Fantastic news – at last there is a snow-filled week ahead in the N French Alps! Following another mainly dry and sunny week across the N French Alps, it started snowing on Sunday morning (8th Jan). More significant amounts are expected on and off all week long and hopefully even beyond!  This is great news for off-piste skiers, with snow conditions set to improve vastly from how they’ve been over the last few weeks.

Here’s the Meteo France image of off-piste snow depths for the Haute Tarentaise, Savoie region on 8th Jan. This is going to change a lot this week, and is  just the start of the improvement of snow depths that are going to be topping up all week and beyond with a series of snowstorms coming through.


Off piste snow depths Val d'Isere

What a difference a couple of days make! From ‘spring’ on Friday back to winter on Sunday, with plenty of snowstorms in the week ahead. Wayne Watson photos

 At the time of writing, snow depths are still far below ‘normal’.  However,  really significant amounts of fresh snow are expected in all areas of the N French Alps this week, and even into the beginning of next week! This is great news for all the ski resorts, especially the more lower-lying ones which have been really suffering from poor snow coverage.

All this fresh snow will vastly improve the quality of the off-piste skiing, which has lately been tricky, to say the least  (even in the higher resorts still lucky enough to have skiable off-piste snow)! It will be lovely and powdery in spots sheltered from the wind, densified in more wind-exposed areas, if not wind-hardened or blown off altogether at high altitude.

Avalanche Bulletin 6th & 8th January 2023

Danger ratings in Tarentaise on Fri 6th Jan (before the snow) and Sun 8th Jan (as fresh snow starts to fall)

With any fresh snowfall it’s good to take note of what the snow stability was like before this snowfall began.

In this week’s case, the snowpack had become extremely stable up through the weekend, as you can see from the avalanche danger rating in the left-hand bulletin from Meteo France (6th Jan). They put the avalanche danger down at a 1 out of 5 below 2800 m, most local forecasts simply gave a rating of 1 for the whole mountain. This stabilising of the snowpack was thanks to rain up to at least 2100 m, but not above 2800 m. Notice the black part of the clover diagram, which indicates there was some instability to be reckoned with, particularly on shaded N’ish facing slopes above 2800 m. Indeed, we’ve heard reports that a group of ski tourers triggered and were taken by an avalanche in the last few days in exactly the type of area indicated in that black part of the clover. Luckily there were no significant injuries.

Please note that this recent accident – incident comes under ‘Recent (avalanche) Activity’ in our Accident Reduction Framework and is important to take note of for the snowfalls in the days ahead.

The right-hand avalanche bulletin diagram for 9th Jan, after the first episode of fresh snow shows quite a significant change with an avalanche danger of 3 on slopes facing all directions at all altitudes. Natural avalanche activity is expected, as well as skier-triggered avalanches due to a snow/slab build-up, especially near mountain ridges in the lee of the strong NW winds.

Weather forecast 9th to 15th January

MONDAY, 9th January: After a night of snowfall above 1400 m, the day will start with a lull in the storm. More persistent snowfall will come back in in the afternoon (snowing right down to 600/700 m), and overnight. 20 cm of fresh snow expected at 1000 m, 25 to 35 cm at 1800 m, more at higher altitudes.  0° C dropping to 1000 m during the day and down to 700 m overnight. -3° C during the day at 2000 m, dropping to around -8 ° overnight. Strengthing NW to WNW winds up to 80 km/hr an/hr at 3500 m.

TUESDAY, 10th January: A calmer day, with some sunshine in the mountains. Strong NW wind. 0°C at 2000 m.

WEDNESDAY, 11th January: A new storm coming through. Snow will start falling in the mountains during the afternoon, with significant amounts expected during the night (maybe 20 – 30 cm around 1600 m).

THURSDAY, 12th January: Snowfall above 1300 m (hopefully up to another 20 cm at 1500 m). Strong N-NW wind in the mountains.

FRIDAY 13th January: After a lull in the weather, another storm coming through bringing significant snowfall to areas above 1400 m. Strong N-NW winds in the mountains and temperatures more like what we’re used to for the time of season.

SATURDAY 14th : Remaining stormy with snowfall at low altitude. Strong NW winds persisting at high altitude. Significant amounts of snow.

SUNDAY 15th & MONDAY 16th: Remaining stormy with more snowfall!

Tip of the Week

Above and beyond applying the key  points in the accident reduction and prevention Framework, make sure you have the right insurance for off-piste and ski touring rescue.

On Friday someone skiing with me broke her ankle and needed to be rescued off-piste. The rescue team was very professional and the fee of over one thousand euros was reasonable, but if the injured person did not have the right insurance, it would have been a very expensive off-piste and touring session indeed. Plus rescues off-piste can easily go into the tens of thousands of euros especially if a helicopter is involved.

Helping you to choose the right insurance for off-piste and ski touring, is why Chris Radford took the time to research and write this recent article (mainly aimed at UK residents, but there’s good advice for all), Insurance for off piste skiers and ski tourers

“Safety is Freedom!”