Off-Piste Snow and Weather Report 28th Dec 2018


For Savoie and the Northern French Alps

Looks like a sunny start to the new year!

Happy new year everyone! After a spate of gloomy mild weather with a rain/snow limit around 2500 m, the sun has made a welcome reappearance over the last few days. We could see some cloud over the weekend, but then it should turn sunny again from Monday.

Off Piste Snow & Weather Report
Some pretty nice off-piste conditions up high. Wayne Watson photo

High altitude resorts above 1800 m are faring much better for snow cover than lower lying ones in the N French Alps. We’ve been finding some very nice quality snow above 2400/2500 m. That’s definitely where the best skiing is currently to be found. We’ve sometimes chanced upon sprinklings of fresh snow up there, or snow which has been blown around but is a bit powdery.

At altitudes below 2400 m, the snow’s been heavily humidifed by recent rain, then refrozen and solidified. Needless to say, that can make for some tricky off-piste skiing conditions (with the potential for some nasty knee-twisting injuries).

Polarised conditions. Stable below 2400m. Some instability above 2400m

The very complicated conditions of last week mainly due to raised temperatures and rain, have now contributed to creating a more stable situation at altitudes below the rain/snow limit of around 2500 m. The avalanche risk is currently around a 3/5 above 2400 m (the recent rain/snow limit), and down to 1/5 below 2400 m. See our descriptions of what all the avalanche danger ratings mean.

There is continued instability in the snowpack at altitudes above 2400 m. Snow accumulations and windslab have been forming, particularly on high East to North to West facing slopes. Be particularly cautious of steep North’ish facing slopes and steep cold slopes shaded from the sun. When avalanches have occurred, they have not so far generally been very big (usually no more than 30 to 40 metres in size, although with some exceptions), and they’ve tended to involve just parts of slopes, rather than being widespread.

There continues to be a lot more written about natural avalanche activity, especially talking about altitudes below 2500 m. However, during the last week, despite the rain and high temperatures warming the snowpack below 2400m there have been no accidental avalanches (avalanches triggered by human beings) due to snowpack warming. There certainly have been some skier-triggered avalanches, but these have occurred at higher altitudes, and mainly on North’ish facing slopes or steep slopes shaded from the sun.

Earlier this week, off-piste skiers triggered a slab avalanche on a steep North East facing slope at around 2500 m in the back of Cugnai above Val d’Isère. This happened in a well-frequented off-piste area on a sunny day following previous snowfall and high winds. A victim was dug out alive from under a metre of snow. The risk at the time was 3/5. See the report on Data-avalanche.org.

Another big avalanche accident, 500 m wide x 800 m long, occurred in La Plagne on Boxing Day. A family group were skiing on a steep (>30°) North’ish facing slope above 2400 m. (Just the sort of slope that we’ve been warning about). Reports vary between whether they were skiing on a closed piste, or whether they had just left the piste. They weren’t carrying any avalanche safety equipment. A child triggered a huge avalanche, got carried about 400 m, and was miraculously found alive by rescue dogs after being buried for 40 minutes to an hour (again reports vary). See one of the reports from LeDauphine.com.

Please stay off closed pistes. They’re closed for a very good reason. We sadly recall the fatal accident in the Combe du Géant near the Pissaillas glacier last year. A father and daughter were killed by a naturally releasing avalanche while they were skiing on a closed piste. It was closed because of avalanche risk from the steep slope above. This picture shows an avalanche that crossed a closed piste. This avalanche released at 2800m and crossed the piste at 2500m. The release was on a NW facing slope.

Localised-natural-avalanche-on-W-facing-slope-Chris-Radford-photo
Localised natural avalanche onto a closed piste in Val d’Isere. Chris Radford photo

Off-piste weather forecast for 28 Dec – 5 Jan

Sunny all week! Few clouds on Saturday. Maybe a few snowflakes then.

THURSDAY 27 DECEMBER
Great sunny day with some clouds of altitude to 7000-8000 meters. The wind is weak at altitude and the temperatures are quite mild above the inversion at 1000-1500 meters (+12 to 1000 meters, +6 to 2000 meters and +3 to 3000 meters in southern slope).
0 ° C: around 1000 and 3100 meters.
-10 ° C: around 4500 meters.
Wind at 2500 m: North to North-East 10 to 25 km / h then calm.
Wind at 4000 m: North to North-East 30 to 40 km / h then 20 km / h.

EVENING AND NIGHT
Little change, clear sky and some clouds of altitude. Weak wind.
Minimum temperatures between -3 and +2 between 1000 and 3000 meters (inversions).

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28th
Conditions remain mild and quite sunny with a few altitude clouds around 6000-7000 meters. The wind is very weak. In the night with some cloudy periods and a small strengthening of the wind (gusts from East to North-East 30-40 km / h).
0 ° C: 3000 meters then down to 2600 meters.
-10 ° C: down to 4100 meters.
Wind at 2500 m: calm at North 10 km / h.
Wind at 4000 m: North then west 10 to 20 km / h.

SATURDAY 29
A cloudy sky overcast with some gusts of Foehn or wind from east to 40-60 km / h. Some cloud overflows from Italy possible (flakes).
0 ° C down to 2300 meters.
Improvement in the afternoon after 12-13h with return of the sun.

SUNDAY 30 AND MONDAY 31 DECEMBER
Good weather despite some cloudy periods. Weak wind, variable.

TUESDAY 1 AND WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 2
Generous sun. Wind variable, weak.

THURSDAY 3 AND FRIDAY 4 JANUARY
Sunny weather. Weak wind, variable.

Tip of the week

In Savoie alone, the last 2 and a half weeks have produced at least 6 victims of big, potentially deadly, avalanches that were accidentally triggered by the victims or someone in their group. Luckily, there have been no fatalities – only injuries. These accidents were due to cold dry slab avalanches that occurred on steep shaded slopes and/or North’ish facing slopes above 2400 metres.

As avalanche experts say “Recent avalanche activity is the mountain screaming at you”. Watch out for this and take heed! There has been plenty of evidence of recent avalanche activity throughout this week. Please pay attention to it.