Snow storms dying out over the weekend. Sunny and warm next week with great skiing.
It’s been a week of cold temperatures and plenty of snowfall. Snow conditions are currently excellent in the N French Alps and surrounding areas (indeed throughout most of the Alps). More snowfall is due today (Friday), dying out on Saturday – all through the Alps but mainly on the Western side. We are now able to ski down to altitudes of 1000 m or lower with snow depths deeper than normal for the time of season (a dramatic change from even a week ago, when we were wrecking our skis on hidden rocks). With an avalanche danger level of 4 out of 5 most of the week, we’ve been taking it easy and staying mainly on and around slope angles below 30°. The snow falling at the time of this writing is going to maintain the 4 to 5 danger level at least through Saturday and maybe into Sunday (mainly in the N French Alps and areas most hit by the big snowfalls) due to the storm related avalanche danger – known in the profession as ‘storm (slab) avalanches’ and some times ‘direct action avalanche’ which is the avalanche activity during and just after (about 24 hours) the snow/weather event. After this last big storm, and the direct – storm avalanche activity, the avalanche danger will drop significantly on Sunday and Monday thanks to the warming temperatures. The warming temperatures will contribute to a brief, maybe intense, cycle of instability / avalanche activity, but the net effect will be a solid stabilising of the snowpack for at least the next week. See Henry’s video below for his overview.
From Monday onwards we’re going to see wall to wall sunshine. A high pressure weather system is coming in. Temperatures will rise markedly on Sunday and will continue like this for the rest of the week – very mild for the time of season.
In the past week, it’s been very cold with some poor visibility days interspersed with beautiful sunny ones. The N wind has been howling at times. The off-piste snow quality is very dense in places, but fantastically light in others (particularly where it’s sheltered from the wind). With these quantities of fresh snow, any initial early season snowpack instability due to the very thin base layer, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. While we were skiing off-piste yesterday, we saw some chamois running through the deep snow high above us, but not releasing any snow slides – a reassuring sign that things are now stabilising.
Temperatures look to rise considerably from Sunday onwards (with 0° C predicted at 3000 m). With this warmer weather we’ll see an initial phase of snowpack instability which will manifest itself most probably in the form of natural fresh/wet snow avalanches in many places just after the snowfalls. However, the net effect is that snowpack stability will improve, as long as the less cold snow (and water-saturated snowpack at altitudes lower than 1500m) will settle and bond more significantly, basically glueing itself together. See our blog about wet snow avalanches for more on this.
Of course, these warmer temperatures won’t make for the best quality of off-piste snow, as far as skiers are concerned. It will be pretty heavy and hard work on the knees, especially at warmer lower altitudes.
What is the current avalanche danger level in the Northern French Alps/Savoie?
With an avalanche danger level varying between 3 to 4 out of 5 most of the past week, we’ve been taking it easy and staying mainly on slope angles below 30°. As we write on Friday 10th, it is 4/5.
With temperatures warming up from Sunday onwards, we’ll see a period of initial instability with a lot of natural wet snow avalanche activity. This will eventually result in improved snow stability, however (see above).
Where is most at risk at the moment?
Steep slopes with terrain traps beneath them are always going to be particularly at risk (see our Accident Reduction Framework). This week, with the considerable depths of snow we’ve received, all slopes have been at risk. We’ve mainly been sticking with the ‘low hanging fruit’, and remaining cautious of the slopes steeper than 30°.
How does the forecast look for the coming week?
Another big snowstorm on Friday. Sunny and mild from Sunday onwards!!
Heavy snowfall : 15 to 20 cm in the valley floors and up to 60 cm above 3000 m. Rain/snow limit around 500/700 m. High avalanche risk (and chaos on the roads). -10° C at 2300 m, 0° C around 700-1000 m
Much calmer weather, but cloudy with poor visibility for skiers. Brightening up as the day goes on. High avalanche risk. 0° C around 600 m.
Hazy sunshine in the mountains. Much warmer temperatures, with 0° at 2800 m. Light wind.
Monday 13th & Tuesday 14th
Beautiful sunny day with very mild temperatures for the time of season (0° C at 2800/2900 m). Light winds coming from a west’ish direction.
Wednesday 15th & Thursday 16th
Remaining dry, sunny and mild. 0° at 3000 m.
Tip of the week
Check out our important Accident Reduction Framework to help you apply what you know and have learned and/or point you in the right direction for learning more.
There’s a long list of evidence that shows how applying simple frameworks, checklists and memory aids reduce risk in ‘high consequence, low feedback’ risk contexts prevalent in: aviation, military, finance, health care, avalanche terrain etc.
See our HAT quick reference ‘Safety is Freedom Framework’ for accident reduction in avalanche terrain. The Framework is aimed at all levels of off-piste and touring: for beginners: a point of departure; for experts: a guide for further learning; for pros: it’s a great framework for client training and quick memory aid.
The Framework is best if accompanied by training such as HAT events and on-snow courses, but it’s also a useful companion for all training as it focuses on the basic key points that all avalanche training courses address – it helps you to keep focused on the essential accident reduction points.