This week began with two days of howling wind, rain and snow. After more snowfall on Thursday, it looks like being a calm sunny weekend. More snowfall expected Monday, varying between 5 to 40 cm.

As February holidays start, it’s been another weird weather week, beginning with gale-force NW wind, rain and snow. It took a hardy person to brave the elements and the very limited ski-lift openings with big queues, on Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday was a beautiful blue ski day with lovely fresh powder skiing on the more sheltered slopes in the lee of the recent wind. It was still blowing a hooley in many places though, and not all off-piste skiing was perfect by any means.

Skiing powder – Wed 12 Feb Wayne Watson photo

Things should settle down for a few days after Friday, with sunshine and warmer temperatures coming. Then another blast of colder weather looks to be coming through on Tuesday, with fresh snowfall above 1300 m.

Like last week, thanks to all the storms the quality of off-piste snow is very varied at the moment. The snow is very wind-crusted at times, or very hardened, if not blown off altogether. Then, there are much softer strips of lovely powdery snow in more sheltered spots and gullies. This will become heavier when temperatures rise over the weekend. There’s also still a lot of rain crusted snow around, which is almost impossible to ski and easy to give yourself an injury in.

We’ve loved receiving fresh snowfall, and conditions have been awesome at times this week. It’s astonishing how quickly everything gets tracked out. We only seem to get away with about a day of skiing fresh tracks without needing to walk. By the second or third day after fresh snow, we’re back to boot-packing or skinning up to find anything remotely untracked.

Bootpacking up. Wayne Watson photo

Recent history of the snowpack

Because of recent rain and warmer temperatures, snowpack stability up to around 2700 m is now pretty rock-solid on all sides of the mountain. Things have really firmed up, making for a much safer situation as far as avalanches go, with the weak layer we spoke about a couple of weeks ago virtually having been ‘neutralised’.

Higher altitudes above 2700 m aren’t yet as stable because they haven’t been as rain-saturated and consolidated as lower down the mountain. There is still a danger of skiers triggering a windslab avalanche here.

Off-Piste Snow Depths for Haute Tarentaise 12 Feb c/o Meteo France

With the unseasonably warm temperatures, the higher level resorts above 1800 m or so are doing much better for off-piste snow than lower resorts. The pistes are very well-maintained, so there’s always good skiing to be had though.

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

As we write (Thursday 13th Feb) the avalanche risk is a 2/5. We expect it to continue like that, or even lower, over the next few days, rising again with any significant amount of fresh snowfall on Tuesday.

Check out what the avalanche danger ratings mean.

For any specific points about snow stability, you need to check the daily avalanche bulletins which appear after 16.00 every evening.

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

The snowpack, at least below 2700 m, is now very stable after recent episodes of prolonged rain and warming. Colder higher altitudes where the snowpack has not consolidated as well, and where areas of snow accumulation have been formed by the wind, are not as stable.

With all this solid icy snow around, particularly below the surface, there is very real risk of sustaining a sliding accident on steep slopes. Keep your concentration, even when just walking up or traversing. Ski crampons or ‘couteaux’ have been extremely useful this week on icy ‘skins’.

The real danger as far as avalanches go is that, with very little avalanche activity going on, there is a temptation to become more and more complacent when things don’t move. Our advice is that, even when slopes are becoming more stable, always leave a margin for the unexpected happening.

Where is most at risk at the moment?

Steep slopes with fresh snow on them and terrain traps beneath them are always going to be particularly at risk.

Any fresh snowfall, such as that expected on Friday and Tuesday, will be accompanied by instability in the form of natural ‘direct action’ avalanches occurring during and in the first few hours after the storm.

How does the forecast look for the coming week?

Mostly sunny, a little milder in the afternoon.
A few very high clouds in the morning, thickening up as the day goes on.
Maximum temperatures (on southern slopes): 13 ° C at 2000 m, 5 ° C at 3000 m. A mild clear night, with clouds beginning to thicken as day breaks.

Wind at 2500 m: SW 10-60 km/hr during the day, 10-80 km/hr at night.
Wind at 3700 m: WSW to W then W to SW during the day. 40-60 km/hr, W to SW then SW to WSW at night, 70-80 km/hr.

A cloudy morning, with snow/rain. Certain areas of Savoie like the west and north (e.g. the Bauges near Chambéry & N Beaufortain) could receive 20 to 40 cm of snow above 2200 m, whereas more southern areas (like the Haute Maurienne, e.g. Bonneval) receiving hardly any snow at all. The rain/snow limit in the morning will be above 2200 m, dropping down to 1500 m and lower in the evening.

Wind at 2500 m: SW then W during the day, 10-70 km/hr, W to NW at night 10-50 then 10-20 km/hr.
Wind at 3700 m: SW to WSW then W during the day 60-80 sometimes 50 km/hr, W then NW at night 50-90 km/hr.

Sunny at high altitude, with some cloud below 2500 m. A few residual snowflakes falling, which will eventually die out.
Clouding over again overnight, with a few rare snow showers above 800 m in the west of the region.

Wind at 2500 m: NW to W then N to NW during the day 10-20 km/hr, N to NW at night 10-20 then 10-40 km/hr.
Wind at 3600 m: WNW then NW during the day 50-70 then 20-40 km/hr, NW then NNW at night 20-40 then 50-80 km/hr.

A few scattered showers in the morning, dying out as the day goes on.
0 ° C at 1800 m. Again, if any snow does fall, this will be in the west of the region.

Strong WNW becoming NW at altitude, dying down as the day goes on.

A mixture of cloud and sunshine. 0° C at 2300 m during the day, down to 1600 m at night.

NW wind during the day, strengthening at night and turning more WSW.

Tip of the week

Always leave a margin for the unexpected happening even though things are becoming more stable and predictable.