Snow conditions in the N French Alps are generally OK for early December, although snow depths are still fairly low. There’s currently very little, if any, snow coverage below 1500 m. The good news for skiers is that temperatures have been low enough for snow cannons to work, as Wayne Watson’s photo shows, making it possible to piste-ski down to town level in high altitude resorts like Val d’Isère (1850 m).
Here’s the Meteo France image of off-piste snow depths for the Haute Tarentaise on 3rd December 2022
There’s a real mixture of snow conditions at the moment, ranging from soft powdery snow on sheltered high N facing slopes (often quite shallow in depth) to dense crusted snow in wind-exposed areas. In gulleys you may find some strips of nice soft wind-blown snow to ski, but may then come across a sector where there’s no snow at all!
Meteo France report The snow is slightly deficient and you have to climb to 1700/1800 m to find skiable grassy areas. We should find on Monday morning a little powder (2 to 5cm at most in the accumulation areas) on an irregular background, tender to hard through cardboard. The border sector of Val d’Isère, which was subjected to significant snowfall this weekend, has 20 to 40 cm of loose snow depending on the areas protected from the wind.
Until snow depths improve significantly, we’ll need to be on our guard hitting rocks and other hazards under the thin snow cover. This is particularly hazardous in low visibility, when there can be some nasty dips and troughs that haven’t yet been filled in with snow.
When skiing off the side of the piste, we’ve also learned to look out for patches of ‘snow-cannon snow’, blown across by the wind. These can really take you by surprise, with a very different texture from the naturally formed snow : dense and crusted (a real knee-twister, at best, if you try to make a turn).
Avalanche Bulletin 4th December 2022
Current danger rating in Haute Tarentaise
The bulletin reports a danger rating of 3 above 2300m on SW through to NE facing slopes and indicates there are some small areas of wind slab snow which can be triggered by the passage of a single skier on steep slopes.
Typical avalanche situation: windy snow Natural risk is only on sunny slopes with departures near the rocks. On the border sector of Val d’Isère they are more substantial, sometimes of medium size.
Accidental risk: Small slabs have formed and are still formed from 2300m. They can be triggered by the passage of a single skier on sufficiently steep slopes and sometimes far from the ridges with the presence of a little angular grains (facets) in the fragile underlay.
Given the significant snowfall this weekend in the border areas of Val d’Isère, the plates are more frequent and thicker.
Weather forecast 4th to 9th December (and indication beyond)
Expect three nice days on Monday Tuesday and Wednesday then the weather breaks again from the South. So favouring snow on the Italian border. After that we seem to be in for a prolonged unsettled spell with variable and difficult to predict amounts of snow. Moderate to strong winds from time to time. But not really storm conditions
MONDAY, DECEMBER 5
The weather is very nice. The wind is weak at all levels, passing from the southwest still strong in the high mountains (40 to 50 km/h at 3000 m) to the weak northwest at all levels. The maximum temperatures are in plains and lower valleys around 8 degrees, around 2000 m -2 degrees, around 3000m -5 degrees. (isothermal 0 degree 1700 m).
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6
Beautiful sunny day. The wind is weak in a West-Northwest trend at altitude (20 to 30 km/h around 3000m). Temperatures range in plains from -2 to 7 degrees, around 2000m from -6 to 0 degrees. Zero degree isothermal around 2200m.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7
After a beautiful day, the clouds come back from the south in the evening and at night with low rainfall (snow around 1600m). The wind is weak at low altitudes while in the high mountains, it passes from the moderate West-Northwest (20 to 40 km/h to 3000m) to the West-Southwest quite strong (50 to 70 km/h). Temperatures range in plains from -2 to 8 degrees, around 2000m from -7 to 0 degrees. Zero degree isothermal around 1900m.
The clouds come back to give rain and snow in the mountains (15 to 30 cm in 24 hours). The maximum temperatures remain rather cool with 8 degrees in the plain.
FRIDAY: Always disturbed.
The sky is covered with precipitation and snow in the mountains (5 to 10cm). The maximums in the plain are around 8 degrees.
SATURDAY: Temporary lull
The scenario is uncertain, but a lull seems to take place during the day with clearings in the mountains (timing to be specified). The maximums in the plain remain around 8 degrees.
Clouds dominate giving rain and snow in the mountains. Temperatures are stationary.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 12 and TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13
Disturbed weather is on the menu for these two days, with snow in the mountains. Stationary temperatures.
Tip of the Week
The early season snowpack is very often more fragile than it seems, and this is made worse by lack of skier compaction. The bulletins continue to warn of wind slabs and a danger rating of 3. This rating means “considerable danger”
Combined with our enthusiasm to ski off-piste, this is a combination that catches out even the most experienced skiers.
Be particularly on your guard after any significant fresh snowfall, and go very carefully on steep slopes, even if you know them well.