Brrrr, the flowers have had it, but what a great snowy start to the ski season in the N French Alps, surrounding areas like Swiss Valais and in the S French Alps too !
Snow depths at altitudes above 2400 m, which were already good, are now looking great at around 120 cm or more after the fresh snowfall between Monday and Tuesday evening. More snow showers are forecast later in the week.
A few high altitude resorts, e.g. Tignes and Val Thorens, have already opened their ski areas. Others, like Val d’Isère, will be opening this coming weekend.
Diagram above shows current off-piste snow depths for the Hte Tarentaise area of Savoie from Meteo France
The current avalanche danger level is a 3 out of 5 on the European scale.
The new snowfall has been accompanied by strong wind, particularly at high altitudes. It’s been very blown about, with some deep accumulations forming and plenty of windslab, particularly on E to S facing slopes. This fresh snow is lying on top of hard or icy surfaces, and not bonding to these.
In the short term (24 to 48 hours after these snowstorms) there is an increasing risk of natural avalanches, which could travel a long way. After this, with the increasing and decreasing temperatures accompanied by rain/snow, things should start to stabilise in the off-piste as things refreeze and solidify (especially in areas that got a good remelt or drenching!).
Weather forecast : Wed 29th Nov to Sun 3rd Dec
WEDNESDAY 29th November: Beautiful sunny morning, starting cold (-7° C at 1500 m) but warming up as the day goes on. 0°C at 1100 m, later at 2200 m. It will cloud over in the afternoon with more snowfall (rain/snow limit at 1600 m, later at 2100 m). Light wind, turning SW.
THURSDAY 30th November: Cloudy and mild with rain/snow during the day, dropping much colder again by nightfall. Rain/snow limit 2200/2300 m in the daytime and then down to around 1000 m during the night. 15 to 25 cm of fresh snow expected above 2300 m, and up to 15 cm at 1800 m.
FRIDAY 1st December: Snow showers above 700 m, and down to even lower altitudes.
SATURDAY 2nd & SUNDAY 3rd December: Much colder. Saturday: A mixture of sunshine and cloud. Sunday: a beautiful cold sunny day in the mountains!
Tip of the Week
The early season off-piste snowpack is always very unpredictable:
One reason is because of thin snow coverage, which can hide rocks and other obstacles beneath the snow surface. Hit one of them and you can sustain a nasty injury as well as wrecking your skis.
Another reason is due to lack of skier compaction (which significantly helps to stabilise the off-piste slopes). Those classic off-piste routes areas we’re so familiar with, and where we feel very comfortable and safe, will not yet have been skied much (and compacted), so are not yet as safe as they are later in the season – despite the fact that they may look very inviting under all the fresh snow.
Enjoy your skiing, but just be aware of these early season snowpack dangers.