It’s been a cold and dry week of blue skies and cold temperatures in the N French Alps. Any easily accessed off-piste snow is now tracked out, but by doing a bit of ski touring, it’s still possible to find some very reasonable quality off-piste skiing conditions.
A high pressure weather system is in place and the week ahead looks like continuing dry and sunny and cold in the mountains.
Meteo France image of off-piste snow depths for the Haute Tarentaise area of Savoie on 4th Feb
Wind and sunshine have taken their toll on the off-piste snow, often densifying it and creating a nasty surface crust that you could easily twist a knee in, or worse.
If you head for the ‘rippled snow’, as shown in Wayne Watson’s photo, that will provide some of the best off-piste skiing conditions at the moment.
Another issue is that as the snowpack diminishes, and as some of the deeper frozen layers that had previously been ‘shielding’ us from buried rocks have now ‘broken up’, the problem of hitting rocks is now back.
Skiing the rippled snow – Wayne Watson photo
Current danger rating in the Tarentaise
As our featured image from Meteo France shows, the avalanche danger rating across virtually all the French Alps remains a ‘moderate’ 2 out of 5, just as it was all last week, with the colder north’ish facing slopes above 2100 m most at risk. The snowpack is currently pretty stable with the recent cold, dry conditions.
However, following a series of cold days and bitterly cold clear nights, another very serious persistent weak layer in the snowpack has been developing on all slopes. ‘Sugary’ incohesive snow is starting to reappear everywhere. In some places the whole snowpack, right down to ground level, is now made of up of faceted grains. It’s not causing any harm now, and can be very pleasant to ski, but will become a massive problem when a significant amount of fresh snow falls on the top of it.
What does a ‘moderate’ Avalanche Danger Rating of 2 mean?
My simplified definitions of Avalanche Danger Ratings Level 2 and 3 taken from the international definitions and the points outlined in the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11069-017-3070-5 are:
For the LIKELIHOOD that someone in the forecast area can TRIGGER an avalanche within the timeframe of the latest bulletin:
Level 2: Triggering is possible, particularly with high additional loads (like that of a group of skiers) on very steep slopes. Natural avalanches are unlikely.
Level 3: Triggering is likely on steep slopes of 30° or more and/or just below, just above and beside. Natural avalanches are possible – so remain cautious of slopes above.
Differences between Danger Ratings 2 and 3:
a) it’s most likely a group of skiers (rather than one person) will trigger an avalanche
b) an avalanche is more likely to be triggered on very steep slopes of 35 degrees + (steeper than most parts of a black run)
c) remote triggering ‘from a distance’ is not likely at 2
d) a small part of a slope, rather than a large part of slope, is most likely to be triggered at 2.
e) anything else you can think of? Let us know!
As a point of reference for what ‘danger’ is, this graph from the European Avalanche Warning Service puts things into perspective. It clearly shows that an avalanche danger level 2 can be potentially much safer than a 3. Of course, though, it’s how you manage the risk and actively APPLY the risk reduction factors that matters.
My benchmark is that the ‘danger’ of everyday activities, like driving a car, is about in the middle of an Avalanche Danger Level 3 IF the RISK REDUCTION points from the HAT Framework are being applied (henrysavalanchetalk.com/off-piste-quick-reference). Otherwise, the danger is more like driving a motorcycle very fast to Base Jumping.
EAWS avalanche danger level scale consists of five levels. See the following link for more info https://www.avalanches.org/education/
Weather forecast 6th to 13th Feb
A sprinkling of snow possible near the French/Italian border on Mon/Tues night, but otherwise a dry, sunny and cold week ahead in the N French Alps:
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 6
A clear day in the mountains, with just a few clouds lingering in areas near the French/Italian border which may have received a couple of cm fresh snow overnight. Light E wind. Maximum temperature of -3°C at 2000 m. Possibility of another cm or so more fresh snow near the French/Italian border on Mon/Tues night, but dry elsewhere.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 7
Remaining cold and sunny in the mountains, with just a few cloudy spells near the French/Italian border.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 8
Another cold and sunny day in the mountains (the coldest day of the week with temperatures down to -10°C at 1000 m). E to SE wind gusting up to 40 km/hr.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9
Remaining cold and sunny in the mountains with a light E breeze.
FRIDAY & SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10 & 11
No change. Still cold and sunny in the mountains
SUNDAY & MONDAY:
Uncertain, but not really looking too promising for fresh snowfall.
Tip of the Week
Yes the avalanche danger rating level of 2 is a lower than a rating 3. But it’s still recognised as a ‘moderate’ in the English version (which possibly sounds more serious than ‘risque limité’ as used in the French terminology) AND there are 10-20% of deadly accidents that occur on a rating of 2 day depending on the season.
In sum, it’s how you MANAGE the risk and, most importantly, how well you APPLY risk reduction measures that will help you to be safe. See our new Accident Prevention Card, that you’ll be able to buy in the next few months or enquire on email@example.com. For a preview of the Card see henrysavalanchetalk.com/off-piste-quick-reference.
Applying the key safety points on this accident prevention / reduction Framework helps to keep things acceptably safe.
Finally, most avalanche accidents in Risk 2 happen when skiers are on steep slopes above terrain traps (things like cliffs, holes or trees) that we talked about in last week’s snow report.
“Safety is freedom”