It’s been another week of great off-piste conditions in the N French Alps. Lucky areas near the French/Italian border received up to 60 cm fresh snow between last Sunday night and Tuesday. These areas stretched from Le Fornet, Val d’Isère in the north,  through Bonneval and all the way down into the S French Alps (Montgenèvre and Isola 2000).

The week ahead looks like being mainly dry and sunny in the mountains, with temperatures normal for the time of season. 

Off piste snow depths Val d'Isere

Meteo France image of off-piste snow depths for the Haute Tarentaise area of Savoie on 28th Jan.

With little fresh snow expected, and slopes easily accessible from the lifts now tracked out, it will be ‘walkies time’ this week, with touring skis and skins being helpful to find the best off-piste snow.

Current danger rating in the Tarentaise

Avalanche Bulletin 

The avalanche danger rating across virtually all the French Alps is currently  a ‘moderate’ 2 out of 5, with the colder north’ish facing slopes most at risk.  Things have become a lot more stable with the recent cold, dry conditions (albeit with some temporary instability in areas along the French Italian border, which received fresh snowfall at the beginning of last week). See below for more on this.

Yes, the off-piste snowpack is currently a lot more stable. However, following a succession of cold days and bitterly cold clear nights, there’s now another persistent weak layer ‘lurking’, particularly on high north’ish facing slopes. ‘Sugary’ incohesive snow is starting to reappear deep into the snowpack and even poking into the snow surface. This will only really become a problem when a significant amount of fresh snow falls on the top of it, and will then become something we need to watch out for. We’ll return to this subject next week.

In those areas near the French/Italian border, which received significant amounts of fresh snow last week, quite a lot of skier-triggered avalanche activity took place. Here, for a couple of days, the avalanche risk level rose to a 3 or 4 out of 5 with the fresh snowfall. Predictably, as visibility improved, a ‘powder frenzy’ ensued, with some really irresponsible behaviour from skiers heading out to get the best snow with no regard for others.

In the Grand Vallon area above Le Fornet, Val d’Isère, uphill skiers accidentally triggered an avalanche on top of others on slopes below, in their hurry to reach the best powder. Fortunately, everyone survived with only minor injuries. Many other avalanches triggered by skiers have been taking place too, particularly in those areas which received the bonus snowfall along the French border with Italy.

As I mention in my talks, with the growing popularity in off-piste skiing and ski touring, triggering avalanches on top of others is occurring more and more frequently. There’s no excuse for this type of behaviour. Not only is it incredibly selfish, but it  endangers other people’s lives, and can even result in a jail sentence if someone is hurt or killed.

Safe off-piste skiing in avalanche terrain: avoiding Terrain Traps, observing Distances between group members and stopping at Safe(r) Zones. Photo taken by Henry Schniewind of an Alpine Experience group

Weather forecast 30th Jan to 6th Feb


Sunny above 1500 m, with just some thin high cloud. N wind gusting up to 60 km/hr. Temperatures average for the time of season (a minimum of -12°C and a maximum of 3°C at 2000 m). A sea of  cloud below 1000 m or so.


Sunny again in the mountains, with N winds, and temperatures as normal for the time of season. Cloudy below 1000 m.


Sunshine and cloud in the mountains. Cloud will thicken during the night, possibly bringing some light snowfall.


Light snowfall down to 500 m. N wind picking up. Temperatures falling.


Cloud clearing up in the mountains, but some very light snowfall may carry on at lower altitudes where the cloud layer lingers. N wind at altitude. 


Sunny again in the mountains, with a strong N – NE wind. Very cold. Remaining cloudy at lower altitudes.


A high pressure weather system settling in, with beautiful sunny weather in the mountains.

Tip of the Week

Avoid skiing above ‘Terrain Traps’.
Over the years I’ve noticed that many of the worst avalanche accidents involve ‘Terrain Traps’.
These are any terrain feature that makes the consequences of being taken in an avalanche worse.  Even a very small avalanche can be deadly if it takes you
  • over a cliff
  • into a tree
  • into a hole (and buries you)
  • into a pond or lake (or even a river or stream)
In many seasons, more than half of all deadly ski accidents involve ‘Terrain Traps’ as the, or one of the, primary reasons for the serious injury or death of the victim. So if we all avoided steep slopes above ‘Terrain Traps’ (especially just after snow storms), we could probably reduce avalanche deaths by close to half.
This simple tip was the inspiration for these thoughts expressed in my short informal video piece here, posted last summer,  “Avalanche Safety in 15 Minutes”. (It’s actually only around 13 mins long and contains some great images and Avalanche video clips).

“Safety is freedom”