A sunny first half to the week ahead. Snowfall from Wednesday for higher altitudes above 2000 m or so.

Off-piste snow depths have improved at all altitudes, but are particularly good above 1800 m or so.  Sunnier S facing slopes have been heating up, with the snow softening as the day goes on. On the more N facing slopes it’s currently still possible to find light cold powder snow (the sort of snow in our featured image taken by Jérôme of Alpine Experience). This is getting quickly tracked out though, particularly on slopes easily accessed from the lifts. Fresh snowfall at higher altitudes from Wednesday (and maybe a little 5-8cm tonight/Sunday if we are lucky!) will help to refresh things for powder enthusiasts.

On many of the higher more exposed slopes, particularly mountain ridges, the surface snow has been wind hardened. For the next few days, sunnier more S facing slopes will have quite a snowcrust, following snow melting and then refreezing overnight.

Conditions will change from Wednesday with some fresh snow forecast at higher altitudes (see weather forecast lower down in this report).

Avalanche Bulletin

The first half of this coming week looks to be down to a Danger Level 2 out of 5. 

This danger level 2 may well rise to a 3 with the new snow coming in around Wednesday. Instability will most likely be confined to the upper levels of the snowpack, i.e. the new snow on top of the older layer of snow that fell early last week, which has transformed  into a top layer of loosely bonded snow called ‘facets’ as a result of clear skies at nights and days (especially on N and shaded slopes).

Interpretation of Avalanche Danger Level 3 in France

Danger level 3 ‘Considerable’ is not an easy avalanche rating to interpret, even for professionals.

In the Northern French Alps, it can be even more difficult. This was certainly the case a few days last week (9th to 11th Jan) when the general snow stability – observable facts and ‘evidence’ like recent dry slab  releases/accidental triggers – seemed to fit more into the definition of a ‘Moderate’ Level 2 than a ‘Considerable’ Level 3 .

For definitions see this ‘European Avalanche Danger Scale’ below, from the European Avalanche Warning Services :  avalanches.org

When this is the case, I follow the suggestion from many people who frequent the French/Swiss border area in Haute Savoie (the most Northerly Department of the Northern French Alps).

They defer to the Swiss Avalanche Forecast’s Danger Level, which is often one general rating Level below that of France, and seems to follow the Level definitions more closely. 

For example, several days last week, the area of Switzerland along the French border was a Level 2 and immediately on the French side the general Level was 3. The only differences are the Danger Level on either side of the land border not the snow stability conditions.

See this map  of Avalanche Danger Level by country and region for 11th January provided by the European Avalanche Warning Services avalanches.org

What I suggest, in order to resolve this flagrant contrast, is to use this discrepency as an opportunity to look at other pertinent facts like: comments in the bulletin on recent avalanche accident activity and danger level according to altitude and slope aspect; then situate yourself on the ‘Natural, continuous progression of avalanche danger’ graph. Last week I found myself on the extreme lower end of Level 3 by mid-week and most of the time on Level 2, especially on Jan 10th/11th (more consistent with the Swiss rating than the French one).

See this diagram (provided by courtesy of European Avalanche Warning Services avalanches.org), that helps us to situate on a curve, the ‘Avalanche Danger’ alongside the local forecast’s Avalanche Danger Level.

Weather forecast : Sun 14th to Fri 19th Jan

SUN 14th: A sunny day, but with thin high cloud. Light to moderate WNW wind. Overnight: Very light snowfall down to 1000 m (1 to 8 cm).

MON 15th:  Clouds will give way to sunshine as the morning goes on. 0°C around 1300 m. Light to moderate NW wind.

TUES 16th: Sunny until mid-afternoon, when cloud cover will build up. Light SE wind. 0°C at 2100 m at the warmest part of the day.

WED 17th: A change in the weather, with temperatures mild for the time of season, along with precipitation. Snowfall starting at around 1500/1700 meters but quickly rising to around 2100/2300 meters (rainfall at lower altitudes). 15-20 cm of snow expected in the high mountains.

THURS 18th & FRI 19th: Remaining unsettled on Thursday with snowfall down 1500 m or so, and to lower altitudes by the evening. A few residual snow flurries down to 900 m on Friday morning, clearing up in the afternoon.

FOLLOWING FEW DAYS: Calm and sunny with temperatures normal for the time of season.

Tip of the Week

Remember to READ the avalanche bulletin for your area and get in to the habit of placing your approximate Danger Level on the European Avalanche Warning Services’ ‘Natural, continuous progression of avalanche danger’ curve. See avalanches.org/education/avalanche-danger-scale-2

Bear in mind that the avalanche forecast is just a FORECAST, usually published well over 14 hours before you are going out on the mountain! So, in order for it to work for you, you need to apply the observable facts and evidence for where and when you are in ‘real time’ i.e. not just from the forecast the day before.

Safety is Freedom!

To help you apply the forecast, danger level(s) and to help you keep things acceptably safe, look at our Accident Reduction Framework and the memory aid cards ‘HAT Safety Pack’ that goes with it!