm to 2000 meters in Maurienne, 15 to 50cm elsewhere according to the strength of the foehn (which promises to be uncertain). The risk of avalanche is sometimes very high. No improvement before the night.
0 ° C: 200, 800 and 1800 meters then 200, 800 and 2200 meters.
Isotherm -10 ° C: up to 3800 meters
Wind at 2500 m: Southwest to South to Southeast 40 to 100 km / h.
Wind at 4000 m: South to South 100 to 130 km / h.

The conditions in the mountains improve with the return of a few clearings in the morning then the clouds come back the afternoon with some snow flurries at 1200-1400 meters. The quantities are close to 5 to 15cm around 2000 meters. 0C is around 1700 meters. Always a little foehn-Lombardy at 50/60 km / h.

Sunday many clouds and showers will linger. It will snow on the relief at rather low altitude. These showers will fade at the end of the day. Monday morning clouds or greyness will give way to thinning.

On Tuesday, early morning cracks and clouds will allow some clearing. Wednesday cloudy and clear will be on the program.

Quiet weather with morning greyness which will o dissipate.

Tip of the week

Read and embrace the message of Henry’s previous blog: NOTHING HAPPENS… most of the timebecause the persistent weak layer in the snowpack is so psycho.

We’ll be getting more snow over the next few days, which will be enough to bring things to a tipping point, so be very careful out there.

See our descriptions of what all the avalanche danger ratings mean.