A little snow Friday afternoon into Saturday, followed by another dry week!

But there is frissette (gobelet, facets) sitting on top of the current snowpack in shady places

If we get 10cm or more new snow, then be very wary of steep, shady northeast, north and northwest slopes. The frissette (gobelet, facets) will be underneath and the slope could slide away from underneath, taking you into terrain traps. If there is more 20cm or fallen or windblown snow then it could avalanche and bury you.

This video shows an example of this Frisette found in resort in a shady spot at 1850m

Most of the Alps look like getting a little bit of fresh snow between Friday and Saturday. Some areas will get a lot more than others. For example, the west of Savoie (the foothills near Chambery) may receive over 30 cm fresh snow above 1700 m, whereas more eastern parts like the Haute Tarentaise (Val d’Isere) may only get up to 10 cm.

Even 5 cm of fresh snow can make a massive improvement to the off-piste quality and give us a new canvas to play with though. So bring it on!

Whilst there will be some risky areas due to the Frisette. Many slopes will be very safe, so there will be many opportunities to enjoy the new snow. Places that were heavily tracked out before the snowfall will not have the weak layer. Nor will slopes that were exposed to sunshine and where the Frisette did not develop.

We’ll continue using our touring skis and skins, doing a fair amount of walking to find the best snow. Ski crampons or ‘couteaux’ have also become extremely useful to give us more grip on the icier snow when skinning up on icy traverses.

Some of the best quality off-piste snow over the last few days has been in well-travelled off-piste areas exposed to a bit of wind. Here, wind-blown snow has settled on top of, often smoothing out, previous tracks. This ‘soufflée dure” snow is smooth, grippy and ‘chalky’ in texture, and great fun to ski.

Snow on steep sun-exposed, particularly south-facing, slopes is usually hard and crusted first thing in the morning. As the day goes on it softens up (then refreezing again overnight, so tricky to ski the next morning).

There’s still 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

We could really do with some fresh snow, and hopefully Friday/Saturday’s predicted snowfall should help.

Off-Piste Snow Depths for the Haute Tarentaise 15 Jan 2020 by Meteo France

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

The avalanche risk is currently between a low 1/5 to a moderate 2/5. See definitions of the different avalanche ratings here.

In terms of avalanche risk, there’s currently an extremely minimal risk to off-piste skiers and boarders, mainly from rare release of glide cracks. See our previous blog for more information on these.

Particularly spectacular glide crack above Tignes 13th Jan 2020

Don’t be too fearful of them as you won’t trigger them, but don’t hang around underneath them either. If anywhere receives a substantial amount of fresh snow (20 cm or more) that risk will increase in the short-term.

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

There is currently minimal avalanche danger. That isn’t to say ‘none’ – even a small avalanche on a steep slope above a cliff could have disastrous consequences.

The main risk to the off-piste skier at the moment is one of losing control, falling, and sustaining a sliding accident on steep, hard icy snow.

Where is most at risk at the moment?

This quote is from the professionals WhatsApp group around Tignes, Val d’Isere, St Foy, Les Arcs. This looks forward to the impact of fresh snow falling on the Frisette.

…. As you have noticed, the flat face “crystals” are very present in cold areas (North, West face and on the flat) What we call “frizz” is pleasant to ski is in fact gobelet .
Our snow scientists tell us that the next snowfall expected Friday (15 to 30 cm) will rest on these surfaces without cohesion. The discussion focused on higher risks un unskied areas versus the hyper-tracked areas off the off-piste. The biggest risk will be in the zones that have not been skied. The risk will be lower in the zones that were “tracked out”

The highest risk to skiers and snowboarders is, as always, on steep slopes exposed to terrain traps. This is particularly the case now, with a lot of hardened or crusted snow on steep slopes above cliffs and rocks.

Stay in control when traversing or skiing down, to avoid going for a long, potentially very dangerous slide. Use ski crampons when walking up on icy traverses.

