Plenty of fresh snowfalls coming up for the N French Alps and surrounding areas, interspersed with a couple of clear, calm days, during this new year week. Happy 2024 everyone!

Fresh snowfall forecast this week will be greatly appreciated by off-piste and ski touring enthusiasts. It should really freshen things up at the surface of the snowpack and lead to some wonderful quality skiing.

For the last few days the sun’s been shining, as Ned Roberts photo above shows. This, together with last week’s wind and no recent fresh snowfall, has been making for tricker off-piste skiing. The surface snow has become very irregular, with a crust, or patches of ice and rock at higher altitudes, where the surface snow has been blown off. The best quality off-piste snow has been the old powder on high colder N facing slopes sheltered from the wind. There’s even been a risk of sliding injuries on the steeper very hard surfaces with little/no grip. 

The natural snowpack below about 1800 m has not really been skiable for a while now.

Things should be changing massively for the better with the fresh snowfalls next week though, especially at higher altitudes….

Avalanche Bulletin

Recent avalanche danger has been down at a 2 out of 5 for the last few days. However, with all the fresh snowfall due, we anticipate it will rise to a 3 out of 5 for most of the coming week (maybe a 4 if we get a little more than forecast – especially in France where the danger levels are often a level higher than neigbouring Switzerland, for example). Despite a generaly stable snowpack, there has been some very ‘localised’ instability (instability in some very specific places) due to weak layers that we talked about in last week’s snow report. The layer(s) have become even more fragile in the last week, particularly on North’ish facing slopes, especially above 2200 m, largely due to a succession of clear nights.

A clear, sad example of this very ‘localised’ continuing instability is the very tragic avalanche accident that happened on Mont Joly in Saint-Gervais in the massif de Mont Blanc last Thursday (28/12). Two people died in this accident. The avalanche released on a 39° NW facing slope at around 2400 m altitude (steeper than most ‘black runs’).

The avalanche started above the group, who were skiing in a steep gulley into which snowdrifts had been blown over the previous week or so.  This blown-in snow was lying on top of the type of instability that we mention above and last week, which was mainly confined to areas of high North’ish facing and very steep slopes. (Snowdrifts that form on top of a weak layer in the snowpack are often referred to as ‘windslab’).

Our thoughts and deep condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims.

See this link for a a simple excellent technical demo of the terrain and snowpack situation at the time c/o Avalanche Geeks.

Tragic avalanche accident on Mont Joly, St Gervais 28/12/23

Drone Photo of the avalanche crown / fracture line just in the shade in the middle of the image (taken from Data Avalanche website).

Weather/snow forecast  31st December to 5th January

SUNDAY 31st Dec: A mixture of sunshine and cloudy spells in the morning. By afternoon it will have become completely overcast though. There will be a short-lived unsettled spell in the evening with heavy snow showers above about 1200 m. 5 to 15 cm of fresh snow expected, maybe even up to 25 cm in Haute Savoie above 2200 m. Moderate SW then NW wind.

MONDAY 1st Jan: Calm and dry. Brightening up as the day goes on, with a fairly sunny afternoon in the mountains. Light NW to SW wind. 0°C at 1800 m.

TUESDAY 2nd Jan: Snowing in the mountains down to 1200 m or so at first, then down to 1600/1800 m as the day warms up (so rain at lower altitudes), but then  down to 1400 m or so overnight. Between 15 to 25 cm of fresh snow expected above 1900 m, and up to 30 cm above 2200 m by Wednesday morning!

WEDNESDAY 3rd Jan: Starting unsettled with snow showers down 1300/1500 m. These will die out as the day goes on.

THURS 4th Jan: Calm and sunny with some high clouds.

FRI 5th Jan: Possibly more light snowfall.

Tip of the Week

A reminder that off-piste and ski touring can be kept acceptably safe – as ‘safe’ or dangerous as everyday activities that most of us consider an acceptable risk level, like driving a car.  See the following research article on risk comparisons to off-piste and ski touring “What is the Risk of Riding in Avalanche Terrain?” by Tremper, Jamieson et.al.. We can keep things acceptably safe if we always follow simple accident reduction points like in our Avalanche Accident Framework (a memory aid card with an accident reduction points Framework on it).

Remember that the vast majority of avalanche accidents are triggered by the victims, someone in the group or, more recently due to the increased popularity of off-piste and ski touring, someone above. Therefore, you and your group have the biggest impact on making things ‘acceptably safe’ when you’re out in avalanche terrain. Most of the time nothing happens on steep unstable slopes, especially once the danger level starts to go down to 2 “Moderate”. So, in addition to education and training, we really need help if we are going to be able to always apply the points that help us to reduce the chance of an accident (and/or the consequences) to an acceptable level. 

This is the aim of our Accident Framework. it is designed for off-piste and ski touring beginners to experts, even for pros as a client training tool. It is available as part of our Avalanche Safety Pack.

“Safety is freedom”