Avalanche reports: what is the risk in the French Alps this week?

Telegraph Ski
Check the latest avalanche reports from the mountains - (c) Andrew J L Holt www.andrew-holt.com VCI 44AH44

Staying safe when skiing or snowboarding in the mountains is crucial – an important part of that is being aware of the risk of avalanche where you are, being prepared when heading off piste, and knowing what to do should an avalanche happen.

The Telegraph Ski & Snowboard has teamed up with Henry Schneiwind from Henry’s Avalanche Talk (HAT), to provide up-to-date avalanche safety reports from the Savoie region of the French Alps, which includes popular resorts such as Courchevel, Méribel, Val Thorens and Les Menuires in the Trois Vallées as well as Val d'Isère, TignesLa Plagne, Les Arcs, La Rosière and La Tania.

Henry Schneiwind: We needed more snow and we got it! Winter returned with a vengeance on Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing plenty of fresh snow accompanied by wild north-westerly winds.

Off-piste snow depths have increased, although the surface is very windblown, especially at high altitude. In some exposed areas the snow has been blown off completely. In wind-exposed areas above 2500 metres, the snow surface is very irregular and hardened.

What is the current avalanche risk in the Northern French Alps/Savoie?

The avalanche risk this week has gone down from a high 4/5 to a considerable 3/5. However, at HAT we consider the risk is a ‘very high 3 bordering on 4’ possibly for the next few days if it continues to snow. We believe there’s going to be a high danger of triggering avalanches, especially when visibility improves, along with the lure of skiing fresh powder.

Preventative avalanche blasting to secure the pistes on Wednesday morning revealed a high amount of snowpack instability, with several distance-triggered avalanches occurring.

What does this mean for off-piste skiers and snowboarders?

There is going to be fantastic skiing for the next week, especially when the sun comes out. But be wary of the weak layer if you are on slopes that were not heavily skied on before. Be cautious about sunny slopes warming up and the risk of spontaneous avalanches. This is particularly an issue below 2,300m.

Where is most at risk at the moment?

Steep slopes with fresh snow on them and terrain traps, such as cliffs and trees, beneath them are going to be particularly at risk. The best advice for the next week is to stick with slopes under 30 degrees in steepness. And if you do go steeper, make sure there are no terrain traps below you (cliffs, bowls, barriers, trees etc.)

How does the forecast look for the coming week?

Above-average temperatures with a mix of cloud, sun, snow and rain below ,2000m, before the temperature drops to normal on Wednesday and this is followed by a dry sunny period

Friday 31 January

Cloudy sky at daybreak with a little rain in places especially on the west, the rain-snow limit will be around 2,300m.

Saturday 1 February

Cloudy sky at daybreak, then the cloudy veil thickens rapidly from the west. By mid-day the sky will be overcast everywhere, except on the peaks bordering Italy. Rain reaches all the massifs during the afternoon, the snow-rain limit remains high.

Sunday 2 February

Expect bad rain and strong wind. Overcast in the early morning, then an active warm front passes over the department bringing with it heavy rain in the afternoon with a snow-rain limit going up to about 2,500m – all accompanied by strong gusts of north-west wind reaching 100kmph.

Monday 3 February

Few residual showers early in the morning, then the cloudiness widens. 

Tuesday 4 February

The very fast weather current will generate strong winds at least in very high mountains.

Wednesday 5 February

Thunderstorms followed by little by little snow showers, and more gusts.

Thursday 6 February

Partially cloudy with rare drops of rain or flakes still possible in the morning.

Tip of the week

In the words of Alain Duclos, Avalanche Expert, sticking to low-angled slopes with wide skis is not a bad option this week.

Following other people’s tracks is a particularly easy trap to fall into. Don’t do it unless you know that where they are leading you is safe.