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: It looks like another week of blue skies and mild daytime temperatures ahead for the Northern French Alps. A few lucky areas near the French/Italian border may get a centimeter of fresh snow on Friday, but that’s about all. 

Despite no recent snowfall, off-piste snow depths are still good above 1,500m, and the snow on-piste is in excellent condition, thanks to great work by the piste services. There’s still a rare chance of finding untracked snow if you really know the area well. If not, now could be a good time to use the expertise of an off-piste guide, who really knows where to find the best snow.

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

The avalanche risk is currently at a low 1 out of 5, and will probably hover between this and a 2 out of 5 over the next week, with no significant (if any) snowfall expected.

In terms of avalanches, currently the only real risk to off-piste skiers and snowboarders comes from the occasional release of glide cracks. Don’t be too fearful of them as you won’t trigger them, but don’t hang around underneath them either.

As mentioned previously though, with sustained cold temperatures around 2,000m or so, the snow is beginning to turn into faceted grains (sugar snow). After the next significant snowfall (10 cm or more) this ‘sugar snow’ will become a weak layer.

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

The main risk to the off-piste skier at the moment is of losing control and sustaining a sliding accident on steep, hard icy snow. There is currently minimal avalanche danger (which isn’t to say ‘none’).

Where is most at risk at the moment?

The highest risk to skiers and snowboarders is, as always, be on steep slopes exposed to terrain traps. This is particularly the case now, as there’s a lot of hardened or crusted snow on steep slopes above cliffs and rocks. Stay in control when traversing, or skiing to avoid going for a long slide.

Keep an eye on glide cracks. While these are not a sign of snowpack instability (despite their ominous appearance), you certainly wouldn’t want to hang around under them for long, or tour up underneath them.

What is the likely avalanche activity this week?

With little or no snow forecast, we do not see any changes to the current situation.

How does the forecast look for the coming week?

Sunny and dry and cold at night. Some weather models point to fresh snowfall (20cm) around January 16, 17 and 18, but not all do and they all differ on exactly when this might arise.

Friday 10 January

A few cloud patches catching the middle mountain, leaving long periods of sun at low altitude, a sunny day at high altitude.

Saturday 11 January

Sunny day, a few patches of low clouds over the plains.

Sunday 12 January

Sunny, softer. Less wind at high altitude.

Monday 13 and Tuesday 14 January

Clear or partly cloudy, changing skies without showers.

Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 January

Changing sky without rain, the weather should remain dry, while the temperatures are stationary and always mild.

Tip of the week

There are a lot of steep icy slopes at the moment. Stay in control and avoid going for a long slide on these, especially when terrain traps are below you (e.g. rocks and cliffs).