Another dry and sunny week ahead!

The weather is set to be sunny and dry and cold at night. Some weather models point to fresh snowfall (20cm) around 16th, 17th or 18th January. But not all do and they all differ on exactly when this might arise. So too early to hope for this I think.

Looks like another week of blue skies and mild daytime temperatures ahead for the Northern French Alps! A few lucky areas near the French/Italian border may get a cm of fresh snow on Friday, but that’s about all. We’ll continue using our touring skis and skins, doing a fair amount of walking to find the best snow. This sometimes means boot-packing up with the skis on our backpacks, stepping down over rocks, as well as skinning.

There’s still a rare chance of finding untracked snow if you really know the area well. If not, now could be a good time to use the expertise of an off-piste guide, who really knows where to find the best snow.

The wind, as always, has played a big factor in making us change our plans. It’s sometimes blown a lot of snow off the mountain altogether, and kept the temperatures too low for the snow to soften up in the sun.

The quality of the snow on well-travelled off-piste routes is beginning to improve, however, being grippy and ‘chalky’ in many places.

Particularly on steep exposed slopes, the off-piste snow is often very crusted and hardened (by the wind and by refreezing) first thing in the morning. As the day goes on it softens up on the sunnier slopes (then refreezing again overnight, so mega-tricky to ski the next morning).

There is a real danger of going for a dangerous long slide on these steep icy slopes, which could be fatal if there are cliffs, rocks or other obstacles below you. Keep your skiing and speed under control.

Recent history of the snowpack

Off-piste snow depths for the Haute Tarentaise 8 Jan. c/o Meteo France

Despite no recent snowfall, off-piste snow depths are still good above 1500 m, and the snow on-piste is in excellent condition, thanks to great work by the piste services.

After a series of cold, clear nights and relatively cold temperatures (regularly going below 10°C at 2000 m), the snow is turning into faceted grains (sugar snow). After the next significant snowfall (10 cm or more) this ‘sugar snow’ will become a weak layer underneath the new snow.

What is the current avalanche risk in the Northern French Alps/Savoie?

The avalanche risk is currently at a low 1/5, and will probably hover between this and a 2/5 over the next week, with no significant (if any) snowfall expected.

In terms of avalanches, currently the only real risk to off-piste skiers and boarders comes from the occasional release of glide cracks. See our previous blog for more information on these. Don’t be too fearful of them as you won’t trigger them, but don’t hang around underneath them either.

As mentioned previously though, with sustained cold temperatures around 2000 m or so, the snow is beginning to turn into faceted grains (sugar snow). After the next significant snowfall (10 cm or more) this ‘sugar snow’ will become a weak layer.

Skiing the frisette. Wayne Watson photo

What does this mean for off-piste skiers and snowboarders?

The main risk to the off-piste skier at the moment is of losing control and sustaining a sliding accident on steep, hard icy snow. There is currently minimal avalanche danger (which isn’t to say ‘none’).

Where is most at risk at the moment?

The highest risk to skiers and snowboarders is, as always, be on steep slopes exposed to terrain traps. This is particularly the case now, as there’s a lot of hardened or crusted snow on steep slopes above cliffs and rocks. Stay in control when traversing, or skiing to avoid going for a long slide or a ‘whipper’ as Henry calls it.

Keep an eye on glide cracks. While these are not a sign of snowpack instability (despite their ominous appearance), you certainly wouldn’t want to hang around under them for long, or tour up underneath them.

How does the forecast look for the coming week?

Sunny and dry and cold at night. Some weather models point to fresh snowfall (20cm) around 16th, 17th or 18th January. But not all do and they all differ on exactly when this might arise. So too early to hope for this I think.

FRIDAY JANUARY 10

A few cloud patches catching the middle mountain, leaving long periods of sun at low altitude, a sunny day at high altitude.
Maximum temperatures: in plain 8 degrees, around 2000 m of -1, around 3000 m -7.

Isotherm 0 ° C: 1700 m.
Wind at 2500 m: southwest 20/30 km / h weakening.
Wind at 4000 m: southwest 20/40 km / h turning west in the afternoon.

 SATURDAY JANUARY 11

Sunny day, a few patches of low clouds over the plains.
Temperatures around 2000 m -5 to 1, around 3000 m -11 to -1.

Isotherm 0 ° C: up 3100 m.
Wind at 2500 m: northeast 20/40 km / h.
Wind at 4000 m: northeast 70/100 km / h early morning then 70.

 SUNDAY JANUARY 12

Sunny, softer. Less wind at high altitude.
Temperatures evolving around 2000 m -2 to 4.

 MONDAY 13 AND TUESDAY JANUARY 14

MONDAY:
Clear or partly cloudy.
TUESDAY:
Changing skies without showers.

 WEDNESDAY 15 AND THURSDAY JANUARY 16

WEDNESDAY:
Changing sky without rain.
THURSDAY:
The weather should remain dry. The temperatures are stationary and always mild.

Tip of the week

There are a lot of steep icy slopes at the moment. Stay in control and avoid going for a long slide on these, especially when terrain traps are below you (e.g. rocks and cliffs).