Off Piste Snow & Weather: 7 – 13 Dec Savoie / N. French Alps


A snowy week ahead!

Off-piste snow report: 7 – 13 Dec for Savoie & Northern French Alps

Poor visibility some of the week. Wayne Watson photo

We are due for fresh snow in the week ahead, which we need. Indeed, our friends at WeatherToSki are predicting the following (text in italics quoted directly from their website):

The greatest accumulations, at least in the first instance, are likely to be in the northern French Alps, roughly from Alpe d’Huez northwards through the Tarentaise (e.g. 3 Valleys, La Plagne, Les Arcs) , Mont Blanc region (e.g. Chamonix), Portes du Soleil (e.g. Avoriaz), into the western and northern Swiss Alps (e.g. Verbier, Wengen, Engelberg), and across into the Austrian Arlberg (e.g. St Anton Lech). By Monday these areas should see between 40cm and 70cm of new snow above 1500m, maybe even more in places.

The off-piste snow cover is still thin at the moment, and there are plenty of rocks and other obstacles just below the surface. Still, as long as visibility has been good, it’s been fun venturing off-piste and looking to see what we can find. There are all sorts of conditions out there. Aside from hitting things hidden beneath the surface, there are some great areas of light powder, particularly in gullies where the wind has blown it. In other areas the snow can be very wind-hardened, if not scoured off altogether.

The cold days and cold clear nights over the last week, combined with the thin snowcover, have made the snowpack much less cohesive. It’s become that sugary type of snow (‘facets’) that just crumbles away. Although the last couple of days have been a bit warmer, they’ve not been able to turn this situation around. So, even though the current avalanche risk is low, any substantial amount of fresh snow (even just 20-30 cm or more) falling on top of this unstable snowpack, will cause a very unstable situation. When that happens, the avalanche danger rating will shoot up to 3 then, in places that get more than 50 cm, it will go up to a higher rating of 4 pretty quickly See what the avalanche danger ratings mean on henrysavalanchetalk.com/hat-advice/danger-rating.

The recent accidental avalanches that have been reported are a big warning that the off-piste is getting dangerous and that once the new snow comes, you need to stay in and around slopes that are no steeper than 30° unless you really know what you’re doing… even if you’re experienced, it’s going to be tricky and potentially really dangerous.  Sadly, last weekend, 3 experienced ski tourers in the Chartreuse mountains, of Isère near Grenoble, were killed in slab avalanches. They were wearing safety gear, but that was not enough. There’s a report in French on France 3.

Detailed weather forecast for 7 – 13 Dec

Thursday 7th: A sunny day with very light SW to W winds. +2° C at 2000 m. Quickly clouding in as evening falls, with snow falling down to 800 m.  10 to 20 cm of snow is forecast for a lot of places especially in and around the Northern French Alps. Strong W wind at high altitude, up to 90 km/hr above 3500 m and 70 km/hr at 2000 m.

Friday 8th:  Snowing throughout the day. Rain/snow limit 700 m.  Between 5 to 30 cm of snow expected above 1500 m – amounts varying quite a lot (less towards the South). Colder: with daytime temperatures down to 0° C at 800 m; night-time temperatures right down to -20° C at 3000 m. WSW wind, strengthening and turning NW. Strong gusts along the border with Italy.

Saturday 9th: Very cold, with light snowfall in the morning. Less than 5 cm snow expected. Strong NW wind at high altitudes in the morning, weakening during the day, and then strengthening again at night on the highest peaks. It could become thundery in the afternoon. -10° C at 1500 m, and -20° C at 2900 m.

Sunday 10th & Monday 11th: Sunday: A much milder day, as a warm weather front comes through. A few snowflakes in the morning, becoming heavier as the day goes on (possibly falling as rain up to 1500/1600 m). Monday: Getting colder again. NW to WSW winds.  Widespread snowfall down to 1300 m in the morning, and then to lower altitudes as temperatures fall.

Tuesday 12th & Wednesday 13th: Tuesday: Cold with some snow showers. Wednesday: Snowfall down to 1300 m. Strong W to NW wind.

Tip of the week

Remember that most of the time you will not trigger an avalanche even on a steep slope, but over the next week there’s a good chance that you will. So when there are clear spells in the weather, you probably will see tracks on nice steep slopes  – and you’ll be tempted to go for it! Hold back for now and stay around slopes that are no steeper than 30°.

Ride Hard, Ride Safe!