A varied week of weather predicted for the N French Alps & surrounding areas. Amounts of fresh snow could vary between sprinklings of 5 cm or so, or even up to a metre by the end of the week!
The big snowfalls predicted for the end of last week keep being pushed back. After some sprinklings over the weekend (5 to 10 cm), more snow is now expected later in the week, generally in smaller quantities than originally expected, although it depends on which forecast you consult. Conspiracy theories have been linking the overestimations of snowfall with the beginning of the busy February ski holidays, calling it ‘tourist snow’. Different forecasts vary wildly on amounts of snow due this coming week, so time will tell…. It is what it is, and even a couple of cm of fresh snow can drastically improve the quality of skiing!
Thanks to plenty of pre- and early season snow at high altitudes, depths of natural snow cover above 2000 m are correct for the time of season, especially above 2500 m, where they remain higher than usual. (Apart from the summits and ridges, where the wind has blown the snow off). There’s now very little, or no, natural snow coverage at altitudes below 1400 m.
All we’ll say is that it’s always worth going out and seeing what you can find. Our featured image from Wayne Watson, taken on a dull, windy Saturday in ‘flat light’ conditions, shows how beautiful it can be when least expected. Just a sprinkling of 5 cm of fresh snow can make a huge improvement to the off-piste snow quality. If the wind blows 5 cm of snow into a gulley, that can easily amount to 15 to 20 cm of snow build-up and some nice soft skiing!
The current avalanche danger level is around a 2 out of 5, especially in the more N part of the N French Alps – areas further S have received a little more snow and the risk there is temporarily up to a 3 out of 5.
However… if any significant fresh snow falls (as some forecasts show at the end of the week – see weather forecast lower down) steep North’ish facing slopes (mainly from East to North to West facing slopes) above 2200m (and any other high slopes that don’t get much direct sun) will become very unstable and very sensitive to triggering (by people). This is due to the old unconsolidated snow we currently find in these places. This ‘future weak layer’ that has formed from the very low snow surface temperatures that are still occuring during clear/partially clear nights and also during the days in shaded places.
See the ‘Propagation Saw Test (PST)’ by Alain Duclos of Data Avalanche that we posted in last week’s snow report. It’s an excellent demonstration of the very unstable nature of a persistent weak layer forming in the snowpack on slopes mentioned above – and how these types of snow layers are setting things up to be very unstable once the weight of new snow is on top of it.
On the other hand, slopes that have been subjected to consistent above-freezing temps and the sun’s rays – especially those slopes exposed to the sun (South’ish facing) have formed an exceptionally solid base, thanks in large part to melting and freezing. These slopes will, in general, be much more stable.
The vast majority of avalanche accidents involve cold, dry slab avalanches. They are almost always triggered by the victim (or someone in their group) on North’ish facing slopes (in the Northern Hemisphere) in December, January and February.
When fresh snowfall arrives, these high North’ish facing slopes are where the danger/sensitivity to triggers will be most prevalant.
Weather forecast : Mon 12th to Sat 16th Feb thanks to Météo France below:
MON 12th: After some very light snowfall on Sunday (only 5 cm or so) Monday will be a cloudy day with very light snowfall (1 to 5 cm) above 1100 m. Light to moderate NW wind. 0° C at 1500 m.
TUES 13th: A dry day with mixture of sunshine and clouds. Getting milder in the afternoon, with 0°C at 2300 m. Light to moderate W’ish wind.
WED 14th: A few snow showers in the morning, clearing up later.
THURS 15th: A sunny day with temperatures average for the time of season. Clouding over towards the end of the day, bringing possible snow showers above 2000 m or during the night.
FRI 16th: Lower temperatures and a new unsettled weather system coming through.
SAT 17th: Mixed weather conditions, with some possible snowfall above 1500 m.
A more optimistic forecast below by Meteo Blue, for Val d’Isere (1800 m altitude and above).
7 day weather for Val d'Isere by Meteo Blue
Tip of the Week
Sun Shadow Slope Orientation
You’ll often hear me talking about N’ish facing slopes. When any fresh snowfall arrives, high N’ish facing slopes are where the danger/sensitivity to triggers will be most prevalant.
As soon as the sun reappears after a few cloudy/snowy days, we’ll be tempted to explore further off-piste. Here’s my simple video guide to figuring out which direction your slope faces.
SPECIAL HAT OFFER
1. To help you keep things acceptably safe off-piste and ski touring, I’m currently working on a pre-recorded online ‘Essentials Talk’. Here’s a sneak- peek draft: a ‘staff talk version’ of the Essential Talk, featuring an accident Prevention Framework, which I’m making available free of charge for a couple of weeks on my YouTube channel.
If you find it useful, please subscribe to this channel. There are lots of other cool vids in there too! Thanks again to Jérôme for the cover photo.