Great news : fresh snowfall is forecast from Tuesday night onwards, and potentially lots of it! Fingers crossed, as it’s much needed, especially for the low and mid-altitude resorts who are really struggling. Their piste grooming teams have been doing an epic job at keeping the pistes open though, at least above 1800 m.
Off-piste snow depths across the Northern French Alps are currently much lower than normal for the time of year. It was the driest February since 2012 and the driest season overall since 1962/63. Now March is here, things are about to change though!
Meteo France image of off-piste snow depths for the Haute Tarentaise area of Savoie on 4th March
A few areas close to the French/Italian border like Val Cenis, Val d’Isere, Tignes and La Rosiere did receive a little fresh snow above 1700 m last week, which provided some lovely conditions (see our featured photo taken on Friday 3rd by Chris Souillac). Unfortunately for most areas, though, it remained dry.
There’s currently a mixture of off-piste conditions: lovely light powder in those lucky areas which received a few fresh cm of snow, wind and sun crusted snow, to softer ‘frisette’ type rippled snow (actually ‘facets’) that’s enjoyable to ski, to almost ‘spring-like’ snow.
Everyone waits excitedly for the fresh snowfall from Tuesday evening/night. When it arrives the avalanche danger rating, that we’ve recently become accustomed to being low, will also raise considerably – especially on the higher colder slopes (see below). We’ll also need to beware of a very thin off-piste snow cover hiding rocks, etc, especially at lower altitudes, and whether it is possible to access out of some lower areas that do not have enough snow coverage.
Current Danger Ratings for the Northern French Alps
The avalanche danger rating across the French Alps curently remains between a ‘low’ 1 out of 5 and up to a ‘moderate’ 2 out of 5.
If we receive significant amounts of snowfall from Tuesday night/Wednesday, and continuing for several days, as is forecast (see below), this will all change though. This will cause serious instability, especially at higher altitudes on the colder North’ish facing and shaded slopes where a serious persistent weak layer still remains. The weak layer formed over time during the prolonged dry period, and especially the long series of clear cloudless nights.
So if we receive a lot of fresh snow (even 10 to 20 cm, as is highly likely), we’ll need to be extremely cautious, particularly skiing these higher, colder type of slopes.
As we mentioned last week, even 10-20 cm of fresh snow could create a potentially hazardous situation on the above mentioned slopes, especially in a ‘powder frenzy’ with everyone rushing out to get to the powder. See this very short demo video https://youtu.be/kT0tX5EoLas of a Propagation Saw Test done by Alain Duclos of data-avalanche.org
Weather forecast 6th to 12th March
The weather for the week ahead and beyond looks unsettled and unpredictable, with potentially large amounts of snowfall from Tuesday night onwards.
This is the image from MeteoBlue showing their weather predictions for Val d’Isere. They’re forecasting a huge snowfall starting on Tuesday evening and continuing for several days or even all week.
Tip of the Week
Go for the low hanging fruit! These are easily accessible places in ‘risk avoidance areas’ i.e. where there are no slopes steeper than 30° above, below or around you.
The avalanche danger rating will go up at times to at least a 4, ‘High’, rating this coming week in a lot of places in the Northern French Alps, during and just after the series of snow storms that are forecasted. How dangerous that is depends on you. This coming week it will depend mainly on ‘Where’ you go. If you stick to the ‘low hanging fruit’, as described above, it can be very safe.
So this is a good time to get familiar with what 30° slope steepness is. In general terms, it’s about the steepness of average steep parts of a black run. Developing a good sense of how steep this threshold is can help you with basic terrain choices that can mean the difference between ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’.
There are a few ways you can measure and train yourself on slope angles:
– With your poles. See this video https://youtu.be/sSyS5PPmvL8
– With an app on your phone if you don’t mind taking the chance of dropping your phone in the snow or getting it wet!
– With various gadgets like www.snowangel.com. They have good gadgets, but it seems their site is under maintenance)
– With maps that have colour designations, a ‘terrain layering tool’ that shows terrain of 30° and more – like here on this link: https://fatmap.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115001419425-Avalanche-Tool-Terrain-Layer-
– Other more sophisticated tools like Theodolite smartphone app: a pretty good YouTube vid description here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5Pp-T9i_yo
“Safety is freedom”