There’s been very little glide crack (brown frown) avalanche activity over the last few days. But still keep an eye on these cracks and don’t hang around under them for long, or tour up underneath them.

How does the forecast look for the coming week?

High pressure is still in charge, so the snowfall this weekend will be weak. There are signs that the blocking high over Europe in January will decline towards to end of the month and snow may appear after 25th Jan, but it will be patchy until the high pressure completely colapses

Snowfall afternoon and especially evening. Beautiful at daybreak becoming cloudy from the west in the morning. Snow on the Bauges in the early afternoon later on the eastern massifs. The precipitation is highest in the evening, it continues the following night becoming weak. Snow rain limit around 1300 / 1400m at the start of the episode, rapidly lowering around 1000 / 1200m during the afternoon, 700 to 800m in the evening and up to 400m in the Maurienne and Tarentaise valleys during the night for the last flakes.

Quantities expected on Saturday morning above 1500m: 20 to 30 cm on Bauges, Beaufortin and Lauzière. 15 to 20 cm in Vanoise and Maurienne, 10 to 15 in Haute Tarentaise and 5 to 10 cm in Haute Maurienne
Maximum temperatures of 7 to 9 degrees in plain before the rain.
Isotherm 0 ° C: around 1600 m during the day near Piedmont, down around 1400 m on the Prealps side then 1200 m in the evening; down everywhere around 1000 m at night.
Isotherm -10 ° C down around 2100 m, and -20 ° C down around 3500 m.
Wind at 3000 m: South in the morning it turns North West 20 to 40 km / h when passing the front

Improvement and fresher
Clogged at dawn with still rare flakes, then the clouds dissipate partially first above 2000m with a sea of ​​clouds below then beautiful on all the massifs at midday with locally just a few ​​residue from clouds below 1500m. A slight cloudy veil of altitude gains by the south at the end of the day.
Isotherm 0 ° C: 1000 m in the morning, rising to 1400m in the afternoon.
The -10 ° C lowers around 2500 m during the day.
Wind at 3000 m: NNW 30 -40 km / h,
Wind generally weak outside the ridges and peaks.

Persistent low clouds over the west
Sea of ​​clouds under around 1500m catching the relief of the Bauges, the NW slope of Lauzière and the entrances of Beaufortin and Maurienne, this sea of ​​clouds tears apart during the afternoon only. Cloud of altitude clouds becoming thick during the day on the other massifs
The 0 ° C isotherm remains low around 1000/1200 m. Temperatures down with -3 degrees in the plain in the morning under the clouds and no more than 4 to 5 degrees in the afternoon

MONDAY 20 Jan : Variable
In Haute-Maurienne and Haute-Tarentaise weather blocked by clouds overflowing from Italy bringing rare flakes. Less and less cloudy going towards the North-West of the department.
Isothermal 0 ° C still low around 900m

TUESDAY: Beautiful
Beautiful day largely sunny, after dissipation of the probable greyness morning; still a little bit of Foehn-Lombarde.
Isotherm 0 ° C rising around 2100 m

WEDNESDAY: Beautiful and mild
The weak current takes a North trend.
Always sunny, above the probable morning greyness; possible sea of ​​clouds at night especially on the Prealps side.
0 ° C isotherm rising around 2400 m

THURSDAY: Beautiful and mild
The 0 ° C isotherm around 2700m

Return of precipitation possible on our department. Temperatures are expected to be slightly above seasonal norms.

Tip of the week

If we get 10cm or more new snow, then be very wary of steep, shady northeast, north and northwest slopes. The frissette (gobelet, facets) will be underneath and the slope could slide away from underneath you. If there is more 20cm or fallen or windblown snow that it could avalanche and bury you.

Make the best of the stable snowpack and dry weather to get out for a bit of ski touring. Even if there’s no powder snow out there, there’s always a good adventure to be had, and using touring skis and skins gives us a lot more flexibility with areas of the mountain we can reach.