Feeling more like winter again! A cooler week than recently, with some snowfall predicted for the N French Alps & surrounding areas, particularly along the mountains on the French side of the border with Italy. Photo J. VACHER

Snowfall is predicted this week. As we keep saying,  if any significant fresh snowfall (20 cm or so) does happen this will make for a very worrying period of snow instability at higher altitudes (above 2300 m) on the colder N’ish facing slopes (see the feature photo courtesy of Julien Vacher from this past Friday & below for more info on this). This could be the case on Tuesday, especially for areas near the French/Italian border (e.g. Haute Maurienne resorts like Val Cénis and probably also affecting places like Val d’Isère – near the Italian border i.e. the Le Fornet side).

Although last week’s fresh snowfall has improved the superficial appearance of the snow, natural snow coverage at altitudes below 1400 m remain deficient for the time of season, with no natural base. However, above 2000 m natural snow depths are normal for the time of season, and higher than usual above 2500 m.

Best snow conditions can be found at high altitude resorts, e.g. Tignes and Val Thorens where snow coverage remains excellent. There are currently some very nice powder snow conditions to be found on sheltered high N facing slopes. On the more wind-exposed slopes though, the snow has become very densified and crusted in places. Almost ‘spring snow’ conditions were occasionally found last week, but with cooler temperatures and snowfall this coming week, it’s going to back to a much more wintry feel for the next few days.

Avalanche Bulletin

The current avalanche danger level is around a 3 out of 5 above 2400 m or so, and a 2 out of 5 below that altitude. But I continue to believe, based on observable facts, that it would it would be more accurate for the danger level to have been at 1 and 2 above 2400 m. Not because there is no danger – a danger level of 2 is a level to be taken very seriously in specific places like those we point out in this report.

This artificial release (with explosives) is a good demonstration of what we (and other snow-avalanche specialists) forecast for instability on N’ish facing slopes above 2200m in the North French Alps and surrounding areas due to a persistent weak layer, now with a fresh snow layer on top of it. See this Facebook video of the release by the Bonneval piste patrol team taken during their ‘avalanche blasting’ control to secure the pistes on Friday 23 Feb :  https://www.facebook.com/reel/927873585247609

Avalanche terrain is a poor feedback environment for learning about avalanche hazard. (I’m paraphrasing avalanche expert, Bruce Kay). So these types of rare ’cause and effect’ examples of recent activity are extremely valuable – especially when significant propagation is demonstrated (indicating a reactive, possibly persistent, weak layer).
See my previous Snow Report that includes some other clues pointing to this type of instability (from data-avalanche.org among others).

I keep mentioning the need to pay extra caution around the colder shaded and North’ish facing slopes.  This is really important at the moment, and these are the places where it will become especially unstable when the next snowfall of 20-30cm or more comes (as may happen in those areas near the French Italian border). REMEMBER The vast majority of avalanche accidents involve cold, dry slab avalanches. They’re almost always triggered by the victim (or someone in their group) on N’ish facing slopes (in the Northern Hemisphere) during December, January and February.

** See my in depth talk on triggering.

Weather forecast : Mon 26th Feb to Fri 1st March thanks to Météo Alpes 

MON 26th: Following some overnight snowfall down to 1400 m or so (5 to 10 cm at 1400 m, but possibly 20 cm or so at 1900 m), Monday will be a cloudy day in the mountains, with some snow still falling down to 1400 m or so. 0°C at around 1700 m at the warmest time of day, so much colder than it was last week. Light to moderate SE wind.

TUES 27th: Dry and cloudy for most areas. However, for places near the mountainous French/Italian border, a ‘retour d’est’ phenomenon is predicted. This is a very localised phenomenon which happens occasionally, and can bring heavy snow to the Haute Maurienne (e.g. Bonneval, Val Cénis, and often also includes Val d’Isère, and Tignes to a lesser extent). These lucky areas could receive up to 20 cm of fresh snow at 2000 m, and possibly even up to 40/50 cm on the mountain tops.  Light to moderate ESE wind.

WED 28th: A cloudy, cool day in the mountains with a few very light snowflakes still coming down in the areas along the border with Italy. Light ESE wind. 0°C at 2000 m at the warmest part of the day.

THURS 29th: A slightly brighter morning, clouding over again the afternoon.

FRI 1st: Cloudy with snowshowers down to 1400 m or so.


Tip of the Week

Sun Shadow Slope Orientation

Since I so often talk about N’ish facing slopes (the vast majority of avalanche accidents happen on the North’sh side of the mountain – cold, dry slab avalanches triggered by the victim), and due to popular demand, I am posting this TOP TIP on using shadows to identify slope aspects (below). Also when any fresh snowfall arrives (as is forecast for the end of this week), high N’ish facing slopes are where the danger/sensitivity to triggers will be most prevalent.


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.

2. ‘Pocket Memory Aid Pack’ (for help applying the key safety points in the Essentials Talk Framework).
Education and training is not enough. So we need simplified ‘tools’ or aids to help you remember and apply the key safety points. It’s a small investment to help to keep you to understand and reduce risk and is a much appreciated contribution to our ‘Safety is Freedom’ cause!

Safety is Freedom!