Off-piste snow report – 2 to 8 February
Off Piste Snow Depths (Haute Tarentaise) by Meteo France
The best off-piste snow is to be found on N facing slopes above 2300 m. Here it has not been affected by recent rain, and is colder and drier. In gullies and areas sheltered from the wind, there is some nice soft snow to be found – sometimes up to as much as 20 cm (if the wind has blown it there). The wind has been howling though, and has scoured some of the snow off the mountain completely. There are quite a few rocks and other nasty obstacles around, often hidden just under the surface.
At lower altitudes, rain has humidified the surface of the snowpack. This humidified snow has been melting further by day, then refreezing overnight. Hence, first thing in the morning these lower slopes are quite crusted and extremely tricky to ski first thing.
With a few cloudy days ahead, visibility could be an issue with flat light making for potentially tricky route-finding. With recent rough, windy weather, we’ve been getting to see a lot of local wildlife, as chamois have been coming down to lower altitudes to find shelter. Some chamois remains have been seen too, with rumours of possible wolf activity!
Small top-ups of fresh snow this week (maybe larger amounts on Saturday) will continue to be accompanied by strong SW to W winds. This wind at high altitude, along with gusts of Foehn and Lombard, will constantly be forming new accumulations of snow. Look out for unstable windslab, particularly on the high leeward slopes (W to N to E). This will be forming on top of a very unstable base, consisting of either recently fallen light powdery snow, cohesionless ‘sugar snow’, hard windslab, or in direct contact with the rock/earth itself. The weight of one skier passing by may be enough to trigger a slab avalanche. From Saturday onwards, with more snow already on the ground and a good bit more falling, the bigger the possible size of a triggered avalanche, and the more dangerous it could be.
We could also see a few natural avalanches occurring, particularly when the snow has been humidified on sunny E to S slopes.
The avalanche risk is currently about 3 above 2100 m, and 2 below this. See Meteo France’s daily avalanche bulletins on www.meteofrance.com/previsions-meteo-montagne/bulletin-avalanches, entering your mountain area.
Detailed snow and weather forecast – 2 to 8 February
Thursday 2: Cloud thickening as the day goes on, particularly near the French/Italian border. A few snowflakes may fall above 1200 m in the afternoon and overnight. Up to 15 cm of fresh snow possible in the Haute and SE Maurienne (Val Cenis, Galibier etc), but only up to 5 cm elsewhere. Strengthening SW to S wind, particularly at high altitude and mountain tops. Foehn and Lombard occasionally gusting up to 100 km/hr. Maximum day temperature: 8° C at 2000 m on sunny S facing slopes, 0° at 3000 m.
Friday 3: A few snowflakes above 1400 m. Cloud thickening as the day goes on and light snowfall into the night. Possibly up to 15 cm of dry snow expected by Saturday morning. Winds turning SW to W at high altitude.
Saturday 4: Cloud thickening again. Light snowfall in the morning, with the flakes getting thicker in the afternoon. Lessening off again later. 10 to 30 cm of dry snow expected at higher altitudes. Strong SW to W winds at very high altitude. Strong gusts of Foehn/Lombard wind near the French/Italian border.
Sunday 5: Cloudy and snowy with wind.
Monday 6: Sunshine and snow showers down to low altitudes.
Tuesday 7: Bright spells.
Wednesday 8: Stormy with frequent showers. Winds turning NW to SW.
Look out for barely covered hard wind blown snow (sastrugi) because it will trip you up. It is now just under a thin layer of fresh snow so you won’t see them. Lumps might be rocks, soft snow or lumps of ice. So be careful.
It looks like the possibility of triggering bigger avalanches is on its way, with large amounts of snow lying on top of a snowpack which is unstable in many places. All it takes is a small increase in the size of an avalanche for to turn it from a situation which is a little bit dangerous to a deadly one. In Henry’s words “A little bigger avalanche is a lot badder”.
Have a great week on the slopes. Safety is Freedom!