Snowfall on and off in the Northern French Alps next week!

We needed more snow and we got it! Winter returned with a vengeance last Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing plenty of fresh snow accompanied by wild north-westerly winds.

Read our blog on the snowpack before the storm and the weak layer

Thursday was a glorious blue sky powder morning with very variable snow depths due to the wind. But there was plenty of powder to go around. The wind had come from the NW, so we found the most snow on SW, S, SE, E, and NE slopes

First tracks in Grand Vallon 30th Jan 2020,
Photo: Chris Howe, Skiers Vincent Giraud and John Eales

Temperatures are due to rise a little, making the rain/snow limit around 2000 m or so. Higher altitudes will be reaping the rewards, while it could sometimes be raining below 2000 m. However, there’s a very good chance that skiing could be excellent at various points over the next week!

Violent north-westerly winds (gusts up 180 km/hr recorded at around 3500 m above Le Fornet) have blown the snow all over the place, making it difficult to say how much fresh snow has actually fallen. Needless to say, that following these high winds and large quantities of fresh snow, the avalanche risk has risen to a considerable 3/5, or even a high 4/5. Check out what the avalanche danger ratings mean.

Wild storms above Val d’Isere. Wayne Watson photo

Some of the best skiing we’ve had recently has been in the trees, where visibility has been better and the snow has been less affected by the ravages of the wind.

Recent history of the snowpack

Off-piste snow depths have increased, although the surface is very windblown, especially at high altitude. In some exposed areas the snow has been blown off completely. In wind-exposed areas above 2500 m, the snow surface is very irregular and hardened.

Off-Piste Depths, Haute Tarentaise 29 Jan 2020 c/o Meteo France

Preventative avalanche blasting to secure the pistes on Wednesday morning revealed a high amount of snowpack instability, with several distance-triggered avalanches occurring.

There is also a weak layer in the snowpack that we spoke about in our previous blog. click here

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

At the time of writing (Thurs 30th Jan) the avalanche risk has gone down from a high 4/5 to a considerable 3/5. However, for us, the risk is a ‘very high 3 bordering on 4’ possibly for the next few days if it continues to snow. We believe there’s going to be a high danger of triggering avalanches, especially when visibility improves, along with the lure of skiing fresh powder.

Following other people’s tracks is a particularly easy trap to fall into. Don’t do it unless you know that where they are leading you is safe.

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

There is going to be fantastic skiing for the next week, especially when the sun comes out.

Be wary of the weak layer if you are on slopes that were not heavily skied before. Henry’s Avalanche Talk heard some whumphing on Thursday which is a sign of a weak layer collapsing

Be cautious about sunny slopes warming up and the risk of spontaneous avalanches. This is particularly an issue below 2300m.

Where is most at risk at the moment?

Steep slopes with fresh snow on them and terrain traps beneath them are going to be particularly at risk. The best advice for the next week is to stick with slopes under 30 degrees. And if you do go steeper, make sure there are no terrain traps below you (cliffs, bowls, barriers, trees etc.)

How does the forecast look for the coming week?

Above-average temperatures with a mix of cloud, sun, snow and rain below 2000m, before the temperature drops to normal on Wednesday and this is followed by a dry sunny period


Cloudy sky at daybreak with a little rain in places especially on the west of the department, rain-snow limit around 2300 m.
Quickly in the early morning the peaks emerge from the layer. During the morning the clearings this generalize to all the massifs except on the Bauges, the North of Beaufortin and the west of the Vanoise which remain still in the clouds. The sun prevails everywhere in the afternoon with only a few nasty residues hanging here and there.
Isotherm 0 ° C: between 2400 and 2700 m.
Maximum warm temperatures for the season: around 11 to 14 degrees below 1000m
Wind at 3000 m North generally 20-30 km / h except 40 to 60 over Haute Maurienne. Weakening everywhere by midday
Lower locally strong gusts on the edge of the Italian slope, diminish in the morning.

Becoming rainy
Cloudy sky at daybreak. Then the cloudy veil thickens rapidly from the west. By mid-day the sky is overcast everywhere, except on the peaks bordering Italy, with wells already on the west of the department. The rain reaches all the massifs during the afternoon, the snow-rain limit remains high descending u better around 2000 m.
Quantities of water expected until Sunday morning: 10mm, loc 15mm of rain on the west 5 / 10mm in the center and less than 5mm on the east of the department. The equivalent in cm of snow above 2200m only.
Isotherm 0 ° C: 2700 then 2300 // 2400 m during the day.
Wind at 3000 m: WSW to WNW 20-30 then 40-60 km / h at the front crossing, locally 50-80 km / h on the Italian border.
Strong gusts from the west in the afternoon along the Italian slope.

Bad: Rain and strong wind
Overcast in the early morning, then an active warm front passes over the department. Heavy rain in the afternoon with a snow-rain limit going up to about 2500m all accompanied by strong gusts of north-west wind reaching 100km / h in Haute Tarentaise and Haute-Maurienne where it will rain less.
Significant quantities of water expected in the west (30 to 50mm to be confirmed) 10 to 15mm in Haute Tarentaise and Haute-Maurienne. Very windy snowfall at high altitude.

The fast current of WNW turns west and accelerates further.
Few residual showers early in the morning, then the cloudiness widens. The sky charges again in the night.
Isotherm 0 ° C slightly increasing, pus decreasing at night around 1900 m (at least).

The very fast current from West to NW turns to NW then North, generating strong winds at least in very high mountains.
Many clouds and marked precipitation; gusts of wind sometimes descend to the plains and low valleys.
Isothermal 0 ° C down around 500 m (at least).
Snow can descend to the plain.

The north current remains fast.
Thunderstorms, little by little snow showers, and more gusts of Bise.
Isotherm 0 ° C around 600 m; the snow barely rises.

The fast north current turns to the NNE and becomes more moderate.
A partial cloud sea persists, locally over 3000 m in the morning, up to over 1500 m in the evening, or even lower at night, with rare drops or flakes still possible in the morning.
Isotherm 0 ° C rising around 900 m on the Prealps side, 1700 m in interior mass.

The current from NNE then North becomes weak then takes a West trend.
More or less sunny, cloudy periods.
Isotherm 0 ° C rising around 2200 m (at least).

Tip of the week

In the words of Alain Duclos, Avalanche Expert, sticking to low-angled slopes with wide skis is not a bad option this week.

There is a hidden demon under the snowpack in form of a weak layer read our post