Hoping for snowfall in the Northern French Alps at the start of next week!

Unfortunately temperatures are becoming mild for the time of season again, but altitudes above 1600 m should benefit from this fresh snow.

Around 10-15 cm fresh snow fell last Friday night, with air temperatures dropping considerably. This made for some great light-powder skiing over the weekend, particularly in gullies and bowls, where the wind had blown the snow in, making for nice deep powder in places.

Strong winds since then have been affecting the snow quality, particularly in high exposed areas. We’re finding a wide variety of off-piste conditions out there at the moment: occasionally dense powder on high cold slopes sheltered from the wind; hard wind-blown snow in more exposed areas (or blown off altogether); and crusted snow on the sunnier slopes first thing, which has humidified during the warm days and then refrozen in the cold nights.

You’ve guessed it…… we need more snow again!!!

Within a day or two of any fresh snow, we’re back to using our touring skis and skins 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.

This may not appeal to powder-hounds, but we’ve been enjoying our touring, getting fit and spotting wildlife along the way. The off-piste skiing’s not always been easy, but we’ve always found something to see and do.

Perdrix Blanche (white partridge) as spotted by Wayne Watson

Recent history of the snowpack

Snow depths are getting rather scratchy below 1500 m, and the snow surface is very windblown up high. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that next week’s predicted snowfall will materialise!

Off-Piste Snow Depths for Haute Tarentaise 22 Jan c:o Meteo France

In last week’s blog we mentioned how ‘gobelet’ sugar snow has been forming in the cold nights. This will constitute an unstable base if any substantial amount of fresh snow (15 cm or more) lands on top of it.

Snow on piste is still in excellent shape thanks to the hard work of the piste maintenance services.

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

The avalanche risk is currently around a moderate 2/5, sometimes going up to a considerable 3/5 above 2000 m. See definitions of the different avalanche ratings here. The reason for the difference is due to high wind causing snow to drift and accumulate on leeward slopes near mountain summits and passes. These areas of windslab could be triggered into an avalanche by skiers passing by on these high leeward slopes.

If anywhere receives a substantial amount of fresh snow (20 cm or more) that risk will increase in the short-term.

There are still numerous glide cracks around. Don’t be too fearful of them as you won’t trigger them, but don’t hang around underneath them either.

Ever present glide cracks. Wayne Watson photo

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

Be prepared to walk and climb to find fresh untracked snow. But think very carefully about where you go. A lot of the snow is wind affected and difficult to ski. The fresh powder turns in our photo are in some north-facing sheltered spots

Where is most at risk at the moment?

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.

Keep an eye on glide cracks and don’t hang around under them for long, or tour up underneath them.

How does the forecast look for the coming week?

There is an indication we may some snow next week. but the amount is very uncertain. High pressure still dominates the weather pattern over the Alps and the general weather pattern is to expect dry weather with average or above-average temperatures and quite a bit of random cloud.

There is no sign yet of major break in the weather that would bring really big snowfall

Hazy sky, a little snow in Haute-Maurienne, mixed with sand, looks weird.
The sky is congested by numerous clouds of altitude, often quite dense and hanging on the highest peaks. Flat light day in the mountains. In Haute-Maurienne, the clouds even drop a little snow (mixed with a little sand) above 1200/1400 m in the afternoon and 1000/1200 m the following night. The quantities remain small, with a maximum of just over 5 cm on the border ridge. Foehn and Lombarde are blowing moderately, with some peaks at 40/50 km / h.
Maximum temperatures: 8 to 10 ° C at low altitude, 1 to 3 ° C around 2000 m below the Foehn, and a notch colder in Haute-Maurienne (-2 ° C to 2000 m)
Isotherm 0 ° C: 1600/1900 m in Haute-Maurienne, 2100/2300 m everywhere else.
Wind at 2000 m: Southeast 20/40 km / h in Maurienne, weaker elsewhere.
Wind at 3000 m: Southeast 30/40 km / h, temporarily 50 km / h in Maurienne.

Clouds with a few clearings
Sky always with clouds at altitude clinging to the highest peaks, which can also double in places of low clouds. Some thinning is possible locally, however.
Minimum temperatures: -1 / -3 ° C in plain and valleys. Maximum: 7/8 ° C at low altitude, -1 / + 1 ° C around 2000 m.
Isotherm 0 ° C: around 1700/1800 m.
Weak wind at altitude, going to the southwest 10/20 km / h.

Always cloudy, light precipitation in the Pre-Alps
Clouds are still very present in the Savoyard sky, they can give some light precipitation over the the Pre-Alps (flakes above 1100/1300 m). Drier weather in the interior massifs, with even some clearer thinnings towards the Haute-Maurienne.
Minimum temperatures: -1 / -3 ° C in plain and valleys. Maximum: 7/8 ° C at low altitude, -3 / -1 ° C around 2000 m.
Isotherm 0 ° C: around 1600/1800 m.
Wind at 3000 m: West 10/20 km / h. Weaker or light south wind at lower altitude.

MONDAY 27: Gradual degradation Cloudy
Sky covering itself during the day as a new break in the weather arrives. A few snow flakes in the afternoon (above 1400 m) from Chautagne to Beaufortain. The following night, the precipitation intensifies and reaches the interior massifs. Isothermal 0 ° C around 1600/1900 m.

TUESDAY28: Snow in the mountains
New weather system coming from west to altitude. Overcast with rain in the plains and snowfall above 1500 m at first, then subsiding. Quantities may be significant but very uncertain. Different weather models disagree on this

WEDNESDAY 29: Cool weather and return of the sun
The clouds leave the department and the sun resumes. It is a little cooler and the 0 ° C isotherm is around 1200/1400 m

THURSDAY: Sunny, again milder
After dissipation of some greyness in plain and low valleys, the sun reigns supreme in the sky of Savoie. The 0 ° C isotherm moves sharply upwards, to around 3100/3300 m.

Alternating periods of bright spells and temporarily more cloudy periods. Little or no precipitation to expect. Temperatures well above seasonal norms

Tip of the week

If we get 15 cm or more new snow, test out the ‘low-hanging fruit’ to start with, keeping to low-angled slopes at first, rather than dashing out onto the steep slopes.