More unsettled weather before settling down a bit from Tuesday in the Northern French Alps !

It’s been an epic week of off-piste skiing, with arguably the best snow conditions of the whole season! Following some resort level rain on Thursday, we just had another night of fresh snowfall so we wake on Friday with avalanche danger rating 4 again.

There are a variety of off-piste conditions at the moment. We currently have some great powder snow conditions, light and fluffy in places (especially the colder high north’ish facing slopes), in others densified by the wind, but very skiable.

With more fresh snowfall due next week, at least above 1800 m or so, we’re hoping for more great off-piste skiing conditions, at least some days, next week.

After any substantial fresh snowfall we’ll, as always, be choosing low slope angles, <30° (the steepest part of a red run) to start with, and keeping a wary eye out for any signs of recent avalanche activity.

Sadly (but predictably) sunny days after fresh snowfall this week have seen a ‘powder frenzy’ with the off-piste being rapidly tracked out with little/no regard for safety.

There have been many skier-triggered avalanches/slides this week, most of them thankfully without serious consequences. There was, however, a serious avalanche accident in the Chardonnet couloir, Tignes on Tuesday. This was a sunny day following 20 cm or so of fresh snowfall. Two off-piste skiers were caught by an avalanche that they triggered on a second lap of the same route they’d taken 20 minutes previously. One of them was flown to hospital in an unconscious state after being buried for 10 minutes. Link to report (in French).

The week ahead promises to be very similar, and will be another tricky one as far as avalanche danger goes. Temperatures will be yo-yoing again, with significant snowfall expected (sometimes rain) accompanied by wind.

Off-piste snow depths for Haute Tarentaise 4/3/20 by Meteo France

Recent history of the snowpack

There’s been a lot of very obvious avalanche activity this week. You can spot it from every chairlift. Much of this has been in the form of direct avalanches (naturally occurring), but some has been skier-triggered too.

With all the recent snowfall, and more expected next week, we’ll continue to see increased avalanche activity. Any rainfall will make the snowpack heavier and lead to potentially very large natural avalanches occurring.

There are large snow accumulations on leeward slopes. These areas could easily be triggered by the weight of skiers passing by. There’s also that weak layer in isolated places above 2700 m on the more shady N facing slopes and on less-travelled routes.

Check out what the avalanche danger ratings mean.

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

As we write, the avalanche risk is 4/5.

As we predicted last week, avalanche activity has been both spontaneous and skier triggered. This will continue to be true with each fresh snowfall.

For any specific points about snow stability, you need to check the daily avalanche bulletins, particularly when any fresh snow comes.

Where is most at risk at the moment?

Steep slopes with terrain traps beneath them are always going to be particularly at risk.

As we reported last week, if we receive 75 cm to a metre of new snow (which can also mean accumulations of wind-transported snow), this can produce some very large avalanches due to the increasing weight of snow (‘load’ in scientific terminology) pushing through to old instability in the form of some isolated old weak layers which still exist, especially in areas above 2500 m.

The best way for you to keep track of snow stability (which is even difficult for the experts) is to look out for evidence of avalanche activity.

How does the forecast look for the coming week?

Looks like the weather will start to settle a bit from Tuesday or Wednesday next week. We have been in very unsettled weather which has produced fantastic snow conditions.

unstable and cool
Many clouds, gradual return to dry almost everywhere. Thinning, quite wide in plains, more discreet in the massifs where clouds remain stuck to the reliefs. Variable sky during the day, sometimes beautiful gaps. More generous thinnings in Maurienne and Haute-Maurienne, despite some fog banks hanging on the slopes. In Vanoise, maybe a little sleet of sleet from 800 m at the end of the afternoon.
Maximum temperatures: 10 DG in Albertville, 8 in St-Jean-de-Maurienne, -4 to 2000 m, -12 to 3000 m.

Isotherm 0 DG: 1000 then 1400 m.
Isothermal -10 DG: 2500 then 2700 m.
Wind at 2000 m: W 40 km / h rapidly weakening NW 10/20 km / h.
Wind at 3000 m: NW 30/40 km / h, locally 60/80 km / h in Haute-Maurienne.

calm, sun and clouds
In the morning: cloudy, cloudy among clouds and fog stuck to the slopes of mid-mountain.
In the afternoon: sunny spells in the plains with a slight Bise de N, a fresh sensation. In the massifs: variable between moments of sun and Cumulus clouds, sometimes quite numerous between 1500 and 3000 m. Wider and long-term thinning in Haute-Maurienne and Haute-Tarentaise.
Maximum temperatures: 10 DG in Chambéry, 7 in Bourg-St-Maurice, -8 / -3 to 2000 m, -15 / -9 to 3000 m.

Isotherm 0 DG: 900 then 1500 m.
Isothermal -10 DG: 2500 then 2800 m.
Wind at 2000 m: N 10/20 km / h (40 km / h on Bauges in the morning).
Wind at 3000 m: N 40 then 30 km / h, locally 50 km / h on the crests of Haute-Maurienne and Thabor.

In the morning: generous sun in the plains as in the mountains.
In the afternoon: the feeling of good weather persists. Arrival of thicker altitude clouds at the end of the day.
Maximum temperatures: 11/14 DG in plains, -8 / + 2 to 2000 m, -11 / -4 to 3000 m.

Isotherm 0 DG: 2200 m.
Wind at 2000 m: NW 10 km / h.
Wind at 3000 m: N 40 km / h then NW 20/30 km / h.

Night from Sunday to Monday: light rain, rain / snow limit around 1000 m, 10 cm in the massifs (5 cm in Haute-Maurienne).


Monday 9: grey and cool weather, slightly rainy in the plains. Rain / snow limit around 900 m, 10 cm in the mountains. Lull at the end of the day.
Tuesday 10: many clouds. Quite soft, isothermal 0 DG around 2300 m. Rainfall uncertain, snow around 2000 m, 10 cm to 2500 m, to be confirmed.

Wednesday 11: sunny and mild, a few discreet clouds.
Thursday 12: fairly generous sunshine, cloudy periods in the afternoon. Light rain at night (flakes from 1500/1800 m).

Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th: sunny spells then good weather.

Tip of the week

This week’s tip is the same as last week. Avalanche expert, Alain Duclos, from says:

“The best clue about avalanche danger is avalanches!!” …. or ‘recent avalanche activity’ as we call it at HAT.