A cold wintry and snowy week lies ahead for the N French Alps, even down to the valley bottoms! This is good news for off-piste skiers, with snow depths above 1800 m now approaching normal for the time of season. There’s still currently not really enough natural snow at altitudes below 1800 m, but the forecasted snowfall down to 1000 m and lower (at least until Friday) will help a lot.
Here’s the Meteo France image of off-piste snow depths for the Haute Tarentaise, Savoie region on 14th Jan.
With the next few days of snowstorms, there will no doubt be some tricky white-out conditions when you’re out skiing. However, you never really know until you get out there – even if the cloud just thins out a bit, it’s often much better than expected – so give it a go!
The strong wind at high altitude will be damaging the quality of snow in exposed areas, especially near exposed ridges where it may be blown off completely. However, there should be some lovely skiing to be found in less exposed areas and on the leeward slopes. Indeed, there’s some great safe off-piste skiing and touring to be had at the moment throughout the Alps! See our video lower down in this report.
Current danger rating in the Tarentaise
Meteo France is currently setting the avalanche risk at 3 out of 5 on all slope directions , the level that it’s been at for the last few days of fresh snowfall. This may go up over the next few days with the new snowfalls and possible increase of storm related avalanches.
There are areas of instability forming at the moment on many steep slopes especially at higher altitudes where snow is accumulating fast and North’ish facing slopes. In our last blog post we spoke about skier triggered avalanche activity, and plenty of ‘near misses’ in Tignes last week where all the clues of danger were plainly there (recent avalanche activity, terrain traps below, ‘Considerable’ danger rating of 3 etc.).
It’s interesting that statistically, most avalanche deaths in France occur when the avalanche danger rating is 3 out of 5. According to ANENA, the French Avalanche Association, the percentage of avalanche fatalities in France between the years 2008-2018 were as follows:
Low (1) : 0,40 %, Moderate (2) : 14,20 %, Considerable (3) : 54,50 %, High (4) : 16,30 %, Very high (5) : 0,4%, In times of no rating (out of season, etc): 14,20 %.
You can argue all sorts of reasons why more accidents occur on a rating 3 – rather than other danger rating levels (e.g. Level 3 seems to appear on many days of the season, so many more off-piste skiers will be out then anyway, etc). However, there’s no getting around the fact that we shouldn’t be complacent going off-piste when the risk level is ‘marked’ 3 (or even in a risk 1 or 2, for that matter).
Consult the Avalanche Bulletin every day, but remember that it’s a general guidance covering an area with many local variations of terrain, etc. So, importantly, also look at the local conditions in the spot where you are and talk to the pisteurs and local snow professionals, who really know what the snowpack is doing on their turf.
Of course, there is always a risk in avalanche terrain, but it can be managed, and there’s currently some fantastic off-piste skiing to be had.
If in doubt, keep to slopes less than 30° steepness and avoid terrain traps below you.
Applying the key safety points on our accident prevention / reduction Framework helps to keep things acceptably safe. See henrysavalanchetalk.com/off-piste-quick-reference.
Weather forecast 16th to 23rd January
We just got 15 cm in most places above 1800m in the N French Alps. The Forecast is to remain wintry (like the month of January!) with lower temperatures and snowfall expected most of the week.
MONDAY, 16th January: Another stormy day with a new weather front coming through, bringing fresh snowfall down to around 500 m altitude. Anything between 5 and 20 cm of fresh snow expected throughout the day. Wind turning W, and gusting up to 100 km/hr at high altitude. -5 to -10° C at 2000 m.
TUESDAY, 17th January: Remaining wintry and cold, with another snowstorm coming through. 15 to 20 cm of fresh snow expected at 1000 m. Strong W wind at high altitude, again gusting up to 100 km/hr, dying down later in the day.
WEDNESDAY, 18th January: Snowfalls will continue down to low altitudes.
THURSDAY, 19th January: Remaining cold with snowfall continuing off and on at all altitudes. N wind.
FRIDAY 20th & SATURDAY 21st January: Remaining cold with a N wind. Mixed weather conditions.
SUNDAY 22nd & MONDAY 23rd: Remaining stormy, but with temperatures rising.
Tip of the Week
1. Practise probing and digging in addition to your transceiver training. The delays, lift closures and postponed trips due to the upcoming snowstorms are a good time to do this.
Get your friends and family to practise too. I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t know how to put their probe together, even after years of owning one….. Figuring this stuff out at an actual rescue is not a good thing (and I have once seen that happen!).
2. This week is also an important time to be applying the key safety points in our Accident Prevention / Reduction Framework to help keep things acceptably safe even though most of the time, most people wont be applying safety measures and nothing happens… sometimes it does (95% it is the victim or someone in their group.. or someone above that triggers the avalanche when there is an accident. The vast majority of avalanche accidents happen in cold weather conditions: in December, Jan and Feb, on North’ish facing slopes NOT due to warming as the media insists on emphasising) . For a quick summary of key points aimed at safe off-piste and ski touring, see this link henrysavalanchetalk.com/off-piste-quick-reference.
“Safety is Freedom!”